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
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
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.