Memories of Working at Craster Quarry
by Geoff Forster
Geoff’s father was employed as a blacksmith at Craster quarry and in 1935, at the age of fifteen, Geoff was taken on, in a job that involved attaching full tubs of stone to the quarry end of the aerial ropeway. Geoff worked at the quarry until it closed, in 1937 or thereabouts. He remembers Mr. Catchpole, the owner, who built the detached house at the top of Dunstan Bank.
The ropeway transported stone to the top of the bins on the end of the south pier of the harbour, from where it was loaded into freighters lying in the entrance to the harbour. On one occasion Geoff took the same trip himself, travelling to the bins and back in one of the buckets, a journey that over the harbour took place some ninety feet above sea level.
The quarry in Craster is now a car park, peaceful and pleasantly clothed in bushes and trees. It was a very different scene when the quarry was working; the area was very noisy and dusty and modern principles of health and safety did not apply. The men were expected to make their own arrangements to ensure their safety and good health.
All of the heavy machinery on site was driven by belts which radiated from two engines in a building located close to the entrance to the quarry. Some remains of the old engine house are still standing next to the Tourist Information Centre (TIC). Frank Watson, who was killed during WW2, worked in the engine house up to the time of the quarry’s closure.
The crusher was on top of the hill above the engine house. This machine crushed the whinstone to make road stone, which was transported by conveyor belt to a cylindrical screen, which graded it into different sizes, ranging from ¼inch to 1½inch, to be stored in a range of bunkers. These bunkers were located on top of the wall to the seaward side of the entrance to the car park. The bunkers were organised so the smaller chippings were stored at the engine house end of the row and the larger at the seaward end. Each bunker had a shute down to the level of the small car park at the side of the main road.
The aerial ropeway came down to earth more or less in the entrance to that small roadside car park, turning around a large wheel to begin its journey back to the bins. The quarry end of the ropeway was worked by two men; one to take the empty buckets on the return journey from the bins off the ropeway and fill them from the shute serving the correct sized chippings for the load being transported. The same man then pushed the newly filled bucket around the system to the second man whose job it was to re-connect the bucket, correctly spaced out from the last bucket, back onto the aerial ropeway. The buckets had a fitting at the top, which clamped tight when the bucket was put onto the ropeway. This latter was Geoff’s job.
He was also responsible for activating or stopping the ropeway. Like all the other machines, the wheel was driven by a belt from the engine house that crossed the quarry road. The ropeway was ‘switched on’ by connecting the belt to the drive wheel and ‘switched off’ by disengaging the belt.
The seaward end of the ropeway, on top of the bins, was also manned by two men; one to tip the buckets into the bins and the other to send the empty buckets back on their way to the quarry. If they, for any reason, wanted the ropeway stopped, they signalled to the quarry end by means of a flag and Geoff stopped the system.
There was a weighbridge set in the road at the entrance of the quarry, with an office next to it on the TIC side of the road. A tar plant was constructed in the area behind the engine house. Much of the stone was transported by road and the area for loading the lorries was a little closer to the harbour, in the area in front of the ‘Bark Pots’.
as told by to Peter Howard, October 2012
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