Ancoats, Manchester, England
|Died||1 January 1902(aged 93)|
|Known for||Talyllyn Railway|
William McConnel was an industrialist and mill-owner from Lancashire, England. He founded the Aberdovey Slate Company that ran the Bryn Eglwys slate quarry from 1863 onwards and oversaw the construction of the associated Talyllyn Railway.
Cotton mill owner
The McConnel family were owners of Sedgwick Mill, a large cotton spinning mill in Ancoats in the city of Manchester. The mill was built between 1818 and 1821 by the company of Messrs. McConnel & Kennedy under the chairmanship of James McConnel, William's father. James McConnel died in 1831 and three of his sons, Henry, James and Williams became partners in the business. By 1833 the mill was the largest importer of cotton from America, and one of the largest mills in operation in the United Kingdom. Henry retired from the business in 1860 and his brother James retired in 1861, leaving William as the sole owner of the mill.
The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 had a dramatic impact on McConnel & Kennedy. Raw cotton supplies from America were cut off, causing many Lancashire Mills to sharply reduce production or close completely. Sedgwick Mill held large stocks of raw cotton and continued in limited production. By 1863, with the war continuing, McConnel was looking for other enterprises to diversify his interests away from cotton spinning.
Slate quarry and railway owner
In 1859, McConnel had purchased Hengwrt Hall near Rhydymain, near Dolgellau in mid Wales. His connection to Wales lead him to form the Aberdovey Slate Company on 3 January 1864, to exploit the mineral resources of the district. The company leased the land on which the Bryn Eglwys slate quarry stood and took over slate extraction operations. McConnel oversaw a significant expansion of operations at the quarry. A major part of this was to construct a new railway from the quarry to the standard gauge Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway at Tywyn, some 7 miles away. This new railway was the narrow gauge Talyllyn Railway which opened in 1866.
Bryn Eglwys was a successful venture and continued in production until 1946. The Talyllyn Railway continued serving the local district after the closure of the quarry, and in 1951 became the first railway in the world to be taken over by volunteers and run as a heritage railway. It continues to operate as a successful tourist attraction.
McConnel continued to control McConnel & Kennedy until his retirement in 1878. John William McConnel, his son, took over the business in 1880. William McConnel died in 1902.
- Boyd, James I.C. (1965). Narrow Gauge Railways in Mid Wales. The Oakwood Press.