Dolgarrog is a small village in the Conwy county borough in North Wales situated in between Llanrwst and Conwy, very close to the Conwy River. Dolgarrog is 6 miles south of the town of Conwy on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park and is well known for two things: its industrial history since the 18th century; and the dam disaster, which occurred in 1925.
The aluminium works (or "smelter") was originally planned in 1895. The lakes from the reservoirs in the Snowdonia Mountains would provide the hydro-electricity needed to run the mill.
The original construction of a hydroelectric scheme at Dolgarrog was carried out in 1907 by the Aluminium Corporation to provide power for smelting aluminium in the Conwy Valley. In 1907, aluminium production began in the factory and in 1916 a rolling mill was added.
A dam was built to raise the level of Lake Eigiau by 6 metres from where it flowed to the edge of the valley overlooking the village more than 300 metres below. The dam was constructed in the normal way for the period, with deep concrete foundations, and a concrete and stone wall built above. The foundations where not however excavated down to the bedrock. The waters from here were allowed under a controlled flow, down to a second dam built in 1922 at Llyn Coedty. From there, a single steel pipeline delivered the water to the power station, on the same site as the aluminium works.
This system worked well until the 2nd November 1925. In the previous days heavy rain had fallen, leaving fast running deep rivers feeding into the Cwm Eigiau reservoir. With the reservoir full and no open sluices, the water started to filter through the sub soil below the foundations. As the water filtered through it took the soil with it, forming a large void below the concrete foundations. Ever increasing amounts of water flowed under the dam, leading to a torrent entering Llyn Coedty.
Eigiau dam in 2006 with the break still visable.
The water scoured a channel 70 feet wide and 10 feet deep, as 50 million cubic feet of water surged down to the Coedty reservoir below. Coedty reservoir was nearly full at the time and the spillway had to cope with a surplus discharge well in excess of its designed capacity. The dam was overtopped, washing away the embankment, and the core collapsed. There was an almost instant release of 70 million gallons of water.
The small village of Porth-llwyd above Dolgarrog was wiped out as the torrent swept down through Dollgarrog towards the River Conwy.
A wall of water, mud, rock and concrete hit the village of Dolgarrog at 9.15pm . Fortunately many of the villagers were attending a film show at the village Assembly Hall out of the path of the flood, and 200 workers were working late in the nearby aluminium factory, otherwise more lives would have been lost. As it was, ten adults and six children were killed and many houses were destroyed. At the subsequent inquest, the deputy coroner said that "as Dolgarrog had a floating population, it was impossible to estimate the extent of the catastrophe in regard to human life". A rather unfortunate turn of phrase, especially as one body was not found until ten months later, having been carried away down the River Conwy. Its journey can be seen today just opposite the Royal British Legion, where boulders thrust down on the torrent lay between the birch trees. Huge boulders, the size of houses, can still be seen in the village.
It later transpired that the general manager and board of directors of the company which owned the dams knew that there were defects in them from the beginning, but chose to keep the facts secret. No one was ever held to account, and two of the streets in the rebuilt village were named after directors of the company .
Dolgarrog's original church was destroyed in the dam burst. The cross and bell were salvaged from the ruins; a further cross was recovered some years later from the River Conwy near Farchwel. After nearly half a century of worshipping in a temporary building after the disaster, the new church of St Mary, Dolgarrog, was dedicated on October 2 1973.
Old photos of the dam disaster
The factory is still running, although in the past 25 years there have been numerous take-overs. Alcoa bought out the company Luxfer in 2000 and announced its closure in June 2002. Dolgarrog Aluminium Ltd formed in 2002 and acquired the assets from Alcoa in 2002 and is currently the only independent, fully integrated aluminium rolling mill in the United Kingdom.
The BBC reported in August 2007
"Administrators have been appointed at an aluminium plant in the Conwy Valley, which employs 170. Dolgarrog Aluminium produces a range of products, turning over £19m last year, and is a major employer in the area. Administrators KPMG said they hoped to sell the plant as a going concern....
The plant celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. In 2001, the US-owned firm Alcoa had threatened to close Dolgarrog with the lost of 189 posts as part of cuts from its 140,000 global workforce. This followed the downturn in the aviation industry in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US. "
Advert in FT 2007. Dolgarrog Aluminium Limited For Sale. Asking price: Undisclosed.
"The Joint Administrators Brian Green, Myles Halley and Paul Flint offer
for sale the business and assets of Dolgarrog Aluminium Ltd. Based
near Conwy, North Wales it is the UK’s only independent aluminium casting and rolling mill. Principle features include: Annual turnover of circa £19 million; Supplier into four key industries namely aerospace, speciality engineering, electrolytic zinc extraction and general engineering; Major assets include: purpose built factory and roadways circa 7.7 acres, state of the art machinery including hot and cold strip rolling mills, heat treatment processes and various conditioning ovens.
Return Evan Pugh, 1896