When Wray’s Backsbottom Quarry paved the streets of Lancaster

Stone Dressing, Backsbottom Quarry: The quarry worker in the centre of the photo is holding a double headed stone axe, which was used for dressing stone lintels and sills. These would be split from large blocks of stone using plugs and feathers. Holes would be drilled about 12 inches apart, metal feathers inserted and then the plugs would be hammered in, splitting the stone in a neat straight cut. In 1841 there was one slate quarry man and three slate dressers living in Wray. However, by 1881 the numbers had increased to 12 quarry workers.
Stone Dressing, Backsbottom Quarry: The quarry worker in the centre of the photo is holding a double headed stone axe, which was used for dressing stone lintels and sills. These would be split from large blocks of stone using plugs and feathers. Holes would be drilled about 12 inches apart, metal feathers inserted and then the plugs would be hammered in, splitting the stone in a neat straight cut. In 1841 there was one slate quarry man and three slate dressers living in Wray. However, by 1881 the numbers had increased to 12 quarry workers.

In writing of the early history of Backsbottom Quarry it may be mentioned that for some time they were worked by Pudsey Dawson Esq of Hornby Castle, when approximately 12 men were employed.

After this time, they were rented by Mr W. Moorby, who employed a similar number of men.

Backsbottom Quarry, circa 1900. This photograph shows a large quantity of newly quarried stone ready for dressing into walling stones, corner stones, lintels and sills. The marks on the quarry face on the left of the photograph are the remains of the drill holes. These, when filled with black powder, were used to blast stone from the quarry face. Working conditions for the local quarry men were hard. They worked in the open air with little shelter from the elements. Backsbottom Quarry was also well known for its midges, which must have made life difficult for the quarry workers. The timber building with a protruding chimney is a steam-powered crane. This crane was mounted on wheels and ran on the rail track, which can be seen in the foreground. This would have made work much easier for the quarry workers to move stone from the quarry face to the dressing area.

Backsbottom Quarry, circa 1900. This photograph shows a large quantity of newly quarried stone ready for dressing into walling stones, corner stones, lintels and sills. The marks on the quarry face on the left of the photograph are the remains of the drill holes. These, when filled with black powder, were used to blast stone from the quarry face. Working conditions for the local quarry men were hard. They worked in the open air with little shelter from the elements. Backsbottom Quarry was also well known for its midges, which must have made life difficult for the quarry workers. The timber building with a protruding chimney is a steam-powered crane. This crane was mounted on wheels and ran on the rail track, which can be seen in the foreground. This would have made work much easier for the quarry workers to move stone from the quarry face to the dressing area.

When Mr Moorby left the quarry, a 14-year lease was taken on by Mr T.B. Kayss. Mr Dawson gave the leaseholder the privilege of holding the quarry during his (Mr Dawson’s) lifetime.

At giving up the quarry at six months’ notice at the expiration of the lease, Mr Kayss renewed it for another 14 years, under John Foster Esq of Hornby Castle.

However, Mr Kayss died in December 1878, before the lease on the quarry expired and for the remainder of the time (four years in total), the quarry was run by the trustees of his estate.

Mr Kayss developed a good trade with the Corporation of Lancaster and to meet the demands, he kept four horses and carts on the road all year round, travelling between the quarry and Lancaster.

The days of cartage were Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

However, with the coming of the railways, the flags were taken to Hornby train station for delivery to Lancaster.

The holes for the gunpowder were drilled by hand; they were about two feet deep and two inches in diameter.

The valley echoed to the thud, thud of the drillers.

The echo was even louder when the fuse was lit and large amounts of rock came cascading down the quarry face.

There is a drainage tunnel cut through solid rock, which runs from the river’s edge to the deepest part of the quarry.

This was constructed to drain the quarry of water.

Reuben Clarkson, using hand drills and black powder, drove this tunnel.

Reuben was the uncle of Ruth Whittam, who was born in 1910 and is the oldest resident in Wray at the present time.

The last dwelling in Wray to be built from Backsbottom stone is the bungalow named Briglands, situated on the left hand side of Wennington Road, near Mealbank Bridge.

The front of the old Wray 
Post Office, opposit the George and Dragon public house, is also built of Backsbottom stone.

Isaac Parker’s Joiners Account Book details items supplied to the quarry.

Big hammers were reshafted frequently. New barrows were being supplied and old ones repaired.

Year

1876 – New square 3ft x 2ft and big hammer shafted – cost 3s 4d

1861 – Timber for crane upright 12ft x 3ins x 15ins – cost £1 9s 10d

1861 – Crane beak 15ft x 9ins x 11ins – cost 7s 6d

1861 – 1 barrow all boarded – 4s 6d

Backsbottom Quarry nearly reopened again in the early 1950s. The Cementation Company was building a pipeline from Lake Thirlmere to Manchester.

The water passed through a tunnel from Lowgill to Dunsop Bridge.

The Cementation 
Company needed a 
high quality aggregate 
for the concrete with 
which to line the tunnel walls.

The narrow road and bridge, making access to the quarry difficult, proved to be its downfall.

They used a quarry on the Roeburndale to Slaidburn road instead.