The history of Snowdon/Y Wyddfa 2

The summit station and buildings

The peak saw its first buildings erected in 1819. This was known as the Snowdon Cottage, a rounded structure said to be shaped like a beehive. The next was one built by William Lloyd. Stone was used in its construction but the quality of workmaship was very poor and it soon deteoriated. The number of buildings varied between three and five huts, and mostly made of wood or a mix of wood and stone, none of which rarely survived the violent weather than regularly bore down upon the summit. One noted person who ran the summit buildings for most of the middle of the 19th Century was John Roberts, an experienced mountain guide from Llanberis.

The summit cairn made its apperance at about the same time more buildings became grouped around the top of the mountain. The Royal Engineers built this in 1827, and it was used by surveyors for one of the earliest ordnance surveys in the UK. The present, bigger, cairn was built in 1841 despite objections. One summit building, believed to be one of the original structures, clearly lasted longer than most and was extended to provide different rooms and facilities. Lodgings were provided for visitors wishing for an overnight stay at the summit. The cost was eight shillings.

The arrival of the railway saw the first substantial structure established upon the summit. This was the railway station. It was a fairly simple affair, a smaller version of the original station at Llanberis. The platforms were furnished with semaphore signals but these didnt last long and were removed after the first world war, the electric telegraph being used as the system by which trains were authorised to proceed. Two bedrooms were provided as was a large waiting room for passengers, as well as the usual railway facilities such as ticket offices etc. As the railway brought more visitors to the summit more facilities were introduced also. The first was a photography studio, followed by a telescope cabin. After 1902 the railway took over the management of all summit facilites.


The summit in 1887, with tea rooms on the right


The summit 2010 with a much altered cairn. Copyright © 2010 Gwychder y Wyddfa

The railway company introduced more buildings atop the summit, one of which was known as the Chalet. A large structure with carpeted floors, this provided a venue for corporate events, such as popular club and charity dinners. Many objections to the chalet were made for many thought that the building had changed the true shape of the summit. The railway, in response, promised to demolish all the summit buildings and provide just one structure that would serve all purposes. This new building was provided by 1923, but it did not last long, and Clough Ellis, the creator of Portmeirion, was asked by the railway company to design a replacement.

As one can see, the summit has so far seen many alterations. The the most notable changes were yet to come – the complete alteration of the summit layout and the shortening of the railway. When the railway opened it had the aforementioned basic station at the summit, which can be seen in the 1922 aerial picture prior to its larger structure being constructed.


The summit from the air 1922. At least 6 buildings can be seen.

(Postcard in the author’s/Gwychder y Wyddfa’s collection.)


The old 1920’s terminus at Snowdon Summit


The scene in 2010. The ground frame in the 1920’s picture would have been sited roughly half way along the present platform. Copyright © 2010 Gwychder y Wyddfa

Wiliams Clough Ellis’ new building required the demolition of the second generation railway terminus and platforms. One big surprise was that the entire group of summit buildings were demolished and simply pushed over the side of the mountain! It does explain why Clough Ellis’ replacement could be put up in a short time, but is something that just wouldnt be allowed today. The new Hafod Eryri took a long time to build as the old building proved difficult to demolish and every bit of it had to be taken down to Llanberis for proper disposal.

To facilitate space for the new hotel, the mountain railway’s tracks were cut back by around 150ft. The new Summit Hotel adored the summit environment much better than any other buildings had before it, even though it is said Clough Ellis did not see it as one of his better works. There was a piazza on the roof-top, and large glazed windows enabling the spectacular views to be enjoyed from inside the building. The functional, rather than aesthetcic, structure was built in concrete as this was the easiest material to transport up the mountain. It used pre-fabricated metal framed windows and doors which could be easily transport up the railway, thus saving on time and costs. The new hotel opened 20th July 1935.


Clough Ellis’ new summit hotel of 1935


The same scene at the summit in 2010. Copyright © 2010 Gwychder y Wyddfa

Alas the weather was the new hotel’s enemy and its first winter on the top of Snowdon saw very severe damage occur. The summit hotel was fortified and its windows reduced considerably in size to afford protection against the weather. Visitors could stay at the summit for the night and the hotel operated regularly from 1935 to the onset of the second world war, when it became a facility for the War effort. Radar equipment was installed atop the hotel buildings, but other than that little is known of what went on up there during the war. After the war it returned to its former role. Severe vandalism occured in the winter of 1947. The damage was so bad that snow covered the interior of the buildings to a good depth. Repairs were made and the hotel continued for another four years until 1951 when more extreme vandalism saw the hotel close for good.

The building’s isloated location and a magnet for vandalism forced the railway to make it into a fortress. Alas it made the building look dire and completely unwelcome. It became the subject of much controversy. Prince Charles’ views that the building was Wales’ highest slum prompted a very serious look at its future. In 1986 it was proposed to rebuild the interior of the structure and install external cladding that was sympathetic to the mountain surroundings. The building had severe structural damage that had acclumated over the years and this forced a rethink. The end result was the decision to replace it altogether, and the story of Hafod Eryri deserves a separate chapter.


The old summit building in 1980 with its guard dog on the roof

Copyright © August 2010 Gwychder y Wyddfa

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