Cornwall’s granite backbone

Cornwall’s central spine is made up of four granite outcrops, from Bodmin Moor in the east through Hensbarrow and Carnmenellis to West Penwith at the Land’s End. It is said that every Cornish person also has a granite core. Easy-going on the surface, we can be obstinate and unmoveable if pushed too far.

Cornishmen combined with Cornish granite in the heyday of the industry in the 1800s. Cornwall’s granite stone provided the building material for some of Victorian Britain’s major construction projects, including, docks, dockyards, forts, lighthouses and Westminster Bridge. Granite was also exported overseas for civil engineering projects in continental Europe, South Africa, India and Argentina. The stone had been used for millennia. In prehistory standing stones were rough-hewn from granite and in the medieval period Cornish churches and bridges were built with it. In those days granite stones were just picked up from the surface of the moors, these ‘moorstones’ being cut by stonemasons. By the 1820s quarries began to appear and from the 1840s granite quarrying enjoyed a half century of boom.

Spoil heaps loom over cottages at Lamorna

The busiest quarrying district was near Penryn, which became the centre of the granite trade. Other quarrying areas were more remote, either on high moors well away from the ports or with no safe harbour nearby. The Land’s End quarries fell into the latter category. Lamorna and other quarries in that area were developed after 1849. At first a small jetty was used here for loading the stone but hazardous sea conditions led to its abandonment and granite blocks were carried to Penzance for shipment.

At its peak perhaps as many as 2,000 men were employed in and around granite quarries across the length and breadth of Cornwall. However, although the industry escaped the slump which devastated Cornish mining in the 1870s, after the 1890s it went the same way. Unable to compete with cheaper Scandinavian granite, wages were cut, quarries closed, and quarrymen emigrated. Rusting traces of cranes and railway lines and heaps of discarded quarry waste were left to bear evocative witness to this once flourishing industry.

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