Above, levering massive slabs of slate.
The inclined railway into the quarry.
Paving slabs stacked for shipment.
Loading the slates on board ship at Port Gaverne.
Delabole in Cornwall, England lays claim to being the largest and oldest slate quarry in England, going back over 400 years. Its Guiness World Record as the deepest man-made hole has since been surpassed by massive open cast mines and quarries in American and Australia.
In 1859, in Murrays Handbook of Devon and Cornwall, the author wrote "the quarries present one of the most astonishing and animated scenes imaginable". About 1,000 men were employed at this time, raising an average of 120 tonnes of slate per day. Before the railways came in the 1890's, the slate had to be transported six, twisting miles to Port Gaverne, using as many as 30 wagons and 100 horses. The brittle slates had to be passed from hand to hand, and individually placed in the ship's hold packed between layers of hay. As can be seen in the photo above, women often helped in this heavy work.
Since 2005, the quarry has been Cornish and family-owned. Today, 5 skilled quarrymen extract the same daily amount that 1000 men took out in the 1850's. If you're in the area, you can go on a tour!
Above photos and information from Michael Williams, Curiosities of Cornwall. (Cornwall: Bossiney Books, 1983).
For more historical photos, visit the Delabole Slate Archive Album.
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