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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Key role played by our quarry workers

QUARRYING for limestone and other materials valuable in the building trade tends not to get the attention given to the county’s coal, iron, lead and copper miners.

The economic importance of the quarries was put under the spotlight by Peter del Strother during a days of talks on the extractive industries held at Lancaster University.

In Furness, Ulverston and Millom the limestone quarries produced millions of tons of rock as a flux to be used in the smelting process which turned iron ore into pig iron ingots.

The waste product grew to give us the huge slag banks seen at Barrow, Askam, Ulverston and Millom.

Limestone has had many other uses for centuries in things like fertilizer, quick lime, mortar and cement.

In the days before canals and railways, limestone would be broken up by hand and taken by pack horse – at one stage 1,000 loads a day left quarries in Clitheroe.

More modern quarries were dotted around the countryside and were often served by a narrow gauge railway system to remove the stone.

A quarry could have a working face up to 100ft high and a single blast of explosives might bring down 70,000 tons of rock.

He said: “The blasts only happened once every few years and the rest of the time was spent taking away the rock.”

Big rocks were gradually broken down to a maximum weight of about 45lb.

At one stage black powder explosives were used to do this but the process of ‘popping’ was banned as fragments of rock could be launched in any direction.

By the 1930s mechanical navvies replaced the hand loading of wagons making many men redundant.

He said: “Once the new technology arrived it was used very widely.”

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