A history of quarrying in Jersey
This article by Robin Cox was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966
It is quite impossible to state when the first quarry opened in the island. Quarries were opened up, where and when the stone was needed. Jersey is blessed with a wide range of natural products, and it is pleasant to see how little the island has suffered despite the many centuries of quarrying
There were five products for which the island was famous, many years ago, only one of which is still extracted in any quantity. The best known is granite, a primary rock, composed of crystals of quartz, felspar and mica, all closely united.
Jersey has three main colours in granite: red, pink and white, the shade of the stone being dictated by the impurity of the felspar.
Local granite is softer than the Guernsey green, but is harder than the Scottish granites, and for this reason the latter is imported for use in graveyard furniture.
The use of the colourful local granite has done much to enhance the Island, so much more than the dank black granite achieves for Guernsey. Complementary to the hard granite is the soft rotten granite which was quarried in large amounts as gravel. A most splendid example of this stone may be seen at the lower end of Les Varines, in St Saviour, where the walls forming the sides of the road may be presumed to be, upon passing by, of solid red stone. Upon closer inspection, however, it crumbles at the slightest touch.
Granite is, by virtue of its hardness, difficult to produce in large quantities, and so, to provide the large quantities necessary to satisfy the demands made by the 18th and 19th century housebuilders, quarries for an inferior secondary rock, Diorite, were opened up.
This stone is softer than granite, and may be dressed in a very short time with very little work. It was used for walls of gardens and houses, in the latter being used with cornerstones of granite or of the ‘new fangled’ bricks.
Also to he found in the Island were deposits of china-clay stone. This seems to have been discovered in 1872, when the railway was being pegged out at Blanches Banques. This clay was shippcd out in large quantities to the North Staffordshire potteries. The fifth product taken from the ground in large quantities was clay for brick making, which was, at one time a very important industry in the island.
The individual quarries
Let us now examine the quarries in greater detail. The nearest to the Town Church, of any size, was that which became the terminus of the Eastern Railway, at Snow Hill. While not strictly a quarry in the truest terms - being an excavation - the stone which was blasted out from beside Fort Regent was put to good use in forming the bed of the railway line and in the construction of the station buildings.
South Hill Quarry was for many years, the scene of work by the War Department, who took stone from there to build many of the forts which are to he seen around the Island today. In later years, civilian contractors took over the extraction of the stone, and much was used as rubble filling for the harbour extensions and the making of concrete blocks. After the end of the 19th century the quarry became deserted until the 1920s, when the unemployed were detailed to fill it in. It has been a source of wonderment how thousands of pounds could have been spent by our planners in an effort to site a swimming pool on a quarry which was filled up in their lifetimes, and yet no one seemed to know it was ever there.
A vast quarry of conglomerate stone (stone composed of sea-washed pebbles) was opened up at Verclut, St Catherine, by the Government. They had, in 1845, purchased large areas of farmland near Verclut, and over the course of ten years extracted many thousands of tons of stone for use in the St Catherine harbour scheme. As could be expected, loads were tipped into the sea, in an effort to form a base for each arm, but were swept away by the tides.
More and more stone was thrown into the sea, and at last a bed, suitable for the construction of the Verclut arm was finished. A similar quarry at Archirondel was opened, the stone being conveyed beneath the road, through a bridge which may still be seen. But before this arm could be completed the whole works were abandoned.
In the north of the Island stands the largest quarry of all. That of Mont Mado. Had it been worked as one large quarry, it would have presented a magnificent spectacle. But throughout its history it has been worked as a series of little quarries, each, as it became exhausted, being allowed to flood. Many of the oldest buildings in Jersey can boast large quantities of Mont Mado granite, often recognisable by its magnificent deep red colour. Today small quantities of the red stone may still he obtained from Mont Mado for special work, but the main part of the quarry is now controlled by the Sewerage Board and used as a tipping place. All manner of unwanted things are thrown into Mont Mado, buses, cars, threshing machines and furniture, have all at some time been employed in filling it up.
Taking the place of Mont Mado for the supply of roadstone, but in a different way, is Ronez Quarry. Situated on the coast, at Ronez, this quarry was opened in 1902 to supply a grey roadstone. Since that date, thousands of tons of granite chippings have been exported to England for use on roads.
Although stronger than the ornamental granite, this grey stone has no natural grain, and is quite unsuitable for special work.
This quarry was kept at full work throughout the War, under different ‘management’, supplying stone for blockhouses, the Airport extensions of 1841 and railway ballast.
A little further along the coast, towards the east, is the little quarry of La Saline, where fine ornamental work is still practised. All the granite kerbstones for the North Marine Drive were made here during the War.
In St Ouen, there is to be found one of the last traditional quarries at L'Etacq. It has recently been purchased by the management of Ronez Quarries, and since then the products of the parent quarry have been considerably enhanced by the incorporation of L'Etacq chippings in the work.
The stone from L’Etacq is mainly of the white birds-eye granite and its manner of extraction has changed little through the years, save for the introduction of power tools.
The stone is still brought down with explosives, and is cut into manageable pieces in a very simple manner. A row of holes is drilled along the granite and each is filled with three steel wedges, one wedge remaining proud above the other two. The upstanding wedges are tapped in turn with a light hammer until the block falls open, as though it were of slate.
The now smaller pieces are then sawn with a diamond saw to the required size. The old method of splitting the stone was to chisel the holes in the granite and fill each with a peg of wood. The wood was then soaked with water, and the quarrymen would retire for the night. Upon their arrival at work in the morning, the block would be found to be split from top to to toe — by the force of the expansion of the water-soaked wood.
On the other side of the valley, may be seen the North-western or La Tchehault Quarry. Some years ago the land was the subject of a dispute between the owner of the headland and the quarry owner.
The owner alleged that work had been taking place far into her land and won her case. The quarry has since lain empty and is a picture of complete desolation. Old omnibuses and quarry trucks lie littered over the floor.
There have been rumours that work was to restart on a concrete block manufactory, but nothing has resulted. Between the two quarries there stand large concrete bins. These relics of war, in which the Germans stored crushed granite, were connected with both quarries by means of elevated railways, supported on piers, which in turn were supported on concrete sleepers which may still be seen. On being filled, trains would leave the bins for any part of the Five Mile Road, where many fortifications were being constructed.
The Five Mile Road is well scarred with quarries, most of which were worked up to the war. In La Pulente Quarry there stands the remains of a steam crane, which was moved to its present site after spending many years on the ‘dump’ inconnection with the filling up of the Old Harbour, for the second time.
The quarry supplied all the material needed by the Department of Labour in constructing the walk around Petit Port, until the whole area was sealed off by the Germans.
In this area is also to be found the magnificent Le Quesne quarries at La Moie. Situated off the Route du Sud, near Corbiere, they were opened in the 19th century, supplying high class pink granite. For the early part of its existence the quarry was merely called on to supply small quantities of stone for ornamentation, but under the control of the Channel Islands Granite Company, the quarry produced much stone for the construction of the Thames Embankment in London.
After this the company went into liquidation and the quarry remained deserted until 1884, when the new railway opened up a quick route to the harbour, and stone once more was shipped from the island to England, for paving purposes. Among local uses for the stone there were the Harbour Works, and in 1890 the demand for a suitable stone for the Victoria statue was satisfied by La Moie Quarries.
At the turn of the century the fortunes of the quarry changed. Improvements in road construction in England no longer called for granite setts but the bread-and-treacle of tarmacadam. The quarry was offered for sale, but as there were no buyers, the land was presented to the States on the condition that it was left as it was.
Despite the Waterworks Company’s idea to build a desalination plant in the quarry, visitors there may still see the gantry and yards of steel hawser by which the hewn stone was lifted to the brink of the workings for loading into railway trucks.
Portelet Quarry was also operated by the Channel Islands Granite Company, and supplied stone for the sea wall at West Park. The stone was carried around by barge and left on the beach until work started.
St Brelade's Bay
The whole backcloth to Woodford at St Brelade’s Bay is formed by what was a very large quarry. It is most far-seeing of the Public Works Committee to site the memorial to Sir Winston Churchill on land which forms the floor to a quarry, which in the 1840s supplied stone for the building of the Houses of Parliament in London.
Back in St Helier there were many quarries around the foot of Mont Patibulaire – Gallow’s Hill. Here is still to be found the Parish Quarry, and were to be found the famous Horseshoe Quarry with its rustic bridge, and Nicklin’s Quarry near the Cholera Ground. These quarries concentrated on supplying sets for street paving. Most of this work finished on the laying out of People’s Park in the 1860s.
Inland, St Mary’s, or Gigoulande Quarries, now produce many different types of granite concrete products.
Handois in Waterwroks Valley was Vatcher’s China Clay quarry, Clay was first found at St Brelade and the vein was found to be abundant in St Lawrence. Work started in the 1870s on its removal at Handois and Col Vatcher announced that he would construct a horse tramway from St Helier to St Aubin along the main road, with, as he called it, an important spur leading to his quarry to bring an occasional load of clay to the boats.
- ”Occasional load!” retorted an observer, through the columns of the British Press. “Don’t you believe it! It is more likely to be an occasional tramcar to St Aubin while the road from Handois to town would be jammed with trucks full of china clay”. Col Vatcher was not allowed to build his tramway.
Other clay was quarried at Mont a l’Abbe and Five Oaks, for the brickworks of Copp and Champion. Gravel was extracted in large amounts from the quarries at La Moie, which may still be seen from the Railway Walk.