Harris Quarries is a family-run business and has been so for nearly forty years. The quarry is currently owned and run by the partnership of Peter and John Harris, sons of Bernard Peter Harris who established Harris Quarries along with his younger brother Paul back in the early 1970s.
The quarry itself is much older and has been traced back as far as 1851 when it was first surveyed by the Ordnance Survey, and probably dates back even further.
The very early years
The reason for Blackmoor Quarry opening isn’t clear but one theory suggests that it may have been the source of stone for the construction of Ulley’s Holy Trinity Church, rectory and stable block. There are several points of interest that support this theory:
- Records show that the church was constructed in the late 1840s, opening in 1852, these dates coinciding with the surveying and printing of the Ordnance Survey map that shows the quarry was open.
- The land that the quarry occupies was owned by Sir Charles Wood, 1st Viscount Halifax, and he was the man who paid for the building of Ulley’s Holy Trinity Church in memory of his brother.
- At the time of the church’s construction there were several other quarries in the local area, but they were all owned by other landlords.
- Most of the local quarries in and around Ulley were situated near or next to a road, the reason being that these quarries’ primary function was to supply stone for the maintenance of the parish road. This is not so in the case of Blackmoor Quarry, with the site being more than a third of a mile from the nearest road, suggesting that it was probably started for a specific project.
- Finally, there seem to be the remains of a disused track that takes a more direct route up to the church than the present access track now known as Green Lane. This track would have reduced the distance by approximately half, a huge saving in the days when all the material would have been hauled by horse and cart.
The Bell Family
Ordnance Survey maps from the late 1980s show that the quarry was disused and it is believed that the Bell family of Wickersley, who had been quarry owners and stonemasons for many decades, re-opened the site in early 1900. The Bell family had worked out many quarries in and around the Rotherham area, and soon after the re-opening of the quarry they purchased it from the grandson of Sir Charles, Viscount Frederick Lindley Wood of Halifax, paying £375 for it in 1946.
John Bell and his partners in the business, brothers Reginald John, Leslie Thomas, Dennis Milton and Norman Victor Bell, quarried the stone known as Rotherham Red and used it to manufacture a variety of products that included grindstones as well as grave sets that were sent to London by train.
Other items that were produced at the quarry ranged from blocks of stone used for scrubbing the decks of ships, to ornamental bird baths and sun dials. It is thought the Bell brothers supplied and built the gardens and fountain just inside the main entrance to Clifton Park in Rotherham, though this has not been verified. Blackmoor Quarry was owned and run by the Bell family until early in 1971 when the two surviving brothers, Victor and Leslie, who were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the stone industry, decided to call it a day and sold the quarry to the Harris family from Handsworth, Sheffield.
The story so far
The deal to buy Blackmoor Quarry from the Bells was brokered by Bernard Harris, although everyone knew him as ‘Pete’ because he preferred his middle name. As the story goes, the quarry was due to be sold to a haulage contractor, but due to a hold-up in the post certain documents and payment hadn’t been forthcoming and so – at the eleventh hour – after borrowing the sum of £2500 from his mother, Pete saved the quarry being turned into a lorry park and registered the name of Harris Quarries against Blackmoor Quarry.
Pete had been in the stone industry for a number of years, and had worked for Albinson Brothers in Sheffield where he learned his trade as a stonemason. He has also worked as a stone fixer, repairing bombed-out buildings on the moor in Sheffield after the war, and had in fact visited the quarry on numerous occasions while working for Albinson Bros. At the time of buying the quarry he was working for himself, travelling round local quarries in an old van collecting stone off-cuts, dressing them up and building natural stone fireplaces that were all the rage at that time.
Pete and his younger brother Paul were partners in the business at first, but soon parted. By the mid-seventies the quarry business was booming with plenty of orders coming in. Pete sought the help of his brother-in-law Frank, who very soon became quarry foreman and remained at the quarry until the late 1980s when he left to become a drayman.
By now his eldest son – who is also called Pete – had started working in the quarry and took over the day-to-day running of it. Shortly afterwards he undertook a fairly large contract to supply G L Beal Building Contractors with Rotherham Red sandstone for a project in All Saints Square, Rotherham. Other even larger projects followed, notably the renovation of the old Rotherham town hall, a project undertaken in conjunction with Rattee and Kett, a well-established masonry restoration company. With the installation of a re-conditioned 1500mm diameter diamond circular saw early in 1990 the quarry now had a new string to its bow and started to produce quality, accurately-cut masonry at speeds never before seen at Blackmoor Quarry. In the forthcoming years many more saws were installed. 1990 also saw the youngest member of the family, John, join the ranks to work alongside his father and his older brother Pete, and the business went from strength to strength. Sadly, early in 2001 Bernard was diagnosed with cancer but continued to run the quarry and did so for almost two years, spending nearly every day at work. His final wish being granted, his coffin was driven around on the back of his lorry with all the saws running. He will never be forgotten.
Blackmoor Quarry was then passed to his two sons, Pete and John, who now own and run it with the help of Pete’s eldest son – also named Peter – and his youngest son Thomas. Young Pete, as he is known, turned out to be a natural stonemason and has produced some outstanding pieces of work, notably the bay and atrium windows that were supplied for Ranmoor Hall in Sheffield, a project directed by The Firth Partnership.
Pete Snr and John both have two sons each, so it looks like Blackmoor Quarry will be staying in the hands of the Harris clan for some years to come!
The Quarry in Pictures
Splitting the Rock
Once the rock is out of the ground it needs to be made into more manageable sizes. This is done by using plugs and feathers. We drill the desired amount of holes (in this case three) then we insert a set of plugs and feathers.
Once they are all in place they are struck in turn with a hammer until the block splits along the line of holes.
A very useful, but expensive way of splitting the rock is chemical splitting. This is done very similarly to plugs and feathers but once the holes are drilled a mixture of water and splitting agent is poured down.
After around 24 hours the agent reacts and expands, splitting the rock perfectly. Done properly, this method gives the best results on very large blocks.
The Quarry Face
Sometimes the 32-ton machine cannot pull out blocks like a man with a wedge and a hammer!
Seen here is John driving in a wedge to loosen the block ready for pulling. By taking a little bit more care and opening up the natural beds in the rock it stops the machine ripping corners off good quality block.
The good, the bad and the ugly!
Not all the stone that comes out of our quarry is top quality.
Sometimes you work very hard all day and just end up with a pile of rockery.
These beds of stone to your right are full of cracks and have a band of soft brown mare running through them.
The view from above
Sometimes working on the top of a windswept hill has its advantages. This is the view from the quarry gate looking west toward Sheffield.
In the foreground Ulley reservoir dam can be seen although the water has been drained whilst repair work is carried out due to the floods of 2007.
Collecting limestone block
Rotherham red block
Sawn scant on bm
1000 mm wells
Gmm eura rib cutting
Gmm in action
Gmm circular work