Darfield Quarries

May 1938

Mexborough and Swinton Times May 6, 1938

Darfield Quarries

Whether it be the axe which fells the fir in Finland or the knife which severs the Sunday joint in Sydney, the chances are that it has been whetted up and given its fineness on a bit of Darfield. When you know that circular grindstones weighing as much as two and a half tons are shipped from Darfield quarries regularly you realise that in a very real sense the world revolves around Darfield.

Do you want any more proof that this Darfield product has a world-wide reputation? Then we will tell you that the product is advertised in no fewer than nine languages. Even the South Sea islanders send for it!

Established In 1761.

And yet there are many people in Darfield who have never seen Darfield quarries, and have only a vague idea of where they are. This is because they are remotely situated and hidden from view. There is a main road not two hundred yards away and a main line (L.M.S. north and south) much nearer than that, but from those avenues of traffic the quarries are not visible; those who pass by on their own lawful occasions never become aware of their existence. The only outward sign of industrial activity visible in the distance is the apex of a twenty-ton jib-crane, but get to the top of the quarry and you see before you a hive of activity. The excavations are immense as you would naturally suppose when you are told that these (marries have been yielding stone for building purposes since 1761: It is like the crater of an extinct volcano, except that it is not by any means extinct. The quarries are situated in the angle formed by the Railway and the Rotherham to Pontefract main road at Cat Hill, and are approached by an unobtrusive by road through the housing scheme at Millhouses. As far general location, you might think you had dropped into the Forest of Eden, so sequestered is this little location.

Darfield quarries are also isolated in another way, and that is that they have never experienced depression or industrial troubles

There is one man here who does nothing else but make scythestones, a job on which his grandfather was engaged. This, by the way, is a specialist job for which human ingenuity has not yet been able to devise effective machinery. From start to finish it is exclusively handwork. Darfield stone, which is almost pure silica, has all the rare qualities which go toward making a good scythe-stone, and that is why they write from the ends of the earth in practically every known language to buy them.

Speed with Accuracy.

Here is a brief description of the process as the ordinary observer sees it. First the scythe-stone maker receives stone in rough cubes of about a foot each way. These are soaked in water over-night so that they become what the quarryman calls “green.” They are cut into what are known as “shies”—about three dozen out of each – cube. Each “shie” is split into two pieces, each piece being roughly of the dimensions of the finished scythe-stone. This being done the operation consists in trimming the stone with special tools as it lies in the loose sand on the ground, a “back-breaking” job: the man agreed; but like all other jobs, “you I get used to it.” The speed and accuracy I with which the scythe-stone maker works is almost incredible. Believe it or not but in an ordinary working day he can cut and trim ten dozen of these stones which is what they call a scythe-stone worker’s “hundred” — possibly a relic of those bad days when they got a hundred per cent. out of a man—and then some. When the scythe-stone maker has finished the girls take over. Working over what they call a -banker” I —a stone sink filled with water—they polish the product to the requisite ‘smoothness on a “rub-stone.” The scythe-stones are then dried and packed I for export—perhaps to be used in the wheat belt of canada or the steppes of Russia.

New “Stone Age.”         

If the product of a stone quarry lacks the interest which comes of variety, there is no lack of interest in the various processes. At Darfield you see at work a stone-saw with which ten to fifteen ton blocks lifted rough from quarry are sliced up to the required dimensions. The saw is slow but sure. This has never  been and never could be, done by hand.

You look on the ground and see a stone measuring 12 feet by 12 inches by six inches with edges as sharp as knives and a face as smooth as news print. This is required for the facade of some big building. You wonder how they can cut a stone of those dimensions with not the slightest trace of a grain in it, out of the solid rock, and the foreman tells you, “That is exactly the reason we got that order. A lot of people would like to be able to turn out stones like that. We can get them larger if necessary.” .

What are the chief characteristics of Darfield stone? You are prompted to enquire this when you hear that they send half-way round the world for it. One is that it does not absorb moisture to the same extent as most of the sandstones, and therefore keeps its natural colour longer and is more durable. As stated previously it is nearly pure silica.

At present Darfield stone is being used in the construction of a new bridge for the West Riding County Council at Kilnhurst, several schools for the same authority, Rotherham Fire Station, extensions to Brierley Hospital, and schools for the Corporation of Barnsley. It was recently used on the enlargement and improvement of the Great North road bridge over the Aire at Ferry bridge—a bridge built by John Carr, the famous Yorkshire mason —possibly out of Darfield stone—over a hundred years ago. Darfield stone is approved for all West Riding bridges. This suggests that there is a move back to stone from steel. But apart from the virtues of Darfield stone for building purposes it is recognised as the best grinding stone in the country for edge tools, and as such is largely used in Sheffield.

All Done By Kindness.

There are knacks in most jobs and stone quarrying is no exception. You cannot manhandle blocks of stone as big as a railway wagon, but is it amazing what can be done by “kindness.’ You see a solid chunk of stone weighing forty or fifty tons at the bottom of the quarry and wonder what they are going to do with it. Well, they don’t try to lift that. Even a good crane would grumble at it. So first of all they split it into perhaps two or three blocks with explosives, and then lift out the sections. And speaking about blasting. Don’t imagine that the gunpowder or TNT or whatever it is, breaks of the stone just smithereens. Actually it splits the blocks, as cleanly as you could cut she’s with a knife stop

They can split a 20 ton Stone to quarter of an inch. It’s just a question of knowing your stone and how to apply  the power available. Simple!