A Quarryman's Memories : Maurice Lambert

Interviewed by Elizabeth Shorrock

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Maurice Lambert and George Mullinder. Photo by Jessie Pettiford

Breaking and Filling

I first started quarry working in 1944. Previously I had been working on a farm, but after getting pneumonia I was ready for a change. My first introduction to quarrying was at Foredale Limestone Quarry, owned at that time by Settle Limes. This quarry is situated at the top of Moughton Fell looking down on to Helwith Bridge. I was then living at Austwick and so I had to bike to work. The job I got was breaking and filling. This meant breaking up stones with a sledge hammer, then filling up tubs, set on rails. This was done with bare hands, without any protective clothing, but everybody wore clogs. (Some tubs were filled with the small stones only, which were called airside. These were taken somewhere else and used for steel-making.)

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When the tubs were full we pushed them to the top of an incline and hooked them on to an endless steel rope. Six full tubs went down to the kilns at the bottom of the hill into which the stones were fed to make powdered limestone. The empty wagons were then hooked on to the rope again and sent back up to the top. I then collected an empty tub and started to fill it again. Sometimes I had to dismantle the rails and move them to a new site. We didn't work if the weather was bad, so received no pay. Fourteen men were employed in the quarry. Pay was 8d or 9d a ton.

Chirping

Getting the stone from the rock face was called chirping. With a hand drill and using different drills they would go down about 20ft., then black powder was poured in down the hole. Lighting it was by a fuse tape of cortex. The result of this would be cracks running horizontally from the hole drilled. So again black powder was poured down also filling up the new cracks. Then with the second explosion, the rock face was loosened. This was done once or twice a week.

If you did quarry work you were exempt from being called up for the war. After it was over in 1945 I left the quarry and joined the railway.

Foredale quarry is now disused.

Following this and after the railway I got a job at Helwith Bridge granite quarry just doing different odd jobs. This quarry is now a fishery.

The Forces and Arcow Quarry

Then in 1947 I joined the forces coming out in 1949. I got a job at Arcow granite quarry then owned by Settle Limes. This is below Foredale and is still a working quarry. At first I did day work. This quarry had lines connecting it to the railway line, so I was employed emptying rubbish into railway wagons or filling wagons with chippings. Then I went on to breaking and filling again. This time it was two men to one tub doing 16 tubs a day, getting paid l1d a ton. We pushed the full tubs down to the crusher and the empty tubs came back up the rails. Now we got a small payment if we couldn't work because of bad weather. Firing to loosen the rock was the same method as at Foredale. I left this quarry in 1951.

Helwith Bridge Dry Rigg

With an offer of better pay I went to work at Helwith Bridge Dry Rigg granite quarry, which is still a working quarry, situated on Swarth Moor below Moughton. At the time this quarry was owned by George Greenwood from Collingsworth, later it was taken over by Donald Oates in the 1950s, and later still, Redlands. I was doing breaking and filling again, two men filling one tub, doing 16 or 17 tubs a day. This way two men could shift 32 tons in a day. When a tub was full it was pushed down to the bottom, hooked up on a rope then tipped into crusher, coming back down empty. I left this quarry after five years.

Lime Drawing

This time I went to Beecroft Limestone Quarry owned then by Settle Limes. Now I was living at Newhouses near Horton, which was better because I had to start work at 4.30a.m. doing lime drawing from the coal kilns. These kilns were loaded with 30cwt. of coal, 15cwt either side, with 2 firing holes. Each man employed in drawing out lime filled a barrow, then taking it across to the railway lines, tipped it into a railway wagon, with 21 barrow loads needed to fill 1 wagon. Cob lime (a lump of pure lime) was put in one wagon, kibble (powdery bits of lime) in another, for steel etc. Then the kilns closed down so I went to work on the yard, platelaying on the railway lines from the quarry and other odd jobs. Then I started working on the new gas kilns, lime drawing. I was offered a permanent job, but it only lasted four or five months at 12 a week. So I left this quarry and got a job back at Dry Rigg Quarry in 1958.

Popping and Accidents

This time back at Dry Rigg I was employed popping. This was drilling very large stones to make them smaller, because they were too big for the crusher. Another method used was called 'drop bombs'. A large iron ball weighing 2 or 3 tons was pulled up on a rope then dropped onto a large stone. Later in the 1980s I was by then an overseer. They asked me to work extra one Sunday morning because they were getting behind with popping. I had just got started drilling a stone when it went through to where there was a detonator and explosive. Everything went up with a bang. I collapsed into a heap of stone. I lost skin from my face and legs and I still have bits of stone in my hands. I was off work 4 or 5 weeks, with only a small National Health sick pay. This accident was caused by a mistake of others before who hadn't checked to see if all the charges had gone off. After popping I helped set charges which blew up larger stones into smaller ones which the crusher would take. Later this process was mechanised by use of the 'Woodpecker' which broke up the stones by means of a steel peg.

One time when I was working at Dry Rigg a slab of stone dropped onto my foot. I was taken to Dr Hyslop at Settle who said, 'Don't take your clog off till you get home, it will be all right'. When I got home, I managed to take my clog off and my foot swelled up almost instantly. I stayed off work a month, again no pay except National Health. Many years later I learnt that I must have cracked the bones in my foot.

Firing the shot was my last job at Dry Rigg Quarry. I was offered voluntary redundancy and I decided to take it, finishing in 1990. 26 or 27 people worked at this quarry then. Now only a few are employed, with methods of extracting stone being very different.

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Maurice Lambert, Alan Coates and Bert Oversby at Dry Rigg Quarry about 1960.