Moses Kellow: The Autobiography of the Croesor Quarry Manager edited by Cathy Woodhead

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Moses Kellow (1862 – 1943) was the Manager of Croesor Quarry from the mid 1890s until its closure in 1930. He is famous for his remarkable engineering achievements including the hydraulic Kellow drill, and introducing three-phase hydro-generated electricity into the quarry works. After going blind at the age of 80, he dictated his autobiography giving a unique insight into this very strong-minded individual and his views on many topics.

This publication is entirely due to the huge amounts of research that have been undertaken by a Croesor Quarry enthusiast, Adrian Barrell, and it represents a fraction of the material that Adrian has amassed on the quarries. Adrian has kindly provided an Introduction to the book and most of the appendices.  The autobiography was originally published in twenty-four editions of the Quarry Managers' Journal in 1944/5.

A very successful book launch took place at Porthmadog Maritime Museum on Saturday 3rd October 2015. One of the few remaining Kellow drills was borrowed for the launch from the Porthmadog Highland Heritage Railway.

'Moses Kellow: The Autobiography of the Croesor Quarry Manager' has 204 pages, 19 black and white photographs and 2 maps, and is paperback, A5 size and its ISBN No is 978-0-9561469-9-1.   


By David Linton for The Welsh Mines Society Newsletter November 2015
Moses Kellow: The Autobiography of the Croesor Quarry Manager Kellow (1862–1943) was the manager of Croesor and Parc quarries from the mid 1890s until 1930. After going blind at the age of 80 he dictated his autobiography, which the late Rodney Weaver nicely described in an article (reproduced as an appendix to the book) as ‘Not always accurate and tantalisingly vague in places’.
The autobiography, rather than being a chronological account, consists of a number of episodes from Kellow’s life plus his reflections on various topics. He describes his intellectual and technical successes (Kellow not being one to hide his light under a bushel) plus his reflections on religion, his improvements to the fuel consumption of his car, his health, travels in America and Europe (with observations, generally unfavourable, on continental hotel staff), experiences in local politics and as a county councillor and accounts of various misfortunes and near accidents, both in and outside the quarries, that befell him. Overall, Kellow comes across as an intelligent, able, well-informed and thoroughly remarkable man, albeit opinionated. However, he was obviously not without humour, and has the grace at one point to describe his autobiography as a ‘somewhat haphazard account of [his] life and activities’.
From the industrial and particularly mining history perspective, the sections of most interest are obviously Kellow’s activities relating to slate quarrying and especially his accounts of the provision and use of electricity at Croesor Quarry and the development of the Kellow drill. However, his autobiography also provides a fascinating view of life in and around the quarrying industry in north-west Wales from the later part of the nineteenth century to the years preceding the Second World War.
Kellow’s autobiography was originally published in instalments in the Quarry Managers’ Journal in 1944–5. This edition has been produced from WMS member Adrian Barrell’s transcription of those instalments. Providing context is a foreword by Adrian and nine appendices which include poems by Kellow, his applications for membership to the institutions of Civil Engineers (1903) and Mechanical Engineers (1913), obituaries and details of the inscription on his grave, details of his wills, information about Kellow’s family and oral recollections of Kellow collected by Adrian.
Although Kellow’s autobiography is available both as originally published and in Adrian Barrell’s transcription deposited in some reference libraries, this excellent and well-produced book makes Kellow’s life story and the valuable supporting material by Adrian available to the wider public. I whole-heartedly recommend it.

By David Kent for the Welsh Highland Railway Newsletter December 2015
This book, along with the other reviewed in this magazine have more than one thing in common, in that they were both written during the life time of their authors, using memory as the chief driver of the text.
In the case of this book, a very handy pocket size, the person writing was a larger than life character who used self promotion as a way of life!
This is not to say that the book is not a fascinating read, it is and it adds to our local knowledge of what was around the line for anyone interested in our railway. The Croesor Tramway, its origins and the slate quarries of the whole valley are brought to life with this book.
Written in the personal style of a man in his 80’s who was almost blind and dictated more than 70 years ago as instalments for the Quarry Managers Journal, during the second world war, however unlikely, it is a good read.
By Brian J Slyfield
Moses Kellow was a man of some consequence in the state quarrying world between the 1890s-1930s, and this publication of his autobiography, edited by Mrs Cathy Woodhead, provides a suitable testimony to his achievements. Born in 1862 to Cornish parents (his father became a quarry manager) who moved when he was three to Caernarfon. Kellow achieved much in life. Besides managing the Croesor and Parc slate quarries (which he arranged to have amalgamated in 1896; they finally closed in 1930), he was a talented and innovative engineer who developed, among other things, what was known as the Kellow hydraulic drill, and he also introduced three~phase hydro-generated electricity into quarry workings. A man of many parts, at one time he managed a 160 acre farm on behalf of his father, and played a significant part in local government, rising to become chairman of the county council. ln his eighties he went blind, but never one to resist a challenge - and still clear minded -inthe early 1940s, while living at Penrhyndeudraeth, he set to and dictated from memory the story of his life. The text of his autobiography was later researched and transcribed by Adrian Barrell, and now forms the heart of this book.
In nearly forty generally short chapters Kellow takes us through his life, with a subject headings ranging from general reflections (‘My Guiding Principal’) to his extensive travels (‘Visits to Continental Art Galleries’, ‘The Alps’) to accounts, sometimes quite technical, on the mining industry (‘Saw Tables and Other Innovations’, ‘Quarry Cash F low Problems And Attempts To Solve Them’). In one chapter he describes how he developed his portable Kellow drill; it gained an international reputation and resulted in him being invited to the United States to demonstrate his invention, which utilized high water pressure instead of compressed air, and was capable of getting work done far more quickly than with traditional drills. Fans of Moses Kellow will, no doubt, be interested in all this, and the sections dealing with the world of slate will surely be of value to keen students of the subject (in 2017 it was announced that Gwynedd’s slate mining region was to be put forward as a World Heritage site). But one does wonder to what degree the book as a whole will engage the more general reader. There are some ten chapters, for example, on his travels, but travel writing was not really his forte - his gifts did not lie in that direction - and the functional accounts, without any great insights, are not that interesting.
But one thing is for sure: the man’s character and personality shines though every page. He was clearly a formidable character, one with great drive, whether battling with Llanfrothen parish council on some matter of voting procedure which he considered to be unlawful, or seeking out improvements wherever possible so that the quarrying of slate could be achieved more effectively. And he got going from an early age. He proudly notes: ‘Before I was twenty years of age I was elected a member of the School Board of the combined parishes of Llanfrothen and Llanfihangel-y-traethau on which I served for six years’, and again: ‘Before I was twenty-one years of age, I undertook the management of the Park Quarry’.
The book ends with a number of appendices, including two self-penned birthday poems, applications he made to engineering institutions, obituaries published on his death aged eighty-three, in 1943, his will and even the inscriptions on the family gravestone in Tan-Lan cemetery, Llanfrothen. So there is no shortage of information on this remarkable man, and his autobiography and other supporting sections of the book will no doubt be useful to those interested in slate mining history and anyone associated with, or part of, the Kellow family.
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