Home Up Pre-History The District The Streets The Tenement Family Names North East Art

The Doric Columns

Rubislaw Quarry Kemnay Quarry - Paradise Hill J M Henderson & Co Granite Works Granite Masons A & J Robertson Migrant Masons

The Granite Industry

Gabbros & Granites

Metamorphic changes are not the only evidence of the increased temperatures that affected the Dalradian rocks as the Iapetus Ocean was consumed. Large volumes of magma (molten rock) were injected into the deformed and metamorphosed Dalradian strata as the crustal plates collided. The magma cooled and crystallised to form large bodies (plutons) of igneous rock; different types of magma produced different types of igneous rock, such as granite and gabbro. The granites are closely associated with the Dalradian rocks which had experienced the highest temperature metamorphic changes. In such areas, some of the metamorphic rocks were heated to such a degree that they began to melt, producing magma that coalesced into larger bodies and eventually cooled to form granite. Many examples of this transformation process can be seen in the coastal outcrops south of Aberdeen at Cove. The Aberdeen granite, famously quarried at Rubislaw, is one of the best known of the granite intrusions generated in this way.

Nitroglycerin, 1st synthesized by an Italian called Ascanio Sobrero in 1846, is made by reacting glycerol (glycerin, glycerine,or 1,2,3-propanetriol) with concentrated nitric and sulphuric acids.  Glycerol is present in the form of esters (glycerides) in all animal and vegetable fats and oils. It was released by treating the fats with alkalis such as ash from burned seaweed. Whales were an important source of fat for this process. The production of ash from kelp was itself a major industry in Scotland in the western and northern isles during the 18th and 19th centuries.  In more peaceful times nitroglycerine (or blasting oil) had been used as a commercial explosive with production being pioneered by the Swedish Chemist Alfred Nobel in 1862. Unfortunately it was very dangerous to handle but in 1866 Nobel invented dynamite, nitroglycerine made safe by absorbing it onto a diatomaceous sand, known as kieselguhr, to produce a pliable dough-like material.  Nobel established a dynamite factory at Ardeer in Ayrshire, which, by 1907 by was reputed to be the largest explosives factory in the world and which closed only relatively recently. The required kieselguhr was found in substantial deposits in Scotland at Loch Cuithir on Skye and in Aberdeenshire.

Rubislaw granite quarry, showing stone blocks brought down by a recent blast. The quarry opened in 1741 and reached over 90 metres deep, and was described as the 'deepest hole in Europe'. 

In the British Isles, intrusions of granite and related igneous rocks are present in a variety of localities, and range widely in geological age and origin. Differences in mineral composition and conditions of emplacement mean that British granites show a wide range of colours and textures.

Granite forms from the cooling of large magma bodies at depth in the crust, the slow cooling allowing the growth of large and interlocking mineral crystals. Compositionally, granites typically contain 55-75% silica and are commonly pale coloured with medium to coarse grained crystals discernable to the naked eye. The interlocking crystals provide cohesion which adds strength and makes them suitable for polishing without plucking of the grains. Finer grained granites were typically used for structural purposes (e.g. foundations, walling, kerbstones, setts and paving), while coarser grained and porphyritic (i.e. with large crystals usually of feldspar) varieties were valued for ornamental work. The predominance of silica and other relatively stable minerals in granite make it particularly strong and durable.

Men of Granite - 1933  A glimpse of these great granite quarries in times past starting with an Aerial shot of the quarry.  Quarrymen at work, Blasting, Machinery, Rockface, Splitting etc. "reaching the ground." shows a man pressing the plunger on a detonator, resulting in an explosion and Avalanche of granite rocks. Shows sett making, stone dressing and turning of Columns and Pedestals

Aberdeenshire Granite. The Aberdeen granite industry developed from the 18th century, with stone first sent to London for paving in 1764 and the construction of Portsmouth Docks a few decades later. Through the 19th century the industry expanded and the area became a world-renowned producer of granite. The industry was of huge importance to the local economy, and materials and skills were so plentiful that much of the City of Aberdeen was constructed from granite. A relatively sophisticated transportation system (canal and railways) allowed material from quarries further inland to be transported to the coast, and the stone was exported in great quantities to the main urban centres.  There were many granite quarries in Aberdeenshire, producing stone of varying colour and texture, and exploited for a wide variety of uses. A number of the major quarries are described below.  

Peterhead, one of the most important Aberdeenshire granites, was produced as two varieties, known as Red and Blue Peterhead, both exported throughout the UK and abroad during the 19th century. The red variety was better known and used for ornamental construction and monumental work e.g. London, Cambridge (St John's College Chapel pillars) and Liverpool (St George's Hall pillars). Blue Peterhead was used for decorative building and ornamental work, e.g. the base of fountains in Trafalgar Square and the Prince Albert Mausoleum.  Peterhead granite is still quarried at Stirlinghill and Longhaven quarries, where it is mostly crushed for aggregate.

Kemnay quarry began production in the mid-19th century producing building stone, setts and kerbs, with the best material reserved for polished monumental work. It is a light grey muscovite-biotite granite. Examples include the Queen Victoria Memorial in London, the Forth Railway Bridge and, more recently, as cladding for the new Scottish Parliament. 

Aberdeen Journal 1891
Aberdeen Man Killed in America - Alexander Thompson, foreman for the Booth Brothers at their Millstone Quarry, United States, died, on December 15th of injuries resulting from his being thrown from his carriage. Mr. Thompson was returning from his day's work at Millstone to his home at Spithead, and had reached the bridge over the railroad track on the new road leading to Millstone, when he saw a working train to the eastward of the bridge. Fearing that his horse might be frightened should he be on the bridge when the cars passed under, Mr. Thompson waited for the train to go by. After it had gone under the bridge, in the direction of Niantic Mr. Thompson drove on to the bridge but the train in the meanwhile had stopped and was backing down, so that it came under the bridge just as he drove on. The horse became frightened and ran across the bridge and down the decline to the westward, and as the carriage went round a curve Mr. Thompson was thrown violently to the ground, breaking his back.  He was seen to fall, and assistance was soon at hand. The unfortunate man was taken into Mr. McNaughton's dwelling near by, where he lingered until 9.30 o'clock, at which hour death came to his relief. Deceased was a native of Aberdeen, 42 years of age, and came to Millstone 3 years ago from the Smith Granite Company's Quarry, Westerly. Since that time he has been foreman at Booth Brothers' Quarry. He Was highly valued by his employers, and was held in great esteem by all his fellow-employees and his neighbours. He leaves a wife and 7 small children.

Dancing Cairns Quarry

1880 - This is a Derrick Crane, powered by steam. Derrick cranes were designed to lift heavy loads. In this case the crane could lift 15 tonnes

These cranes were designed to turn and lift. The jib, which sticks out and carries the rope or chain with a hook, was raised or lowered like a ships derrick.  A real parallelogram of forces diagram.  Probably the Dancing Cairns Quarries in Bucksburn.

Dancing Cairns Quarry works were close to the Bucksburn Howe. The quarry had been working since the late 18th century, when it was opened by Messrs Snell, Rennie & May.  Many stones were hewn from this quarry for Telford's North Pier extension.

Our Pier can neither firmly stand,
Nor sober habits learn;
For why? the stones that it compose,
Are all from Dancing Cairn.

Stones have their natural tendencies,
As well as mortal men;
And thus our Pier hastes to become
A Dancing Cairn again.

Above Bucksburn village was the Dancing Cairns Granite Quarry. It was over 200ft deep. As children we used to go and play in and around the Quarry, catching Tadpoles, Frogs, Newts and Sticklebacks. It has now been filled in with City refuse and on the surface today is now a Golf course, which overlooks Dyce Airport.

Buildings in Aberdeen. Used in London for kerbs, paving, etc. Composed of quartz, orthoclase, oligoclase, and mica.

Quarry Lodge
Nothing is visible of the steading of this Croft, which stood in an area now occupied by modern housing on the West side of Long Walk Road. As depicted on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Aberdeenshire, 1869, sheet lxxv), the steading comprised 3 buildings. One was a cottage and was accompanied by a very small building adjacent to its North-west corner. An L-plan range lay immediately to the North, with its open side facing South-east and a horse-engine attached to the North side of the North wing. By the end of the 19th century the horse-engine had been removed, and range had been extended by the addition of an East wing to form a U-shaped arrangement with its open side facing South (1902, sheet lxxv.NW)..

Sclattie Quarry,

Bankhead, Bucksburn  - Now an Industrial Estate

Corrinnie Quarry

The Corrennie Quarry at Tillyfourie. Granite building blocks stacked ready for transport. The quarry is still in operation.

Corrennie  Quarry Granite from Tillyfouries is a medium grained biotite granite with a salmon-red colour making it favoured for decorative use. Examples include the Glasgow City Chambers and the Tay Railway Bridge. The light grey speckled muscovite-biotite granite from the Dancing Cairns quarry has been used in Trafalgar Square, the Thames Embankment and part of London Bridge. Fine-grained dark greyish-blue biotite granite from Dyce Quarry was favoured for the interior of London Banks and exported overseas to Australia (Bank of Australia, Melbourne). Both Kemnay and Corrennie quarries are still active, along with a number of other granite quarries in Aberdeenshire, but their granites are mostly crushed for aggregate and roadstone, although dimension stone can still be obtained. 

This large, now disused granite quarry, which is situated at the foot of the South flank of Tillyfourie Hill. A single large pit initially, but by then that quarry had been abandoned in favour of new workings higher up on the South face of the Hill.

Sculptor's Appraisal of Corrinnie Granite

The extensive trade in Granite appears to have originated with the Messrs. Adam, architects, of London, who, having entered into a contract for paving the Metropolis, in 1764, commenced some quarries in the rocks on the sea-coast, near the lands of Torry, and brought the stone, when prepared, to London; but, finding this mode of supply too expensive, they employed the Aberdeen Masons to furnish them with stone, and, in a short time, a very extensive trade was established, not only in paving-stones, but in large blocks of granite for public buildings and works of great magnitude. Many of the largest blocks were sent to Sheerness, for the construction of the docks at that place, and to London, for the erection of bridges over the Thames, and the foundation of the new Houses of Parliament. The granite, which is extremely hard, and of great beauty when polished, has lately been brought into extensive use for chimney-pieces, vases, pedestals, and other ornamental works, by the application of machinery to the purpose of polishing it, by which the expense is reduced to about 1/3rd of that by hand labour. The quantity of granite exported in 1844, exceeded 27,400 tons.

Corrinnie Granite was used for the Base and Cornice of Pedestal of the Albert Memorial, 'an exquisite variety of granite from the estate of Captain John Gordon of Cluny Castle.

Persley Quarry
The then water-filled remains of a roughly circular quarry, measuring about 25m in diameter, are situated in sparse woodland on the North side of the River Don about 140m West of Lower Persley steading near the Mugiemoss Paper Mills. A low mound of spoil was visible on the South side of the quarry, but to the East there was a larger spoil-tip which has been quarried into on its NW and NE flanks.

Image from the mid 1930s of a Sett Maker in front of his Skaithie in Persley Quarry. He was a ‘Cassie’ maker hewing stone setts for the roads from granite with just a hammer and chisel. The ‘lean-to’ or Skaithie in the rear of the image was the only shelter he had in all weathers.

Another important branch in which granite is employed is the laying of roadways, tramways etc., with setts. It is important in more ways than one, if only from the fact that the "causey-men," or settmakers, were the highest paid of granite workers. The fact is not due to any extraordinary skill or intelligence being necessary, but is alone attributable to the advantages pertaining to a well-conducted union.  This the men have long ago recognised, and today have a larger percentage of workmen affiliated than any other workers' union in the country. We cannot ascertain when granite setts were first used, but it is many years ago.  Of late years an attempt has been made to introduce wood paying, and in many places it has superseded granite, but where a hard-wearing, non-slippery surface is required recourse has to be made to granite, and in this respect granite excels all others. It is many years before granite is worn smooth, which is accounted for by the fact that the concussion caused by the horses' shoes, instead of acting as a polisher, in reality roughens the stone. Should you take the trouble, when in a City whose streets are paved with granite, to examine a sett after being struck by a horse-shoe you will see what is meant. Although the first outlay is more than whinstone or some wood pavements, it is cheaper in the end, as the relative cost of wood and granite, with the expense of maintaining each for many decades years shows.

A cassie is a small block of granite.

They are used to pave roads and are also called setts. The word cassie comes from "causeway" which means roadway. Cassies were made at quarries in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Millions were produced by skilled sett-makers. Many were sent to London. They sat in small huts called scathies. These huts could be lifted and turned to keep the mason out of wind and rain.
At the arrival of tarmacadam to the main streets of Aberdeen circa 1955 the granite setts were lifted by the 1000 and stored for re-cycling on waste ground around the suburbs,  They were as new and unworn as when they were laid save for the shiny tops due to shod hooves, steel and rubber tyres that polished them over 200 years. Approximately 12" x 9" x 3" wide and looked for all the world like a petrified pan loaf.

There was a need for men who had the skill and patience to reduce huge blocks of granite into manageable pieces by chipping it with a variety of hammers, and chisels to produce the required shape and size. In this 1920's photograph we see a sett maker at Persley Quarry on the north side of the River Don in Aberdeen, at his wooden shelter or 'skaithie'. These shelters provided some sort of wind break for these men who had to sit on blocks of granite patiently working on the hard stone. Settmakers made cobblestones for roads and Aberdeen setts were used to pave streets in London. On his left is a Shearleg structure which acted like a small crane to lift the bigger stones into position. Note the lack of protective safety equipment apart from some extra leather padding on his knee to prevent chafe wear on his dungarees. Men were as tough as the material they worked with in those days.

A short stone early Bronze Age Cist containing an imperfect adult male skeleton and an imperfect urn of red clay, an arrowhead and a flint knife. Found in Persley Quarry in 1868. Circa 2,000 BC

Nigg Quarries
Quarrying here began in the mid 18th century. In March 1766 John Adam, an architect from Edinburgh, presented a petition to Aberdeen Burgh Council asking for permission to begin extracting rocks from quarries in the Bay of Nigg.  Adams proposed an initial lease of 21 years with a one year trial period built in and reviewed every 3 years. The Council quickly agreed and Adams accepted. Later on 22 August 1766 the agreement was extended to include all of the land from the Bay of Nigg down to Cove. Quarrying was extensive in the area through till the 19th century. For some time stones extracted from quarries in the Torry area were used as paving stones in London

John Adam was one of the Adam Brothers responsible for the building of Dumfries House as well as the Adelphi Buildings in London.  The firm was also a contractor for Fort George in Inverness. John Adam, though a competent Architect, worked primarily as the firm’s business manager, overseeing contracts, legal business, and money and resource building activities such as the quarrying business at Torry.  The lands of Torry in question were mortified to Aberdeen by the influential Menzies family of Pitfodels, who retained a say in the use of their mortification.  David Menzies, as part-heritor, was able to relate a number of concerns to the Council and Magistrates over the use and abuse of the lands under the tenancy of Mr. Adam.

The quarries referred to were situated in Nigg and Cove, and came under the jurisdiction of Aberdeen’s Master of Mortifications as heritor of half of Torry.  Aberdeen let the land to John Adam by means of an Act of Council dated 27th March, 1766, as well as a subsequent act of 1st July, 1767.  These can be found in volume 63 of the City’s Council Registers. The original Tack of 1766 granted him a 21yr lease of the quarries lying to the south of the town’s quarries at Cove for an annual rent of £10.  The 1767 notation in the Council Register claims the annual rent stands at £5, as well as granting him quarrying rights to the lands of Torry and Cove as far as the southernmost extent of the Barony for an additional £15.

Dyce Quarries - Tyrebagger
Granite is the only species of stone found in considerable quantities through this parish, of which, however, the rocks seem almost inexhaustible, extending over a greater proportion of the Hill of Tyrebagger
John Gibb was born near Falkirk in 1776, and only moved to Aberdeen to take up the post of Engineer to Aberdeen Harbour in 1809. He acquired an interest in a Quarry at Tyrebagger in 1816.  Wrought for 7 years by Gibb from 1816-23 but he made little profit due to the cost of transportation to Aberdeen.

Besides being used for crib, pavement, and causeway stones, and for house-building, the stones from Tyrebagger have been employed in raising the following works: the Bell-rock Lighthouse; Sheerness Quay Wall; Deptford Quay-Wall; West India Docks; and Sheerness Docks. Stones from the same quarry were formed into pillars for the groins of the London Custom House, and were dressed for the long steps and coping of St Catherine's Docks; and for the most prominent parts of the new Bridge of Don. They were likewise used in building the new London Bridge, and from the same place was that fine block of granite selected which encloses certain urns and other memorials of the present age, and forms the foundation stone of that magnificent structure. In these quarries also a few specimens of dolomite have been found.

Cairngall Quarry
an Estate Mansion, and with extensive granite quarries, in Longside parish, Aberdeenshire, in the eastern vicinity of Longside village, and near the Peterhead branch of the Formartine and Buchan Railway, 5 miles West of Peterhead. The Estate, so late as 1804, was little better than waste moorland; but, prior to 1841, was reclaimed and improved into a condition of high productiveness and order.

Cairngall, leased by Messrs Alexander Macdonald, Field, & Co., a good substantial stone, known as Aberdeen granite, is Quarried.  The Cairngall quarries, in particular, produce a fine small grained stone, admirably adapted for polishing and for ornamental work. In fact, for those purposes, no better material has as yet been found.  It was from Cairngall that the sarcophagus for the remains of his late Royal Highness the Prince Consort was taken.

One of the most famous monuments the huge double Cairngall sarcophagus at the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, which contains both the remains of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The block for the sarcophagus is the largest block of flawless wrought granite in existence, and the 4th Block quarried: the first 3 attempts ended in failure when flaws were discovered underneath the stones after they had been detached. The block of granite originally weighed 30 tons. 12 Clydesdale horses were needed to pull it from the Quarry to the MacDonald Works.  Manager Robert Fergusson stated that after the rough granite was shaped, hollowed out, and polished it gave a total weight of 9 tons. The lid alone weighs 5 tons and the whole sarcophagus rests on polished granite blocks. The 4 massive bronze angels attached to each corner were designed by Marochetti and cast by Barbeedienne in Paris.

Alexander MacDonald received Letters Patent as “Her Majesty’s Workers in Granite” in 1867 after completing the sarcophagus.  When Victoria's coffin was to be placed therein it was discovered that sarcophagus was 6 inches too shallow and temporary wood infill were painted to match.  Later matching granite inserts were added to the raised lid.

All over the Kingdom monumental work in granite from this and the other Scottish granite quarries were met with.

The quarries are situated in a hill which rises about 60 feet above the circumjacent ground; they are worked to some distance right into the hill, and then worked downward; and they have furnished some of the largest and finest blocks for public works and public buildings in the kingdom. They began to be worked, to any considerable extent, in 1808, when they were selected to furnish the blocks for the foundations of the Bell Rock lighthouse; and they furnished the blocks for the foundations of the then new London Bridge, for the pier-walls of the new Houses of Parliament, for the pillars in Covent Garden Market, for the great polished monolithic pillars of St George's Hall in Liverpool, and for the pedestals of several great public statues.

The Bell Rock Lighthouse is situated in the North Sea on a partially-submerged reef some 11 miles (17.5 km) southeast of Arbroath on the East Coast of Scotland. One of the major engineering feats of the early 19th Century, it was designed and built by Robert Stevenson (1772 - 1850), with John Rennie (1761 - 1821) serving as Chief Engineer, and came into service in 1811. The lighthouse tower was built from 4 types of stone; granite from Cairngall Quarry near Peterhead was used for the foundation, while the skin of the tower, which had to resist the brunt of the sea, comprises granite from Rubislaw Quarry (Aberdeen) with a core of Old Red Sandstone from Mylnefield Quarry, Kingoodie. Finer sandstone from Craigleith Quarry (Edinburgh) was used in finishing the structure and building the parapet around the light.

Balmedie Quarry
In 1919 a Granite Quarry was opened in Belhelvie, known as Balmedie Quarry, on a smallholding previously known as Park of Balmedie. Initially royalties were paid to Captain Lumsden of Balmedie House, but upon the Captain's death in 1932 the Council purchased the Quarry and the land it lay on.  In 1926 the first stone cottages were built along what became known as Council Terrace to house the Quarrymen and their families, followed by Scott Terrace in 1930.  By this time the Quarry had become the dominant employer in Belhelvie, which had been exclusively a farming area before that.  Explosive charges were fired twice a day, at noon and in the evening. Initially the broken rock was transported to where it was needed, at which point it was further broken down manually.  Then the Quarry began to supply crushing and Tarmacadaming services. Indeed the Ellon Road, between the Bridge of Don and Menie, was one of the 1st to be treated with supplies from Balmedie Quarry.

In 1936 the Provost Road, which goes past the derelict Victoria Hall, was the 1st to benefit from the new Tar Metal. In addition to this commercial sandpits were dug in the parish in the 1930s to serve the need for cement. Twenty years later there were workings at Millden, Wester Hatton and Blackdog, producing an annual supply of 1000s of tons of sand.

BlRSMORE - Aboyne Grey and pink.Very like Shap granite in appearance.

BODHAM – Peterhead - Grey - very large stones; Prince Consort's Memorial Fountain, Trafalgar Square

COVE – Kincardineshire Dark grey - Used chiefly for kerbs and sets.

PictureThe Aberdeen Granite Turning Company, up near the prison,  however in the late 1960, early 70s period the Glasgow Shipbuilding firm of Alexander Stephens & Co of Linthouse were looking for further avenues of work to pursue, and they bought over the goodwill of an Aberdeen Granite firm,  Was this the firm mentioned?  At the time of the closure of Stephens, I was in the Linthouse engine works, by that time the plant had by and large all gone, but outside in another fair sized building was Stephens Granite Turning Dept, One of the lathes was a J Abernethy.   The rest were some what beat up large conventional geared head engine works lathes, and the beds were in a poor and somewhat water stained state  At that period, the tools on the toolposts could work, they by and large just looked like a portion of boiler plate profiled to a circle, with the edge angled away, Still lying about were various nice turned work pieces, just left as the workers had lifted their jackets, and bid the concern a fond farewell, as they contemplated a dismal future! It is equally of note that the original Stephens Shipbuilding family were active in Aberdeen.  In Edinburgh also the craft of granite turning was carried out by some of the old paper machinery builders, and also the firm of McLean & Gibson of Glenrothes may also still do this work, as they are still in the paper machinery trade.  A local museum has an east coast stone planing machine lying in the yard, It was constructed by The Anderson Grice Co. of Carnoustie, Better known for very fine steam & electric cranes, they were still building steam derricks till into the 1970s 

Aberdeen Monument for Bermuda - Messrs Simpson Brothers, granite merchants, Cotton Street, Aberdeen, have just completed a beautiful monument to be erected at Bermuda "in memory of the non-commissioned Officers and Men of the 1st Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment who died of enteric fever (Typhoid) and from other causes while stationed at Bermuda during the years 1888-90." The monument, which is of granite from the Dyce Quarries, stands 16 feet high, and has an imposing appearance. There are 3 bases. The lowest, which is 4ft square, is of axed granite, and the others are polished. Above these is the pedestal with a handsomely-moulded cornice, and set off by a finely-polished pillar at each of the 4 corners. On the front slab is the inscription already quoted, and on the other sides are the names of the soldiers including 1 quartermaster, 3 sergeants, and 26 privates. An octagonal obelisk rests on the die. It is surmounted by a carved finial, and, like the other parts of the monument, is polished. The stone is of particularly fine character, and it has been worked and finished in a manner which reflects the highest credit on the firm. The monument will be shipped for London next week.

Send mail to jazzmaster@jazzeddie.f2s.com with questions or comments about the design of this web site.
Last modified: 01/09/2013