In the autumn of 2012, I had just completed “The Other Side of Ninety”, in memory
of my mother. This too, in a very different way, is a family song.
Peter and I had spent a week in North Wales, and had visited Penrhyn Castle, where
is housed the National Trust’s Industrial Railway Museum. The prime exhibit is the
locomotive “Fire Queen”, a four – foot gauge engine from the Padarn Railway. This
line was built in the 1840’s to carry slate from the massive Dinorwig quarry above
Llanberis to the harbour of Porth Dinorwig on the Menai Strait. I had known something
of the story of “Fire Queen”, but now the display mentioned that the quarry owner’s
daughter had insisted on its preservation. I liked this; especially the idea that one
of the earliest railway enthusiasts was female. (So much for “Boys and their Toys”...!)
Having made a few investigations, it appears that the owner, Lord Assheton – Smith,
did not have a daughter; but the lady in question may well have been his wife,
Laura Alice Duff Assheton – Smith (!), and I was happy to go with that. (One of the
Snowdon Mountain Railway locomotives was named L.A.D.A.S. in her honour, which
I feel supports my hypothesis).
There are references to a number of local features; Llyn Peris is one of the lakes
below the quarry, and Elidir Fawr is the three thousand foot mountain that has been
quarried for most of its height. “Fire Queen” and her sister locomotive “Jenny Lind”
were built in 1848 by the Horlocks Foundry in Kent, and “Fire Queen” is widely
recognised as a remarkable survivor from that period.
The “Griffith Ellis Term” is the period during which the quarry expanded prodigiously under the management of Griffith Ellis (1785 – 1860), a local man who was highly regarded, both by the owners and by the quarrymen themselves. And here lies the family connection: Griffith Ellis was, apparently, my great great great grandfather. So it was nice to be able to give him a mention.
And as for the future of “Fire Queen”? Well, who knows!