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Quarrying in Guernsey - the major industry of 19th Century

Quarrying was the major industry in Guernsey in the 19th century and at its height, 268 quarries were being worked, 178 of which were in the two northern parishes of St Sampson and Vale.  

The blue granite (Diorite) was expertly dressed by skilled craftsmen and it is thought that either Guernsey or Herm granite was used for the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. 

Many quarrymen came to the island from Cornwall and between 1810 and 1841, the population of St Sampson parish more than doubled from 650 to 1,567.  

The granite was used mainly for road making in Britain and was crushed by hand in the early years on the island. Stone production peaked in 1910 when 458,000 tons were transported to Britain by Steamer. The ships returned laden with red bricks from the London Brick Company and this led to the demise of brick production at Oatlands. However they turned their skills to the production of clay pots for the fledgling tomato industry. The ancient kilns still remain on the site. 

With the introduction of asphalt for road making, crushed granite was no longer required and exports ceased in 1967. A total of 4,147,975 tons of granite was exported to Britain. The only working quarry in Guernsey is at Les Vardes run by Ronez who continue to supply stone to the local building industry and skilled stonemasons remain a key part of the industry. They have been operating in the islancd since 1961.

Ronez announced in June 2011 that Les Vardes has sufficient resources to last until 2028 with an estimated 2.5m tonnes of granite. They currently produce 140,000 tonnes per annum for the local building industry. They employ 112 staff only 30 of which are employed at the quarry as mechanisation has reduced labour requirements to an absolute minimum. Approval to continue quarrying on the site has meant the extension in life and they expect to hit blue granite there shortly.

The company also owns about a third of the land available at the Chouet headland, with the States of Guernsey owning the rest. The company remains hopeful that they will eventually gain planning permission to quarry on that site

The island’s coastal defences and harbours are built from massive granite blocks all of which had to be placed manually using pulleys and winches.  

The quarries several hundred feet deep have since proven useful in the 20th and 21st centuries as water reservoirs and for waste disposal. 



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