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Bethesda Town

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Map ReferenceSH66NW
Grid ReferenceSH6234066690
Unitary (Local) AuthorityGwynedd
Old CountyCaernarfonshire
Type Of SiteTOWN
PeriodPost Medieval

1. Bethesda Town housed many of Lord Penrhyn's three thousand employees at the quarry (NPRN 40564) and it has been described as one of the best preserved Victorian towns in Wales. Early streets where unplanned and formed rapidly in the 1920s, for example John Street (NPRN 26689 & number 10 NPRN 308413) in contrast to Gerlan Estate (NPRN 26487), that was more rationally planned following the Improvement Act of 1854. Distinctive chapels in the town include the Calvinistic Methodist 'Jerusalem' (NPRN 6751) and the Welsh Independent 'Bethania' (NPRN 6733).

David Gwyn & Merfyn Williams (1996) `A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of North West Wales?. Association for Industrial Archaeology

Claire Parry, RCAHMW, 4 November 2011.

2. Bethesda is a small town in the Ogwen valley, among the foothills of Snowdonia in Gwynedd. It came into existence in the nineteenth century to house workmen employed in local slate quarries, primarily Penrhyn, one of the largest slate quarries in North Wales. From the 1820s a landscape of farms and small quarries was transformed into a town, but economic growth was not sustained in the twentieth century, with a result that the character of the town today is the result of a few decades of growth in the nineteenth century.

The town grew up along a stretch of road on the east side of the River Ogwen, centred around the chapel which gave the town its name. A number of landowners leased building plots for workmen's houses, mostly along existing roads, a pattern of settlement that eventually coalesced to form a town, in which the main road (the Holyhead Road, A5) became the commercial centre.

Houses are broadly uniform in style, with some early single-storey cottages in a rural tradition, but they are grouped in various ways, from pairs to longer terraces, and in parts forming grids of parallel streets. Social distinction is revealed in subtle ways, with some houses open directly to the street, others behind garden walls, while others open to pathways with gardens in front of the houses. Economic aspiration is displayed in the commercial buildings on the High Street, and cultural aspirations are displayed in the town's surviving chapels, Capel Bethesda and Capel Jerusalem being notably ambitious works and prominent buildings in the town centre.

Statement of Significance:
Bethesda is the urban centre of the Ogwen valley and is one of the small number of North Wales slate-quarry settlements that grew into a town. It owed its existence to the Penrhyn Slate Quarry, on the opposite side of the river, and grew up beside the Holyhead Road where opportunist landowners let land for building. Originally founded by quarrymen and other local people, Bethesda is notable as a self-created settlement named after the principal chapel, a distinction it shares with Bethel, Saron and Carmel.

The pre-industrial landscape of Bethesda has survived in the road network, which includes historic bridges at Pont Twr and Pont Abercaseg, and the farms, including Abercaseg, Pant Ffrydlas and Gerllan. As an industrial town Bethesda is an amalgam of piecemeal and opportunist developments that mirrored the fortunes of local industry. One consequence of that is that Bethesda demonstrates the chronological development of industrial housing in the nineteenth century. In a town made up largely of housing for quarrymen, there are subtle social distinctions, based on scale and relationship to street and to other houses. Its housing stock is built of local materials, and the ingenious use of slate, for example for Gothic-styled storm porches, is a distinguishing local characteristic.

Bethesda became the commercial and cultural centre of the Ogwen Valley, which is demonstrated in its long High Street with nineteenth-century inns and shop fronts, and ambitious chapels and church. It is an integral part of a larger slate-quarrying landscape, its setting complemented by Penrhyn Slate Quarry on the opposite side of the valley.

Hayman R, 2017. Bethesda: An Urban Character Study (unpublished report for Gwynedd Council in support of the proposed Wales Slate World Heritage Nomination).


3. Bethesda is a settlement initiated by slate-quarrymen and their families to house themselves on the Cefnfaes freehold which did not form part of the otherwise all-dominant Penrhyn estate. It took its name from the Independent chapel of c. 1821 erected at the point where Telford’s newly-completed post road (the present A5) enters the freehold.

The early ribbon development grew significantly with the population pressures of the 1850s, leading both to uncontrolled developments such as John Street, a winding hillside path around which houses were built, as well as to planned settlements such as Gerlan, and the more substantial houses, community infrastructure and places of worship built on the Penrhyn estate once it recognised the community as a fait accompli and allowed it to expand. These include the showcase ritualistic Glanogwen Church, the substantial Calvinistic Methodist Jerusalem Chapel, and the Douglas Arms, a substantial double-pile public house of the 1850s. The spire of Glanogwen church was built on the alignment of the post road in order to dominate the approach to the settlement from the south.

Building materials in Bethesda are eclectic. Several buildings are constructed of brick, including the Classical-Lombardic Bethania Chapel, built for the Baptist congregation in 1885. Ogwen Terrace is built of slate slabs.


Bethesda is part of the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales World Heritage Site, Component Part 1. Penrhyn Slate Quarry and Bethesda, and the Ogwen Valley to Port Penrhyn. Inscribed July 2020. 


Hannah Genders Boyd, RCAHMW, January 2022 


Louise Barker & Dr David Gwyn, March 2018. Slate Landscapes of North-West Wales World Heritage Bid Statements of Significance. (Unpublished Report: Project 401b for Gwynedd Archaeological Trust) 

Tirwedd Llechi Gogledd Orllewin Cymru / The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales. Nomination as a World heritage Site (Nomination Document, January 2020) 

Wales Slate World Heritage Site  

application/pdfSWH - Slate World Heritage Urban Characterisation CollectionReport entitled "Bethesda An urban character study" produced by Richard Hayman for Gwynedd Council, May 2017.