Fatal explosion in Snowdonia

Y FricsanWe’re used to the sight of closed Welsh chapels but are pleased to see the new lease of life they receive as homes. More depressing is the large numbers of pubs we see that have pulled their last pint and up for sale. Recently a much loved local pub, Y Fricsan in Cwm-y-Glo called time permanently. It was well known as a live music venue raising considerable sums for charity.

What is less known about the Fricsan is that almost exactly 142 years ago, an event took place a 150 metres or so away from the pub, under construction at the time, which had world-wide consequences.

On a very hot afternoon on 30 June 1869, two carts each containing a ton of nitro-glycerine set out from Caernarfon travelling the 8 miles to the Glynrhonwy slate quarry on the edge of Llanberis. Although the canisters containing the liquid explosive had been carefully packed into boxes containing sawdust and covered in straw when loaded onto the carts, nobody at the time knew how inherently unstable nitro-glycerine was!

Just before 6pm, just after the carts had passed the Cwm-y-Glo station goods shed, the cargo exploded with what was probably the loudest man-made explosion ever heard up to that time. Both carters died, plus a passing quarrymen from Glynrhonwy and two young boys aged 11 and 13, who were unlucky to be nearby. The inquest showed that the carters had spent some time at the Alexandria Inn in Cwm-y-Glo which meant the carts were cooking nicely in the sun.

No trace of the carters, horses or carts remained at the site and two deep craters approximately ten feet deep were left behind. Human and animal remains, as well as parts of the carts, were spread far and wide – with some of the debris being found in the neighbouring village of Brynrefail. The damage to Cwm-y-Glo’s buildings was extensive, many having roofs blown off and windows destroyed. Scarcely a house in the village escaped without damage. A wheel and harness from one of the carts landed a half-mile away and, to this day, the spot is marked by a large ‘X’ scratched on a stone wall which locals keep visible.

The far-reaching consequence of this event was the Nitro-glycerine Act 1869 prohibiting the manufacture, transport or sale of nitro-glycerine or any product containing it in the U.K.

A plaque commemorates the event which can be seen on the rock face opposite Y Fricsan.
Commemorative plaque

Picture of Fricsan © Copyright Eric Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence