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The former Capel Bethesda from Penybryn Road.
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In 1823, the Bethesda Chapel was built and the town subsequently grew around it. The chapel was rebuilt in 1840 and has now been converted into flats and is known as Arafa Don.
The town grew around the slate quarrying industries; the largest of the local quarries is the Penrhyn Quarry. At its peak, the town exported purple slate all over the world. Penrhyn Quarry suffered a three-year strike led by the North Wales Quarrymen's Union between 1900 and 1903 - the longest industrial dispute in British History. This led to the creation of the nearby village of Tregarth, built by the quarry owners, which housed the families of those workers who had not struck. It also led to the formation of three co-operative quarries, the largest of which Pantdreiniog dominated the town for many years.
The A5 road runs through Bethesda and marked the border between Lord Penrhyn's land, and the freehold land. Most of the town is to the east and northeast of the road, with housing packed onto the hillside in irregular rows, built on the commons. On the current high street, all the public houses are found on the north side of the road.
The narrow gauge Penrhyn Quarry Railway opened in 1801 to serve Penrhyn Quarry. It connected the quarry with Port Penrhyn on the coast and operated until 1962. In 1884, a branch of the London and North Western Railway's network from Bangor was opened, along with a station for the village. The line closed to passengers in 1951 and to freight in 1963.
The peak population of Bethesda was 15,000;[when?] it is currently around 4,327 people (2001 census). Current opportunities for employment in the town are limited: there are a few manufacturing businesses; most businesses are in the low-paid service sector and hospitality industry. For employment with higher earning potential, residents tend to commute to towns along the North Wales coast. Bangor is the most popular destination, but some will commute daily as far as Cheshire.
At the local level, Bethesda elects thirteen community councillors to Bethesda Community Council, from the community wards of Gerlan, Ogwen and Rachub.
Prior to 1996 Bethesda was a county electoral ward to Gwynedd County Council. Since 2004, two county wards have covered Bethesda, namely Gerlan and Ogwen which each elect one county councillor to Gwynedd Council.
The architecture and layout of the town are largely utilitarian. Most of the buildings are constructed of stone with slate roofs. Some are constructed wholly of slate blocks, although such buildings tend to suffer from damp and structural slippage because the very flat and smooth surfaces of slate do not bind well to mortar.
The upper parts of Carneddi, Cilfodan and Tan y Foel owe more to stone quarrying on the nearby hills rather than slate quarrying that supported the lower end of the town. At the eastern limits, the town is bounded by the rising land of the Carneddau mountains which form some of the more remote landscapes of Snowdonia. Much of Bethesda once consisted of discrete villages such as Gerlan, Rachub, Tregarth, Llanllechid and Braichmelyn; their names are retained as districts of the town.
Bethesda is noted for both the number of chapels (mostly dating from the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival) in the town. The town was named after the Bethesda Chapel, which was recently converted into residential flats.
Commerce and industry
Llanllechid, on the outskirts of Bethesda, is the home of the Popty Bakery, the origins of which date back to the bakery opened by O. J. Williams in the early 1900s. The product range focuses mainly on traditional Welsh cakes and Bara Brith and these lines are retailed throughout Wales and parts of England through outlets including Aldi, Asda, Co-Op, Morrisons and Tesco.
There are ten pubs in the Bethesda area, not including Tregarth. The Douglas Arms, on the High Street, was named after the family which owned the nearby Penrhyn Quarry. Other pubs include the Bull, The Kings Head, Y Sior ("The George"), The Victoria Arms, and the Llangollen.
Language and culture
The dominant language of the town is Welsh and can be seen written and heard spoken in most settings. According to the United Kingdom Census 2001, 77.0% of the residents are Welsh-speaking, higher than the average for both Gwynedd and Wales as a whole.
The S4C series Amdani! (a play on words that can mean "go for it!" and "about her") was based on a fictitious women's rugby team in Bethesda, and many of the location shots were filmed in the area. The series was based on the novel of the same name, by Bethan Gwanas, who lived in the town.
In June 2012 Tabernacl (Bethesda) Cyf., a non-profit co-operative based in the town was awarded a grant of around £1 million to renovate Neuadd Ogwen, a performance venue on the High Street. It was due to reopen as a community arts centre in June 2013.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Bethesda developed a reputation as a hub of musical creativity. Jam sessions and small home studios abounded alongside a burgeoning pub rock scene. As well as the now well-established 'Pesda Roc' festival, Bethesda has nurtured the Welsh language bands Maffia Mr Huws and experimentalists Y Jeycsyn Ffeif. In more recent years it continues to spring up bands from the local community such as Radio Rhydd.
Flooded pit at the Penrhyn Quarry from Y Fronllwyd
- Bobby Atherton - footballer
- Ellis William Davies - politician
- Idris Foster - Jesus Professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Oxford
- Bethan Gwanas - the author lived and worked in Bethesda.
- Esyllt Harker - singer, actress and storyteller
- Frederick Llewellyn-Jones - politician
- Mikael Madeg - Breton language writer, French language assistant at Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen 1971–72
- Leila Megane - singer
- John Ogwen - the actor
- Gwenlyn Parry - writer
- William John Parry - first general secretary of the North Wales Quarrymen's Union.
- Peter Prendergast - Welsh landscape painter
- Caradog Prichard - Welsh novelist and poet, author of Un Nos Ola' Leuad
- Gruff Rhys - the lead singer of Super Furry Animals who grew up in the area known as Rachub or Llanllechid.
- Goronwy Roberts - politician
- James Edmund Vincent - barrister and writer
- John Francon Williams - writer, geographer, cartographer, journalist, editor, historian, inventor (born in Llanllechid)
- "Community population 2011". Retrieved 15 May 2015.
- Hayman, Richard (May 2017). "BETHESDA: An urban character study". Gwynedd Council. Cite journal requires
- "The 100 MPH slide; Riding Europe's Longest Zipline". Retrieved 3 July 2016.
- "Councillors". Partneriaeth Ogwen. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- "Gwynedd County Council Election Results 1973-1993" (PDF). The Elections Centre (Plymouth University). Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- "The County of Gwynedd (Electoral Changes) Order 2002 - Schedule". legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. 6 December 2002. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- Gwynedd Listed Building Register Archived 8 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- "Popty Bakery, About". caegroes.co.uk. Archived from the original on 15 October 2016. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
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|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Bethesda (Wales).|