With local history and heritage being at the core of the EU funded initiative, the pillars have been inspired by the shape of the slate splitter’s chisel used by craftsmen in the quarries all around the town.
At 7.5m high, the scale of the pillars provides a focus to the town centre and are intended to draw visitors from the Ffestiniog Railway onto the High Street.
“They will link the heart of the town to the Foty Quarry behind it,” said Bob Cole, chair of the Blaenau Ymlaen Strategy Group who have been working on the project since 2008.
Made from Ffestiniog slate, the pillars are like a geological slice through the mountains behind the town. Poetry and slate mining terms specific to Blaenau are engraved on the bands, adding a layer of engaging detail to the structures and celebrating the culture of the slate mining community.
“The pillars reflect the unique geology of Blaenau as the slate sit on 30 degrees – and the Caban tradition of culture and poetry is celebrated as you look through the layers of rock,” said local county councillor Paul Thomas.
Economic regeneration has been at the heart of the scheme, with large orders going to local quarries. Using many thousands of small slates from Greaves Welsh Slate at Llechwedd, the special order allowed the quarry to take on a young slate splitter from Blaenau. Cwt y Bugail slate quarry provided the banding for the text, whilst the steps between the pillars have come from Trefor granite quarry and were made by Cerrig Slate and Granite in Pwllheli.
“The pillars will be a showcase for slate as a product and for us as a company to show what can be achieved with top quality local labour and materials,” said Andrew Roberts of Greaves Welsh Slate.
To meet construction deadlines, artist Howard Bowcott employed three local assistants and an apprentice to help build the pillars in his workshop in Penrhyndeudraeth, with larger sections being made by craftsmen at Cerrig, who also engraved the text on the pillars.
Local poet and author Dewi Prysor led on the work of developing content for the pillars:
“It was a real pleasure to collect the hundreds of ideas, some remembering Blaenau as it was and others looking to the future,” he said. “The pillars reflect the rock that made Blaenau what it is today and they include quarry sayings and terms along with poetry from bards such as Gwyn Thomas.”
John Wynn Jones the Cabinet Member for Economy and Community said:
“The project showcases the best of Blaenau, its rich history and culture, the pillars have been constructed from local slate and built by top quality local workmanship, they connect to the past yet look forward at the same time.”
For more information on the Blaenau Ffestiniog regeneration project please phone 01766 512499 or visit the project website at www.gwynedd.gov.uk/blaenauymlaen