Curator's Choice: Welsh Slate Museum

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The Independent Culture
We have many exciting things in our collection which stand out as unique, but I would like to talk about a health card which we have and which dates to the 1910s. I thought it was rather special because it takes us back to the period when the quarrymen were responsible for organising their own health care and some means of support, in case they were laid off work. The card is written in Welsh but it is basically a sick note which would have been filled in at the Penmachno slate quarry. There is also a separate block which was filled in by those who visited the sick person and they actually checked whether he was incapacitated or just trying to pull a fast one.

If you come to Penmachno from London you will really feel you are in the back of beyond and people coming into the area often wonder how sophisticated the quarrymen were. Yet they were not an insular society and via their union and their own support societies they kept in touch with the world of British politics. They were very proud of their industry and had a very definite sense of craft skill.

The fact that the card is printed in Welsh tells you something about the society as well. Welsh is still very much the language here in Gwynedd, around 75 per cent of the people in this area speak Welsh and in Penmachno the percentage would have been even higher. The point is that in the early decades of this century, many of the quarrymen would have been monoglot Welsh speakers. Welsh was the natural medium of communication, at work, at leisure, in the chapel and in the pub.

Dafydd Roberts is Keeper of the Welsh Slate Museum (Gilfach Ddu, Lanberis, Gwynedd). Visits are currently by arrangement. From Easter-September the opening times are 9.30- 5.30pm (0286 870630).