Coed y Bleiddiau, ‘the wood of the wolves’, takes its name from the legend that the last wolf in Wales was slain nearby, and was built in 1863-4 for the Superintendent of the Ffestiniog steam railway which took slate from the quarries down to the harbour at Porthmadog 13 miles away. Like all of Landmark's 196 historic buildings it has played a role in the nation’s past.
The industrial revolution brought with it unprecedented demand for slate, making Blaenau Ffestiniog - once a scattered farming community of a few hundred people - a boom town of 11,000, as the largest slate quarry on the globe was hollowed beneath its rocky hillsides. The railway line opened in 1836 and initially the full slate wagons travelled down by gravity with the empties drawn slowly back to the quarries by horse.
Worldwide demand for slate grew to the point where the horses couldn't get the empties back to the quarries quickly enough and in 1863 the railway became the first narrow gauge line in the world to introduce steam engines. With the line’s adoption of this new technology, new staff were needed and Coed y Bleiddiau was built; its first occupant being Henry Hovenden and his large family.
Anna Keay, Director of the Landmark Trust said:
“Coed y Bleiddiau has much in common with some of Landmark’s earliest projects: it is modest in scale but deeply special for its place in our history and landscape. This wonderful steam railway has been revived thanks to the heroic work of the Ffestiniog Railway. Trains once again puff daily up the hillside, but Coed y Bleiddiau, stands abandoned and forlorn. We are determined to save this tiny fragment of the slate industry that transformed this region in the 19th-century, but need financial support.”
For over a decade from the early 1920s it was rented by the distinguished composer Sir Granville Bantock, professor of music at Birmingham University and pioneer of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Bantock was a prominent cultural figure of the inter-war years, and it was ‘to my friend Granville Bantock’ that Edward Elgar dedicated his second Pomp and Circumstance march.
Since the death of Bob and Babs Johnson, the last tenants who lived at Coed y Bleiddiau from the 1950s, the building has fallen into dereliction: the interiors saturated by driving rain as lath and plaster ceilings collapse from water penetration. Floors and joinery are rotten. Landmark hopes to start the project in summer 2016 and needs to raise £400,000 to breathe life once again into this neglected building. It would open for bookings of up to four guests some time in 2017, who will be able to flag an approaching steam train from its own tiny private platform.
The building has remained the property of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway Trust, with whom the Landmark Trust is partnering. As with the slate for the newly and urgently restored roof, the materials and manpower will all be carried to and from the site by train.
Paul Lewin, General Manager of the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway, adds:
"We are delighted to be working with the Landmark Trust, whose admirable track record in the restoration of historic buildings such as this made them the obvious choice to bring Coed y Bleiddiau back to life for the enjoyment of future generations."