Neglected Bradford Industries: Stone Quarrying

Bradford is famous for spinning and weaving but textile production was only one of a group of important industries which ‘Worstedopolis’ supported. Since several  are now almost forgotten by contemporary citizens I should like to draw attention to those which seem unreasonably neglected in a series of short articles.

It is the extent, rather than the existence, of Bradford’s stone quarrying industry that has tended to pass out of memory. Bradford sits on a series of Carboniferous period sedimentary rocks called the Lower Coal Measures. This series contains strata of commercially valuable fine grained sandstone such as the well-known Elland Flags. Beneath the Coal Measures is the Millstone Grit series which also provided building stone. Saltaire, for example, is constructed of gritstone. There is no essential difference between these two series of rocks, no unconformity as geologists would put it, and their junction is defined by a particular fossil species. Millstone Grit outcrops to the west and north of the city, forming the scenery of Shipley Glen and Ilkley Moor. The Aire Valley glacier once carved its way deeply into the Millstone Grit making it possible for this rock also to be exploited quite near Bradford. Sandstones and gritstones are largely composed of cemented grains of the hard mineral quartz. Ultimately these grains were derived from weathering igneous rocks and transported here, and deposited, by a vast river delta more than 300 million years ago.

Although stone was principally a construction material it did have other uses, dressed gritstone was once employed for the millstones in corn mills for example. Midgeley Wood at Baildon Green is said to show evidence of this industry, and I should be grateful if any reader could confirm this. Stone could also be crushed for gravel and sand. Any stone occurring in thick beds, which can be cut freely in any direction, is called freestone. Once hewn for facing it is known as ashlar. Gritstone and ragstone are sandstones with coarse, angular, grains that cut with a ragged fracture. Flagstones are thin bedded sandstones ideal for flooring and roofing. When this material is used on a roof it is often referred to as ‘stone slate’ although it is not true slate which is a metamorphic rock. There are plenty of true slate roofs in Bradford of course but slate came by rail, after the mid-nineteenth century, from Wales or, to a lesser extent, the Lake District. The colour of sandstone reflects its iron content. Local stone was often grey when first quarried but it oxidises, on exposure to air, producing a beautiful honey colour. Old quarries are a significant landscape feature in many parts of the Bradford area, and are commonly seen in tithe maps and the first OS maps. Many were subsequently used for land fill, recreational space, or development.

04 Image A

Quarries on Idle Moor in a detail from the first OS map of the area
(surveyed in late 1840s)

In the Middle Ages stone building was confined to high status structures: castles, churches, bridges, and great houses. The only medieval stone buildings now standing in Bradford would seem to be the tower of Bolling Hall and the Cathedral. There must have been a medieval stone quarry in Bradford since the recent Sunbridge Wells development exposed several prison cells, the rear walls of which are portions of a quarry face. Medieval vernacular architecture was in timber, thatch, wattle and daub. The construction of a large timber-framed house required carpentry of a very high order so I cannot think of timber construction as a second best to masonry. After the medieval period there was a ‘great rebuilding’ in brick and stone which in northern Britain occurred quite late, from the mid-seventeenth to early eighteenth century. Was this simply fashion, or an appreciation of the damage fire could do to a wooden urban area? As with many innovations the wealthy were the first to adopt the change. Paper Hall in Bradford is an early example in the city, and East Riddlesden Hall is a seventeenth century millstone grit construction. By the time of the 1800 Bradford map no quarries are marked and the industry has evidently moved to the surrounding high ground.

Since Bradford is famous for its stone buildings it is reasonable to ask how such large quantities were obtained. In some areas, York being an excellent example, cut stone could be recycled from Roman buildings or dissolved abbeys (after the 1540s), but not here. Before the creation of quarries there must have been large quantities of surface stone available which had been originally transported by glacial ice. In an area I know well, Northcliffe Wood in Shipley, large glacial erratic millstone grit boulders are still on the surface, and there are also several large, shallow, surface depressions interpreted as sites from which suitable stone was simply levered up. Stone that was not of sufficient quality for masonry could still be used in drystone walls of which there were vast numbers. It appears that the old quarrymen believed that the presence of a fossil weakened the stone. Rocks containing fossils were not used for ashlar but tended to end up with the wall stone. On some common land, or wastes, local people may have had the right to remove (but not necessarily sell) such surface stone deposits. True quarrying is thought to have begun locally in the seventeenth century and continued until the twentieth. Small quarries would have had a single face for stone extraction; later and larger enterprises had a staggered series of faces, known as ‘bench working’.

04 Image B

A stone quarry illustrated in a detail of the drawing of Bradford which accompanied William Cudworth’s ‘Worstedopolis’ (top right)

The image shows a nineteenth century quarry. Its edge, and the simple derricks used for lifting stone, are easily visible. In the centre is a brick works, a subject to which we will soon return. Many West Yorkshire stones have locality or descriptive names. Bradford quarries accessed Rough Rock (Baildon & Shipley), Stanningley Rock (Northcliffe), Gaisby Rock (Bolton Woods & Spinkwell), and Elland Flags (Thornton, Heaton, Chellow, and Idle). Quarries or delphs could also be dug for special projects like the creation of canals or reservoir dams. There is a small quarry next to the canal at Hirst Wood, Shipley that presumably had this function. At first stone was used near to the site of extraction to minimise transport costs, so most stone houses older than about 150 years will be constructed of very local material. As transport improved there were  significant exports. Elland Flags were once widely used for paving slabs in London. Wakefield and Manchester Town Halls were constructed of stone from Spinkwell Quarry, which the architects believed would resist air pollution well. How extensive was the industry? In 1875 William Cudworth knew of 36 stone quarries in Allerton alone, and a further 17 on Rosse land in Shipley and Heaton. Heaton still has its Quarry Hill, Quarry Street and, until recently, The Delvers public house.


04 Image C

Stone-working tools from the permanent collection of
Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley

Quarry work was skilled and dangerous. Dimension stone was split away from the quarry edge with hammers, chisels and wedges. It would be roughly dressed on the quarry floor. With luck the quarry operator would equip his site with cranes or a tramway to carry the stone on to an adjacent working area. If not strong men would carry stone up a ramp on their backs, supported by two workmates, health and safety regulations being a relatively new development. Newly quarried sandstone is soft and, even before the introduction of steam power, could be cut with saws using sand as an abrasive and water as a coolant. Unusually in this area very valuable stone deposits were sometimes mined as well as quarried.

04 Image D

Plan of a stone extraction site in Allerton showing working and ‘old’ shafts

If you want to explore local industries further the gallery devoted to these at Cliffe Castle Museum is an excellent place to begin. For further reading about quarrying I would suggest:

J.V. Stephens et al., Geology of the country between Bradford and Skipton, HMSO, 1953. This is essential reading for geological background to any extractive industry.

David Johnson, Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines: an illustrated history, Amberley Publishing, 2016. Bradford is mentioned several times in this comprehensive, engaging, and beautifully illustrated book.

A most informative atlas of West & South Yorkshire Building Stones can be downloaded from the site of the British Geological Survey:

Derek Barker, Local Studies Library Volunteer

Map of the Week: Blake Hill Cottage, Idle

map-of-the-week-017aAt first sight this would appear to be a rather pedestrian sale plan but in fact it contains several points of interest. It clearly represents a freehold property at Blakehill which presumably was for sale. So, where is Blakehill located on a road that connects Bradford and Idle? On Idle Moor there was a large stone extraction site called Blake Hill Quarry which at one time was associated with a brick works. It was a little further north than Five Lane Ends and lay between modern Highfield Road and Bradford Road. In fact the whole locality was extensively quarried for Elland Flags, but in many cases the individual quarry names seem to be unrecorded or inaccessible. As you can see the surveyed land is situated on ‘Dunk Hill Road’. I cannot identify this thoroughfare by name but Dunk Hill as a place is included on Victorian OS maps of the area. Where exactly could this plot be? I am confident we are looking at Bradford Road, but the junction between two adjacent OS maps rather inconveniently passes between the two properties on the plan!

The second map is from the 1906 OS and shows a more general view. The short terrace is positioned next to the word ‘works’. It is possible that the cottage aligned on the road still exists opposite Enterprise Way, if you allow for an extension having been built. The short terrace must then have vanished under a YEB sub-station. If anyone with a greater knowledge of Idle could correct me I should be most grateful.


In trying to explain the plan further it seemed most sensible to start with the small house and garden belonging to ‘the late Mr Matthew Balme’, since his was a name I recognised. Matthew Balme (1813-1884) was the registrar of births & deaths for Bolton, Idle, and Eccleshill. Victorian historian William Cudworth mentions him as a ‘gentleman of some note’ devoted to ameliorating the lot of factory workers. As a young man he was an associate of John Wood and Richard Oastler, in such enterprises as the Ten Hour Bill (1847) which placed some restraint on the activities of dark satanic mills. For some years Balme was a master at John Wood’s factory school and he certainly attended Oastler’s funeral in 1861. In 1865 he had been elected clerk of the Bolton Local Board. Balme died in 1884 so the plan must evidently be a little later than this date. Using other resources available free in the Bradford LSL I looked for Balme’s entry in the 1881 census which proved helpful.

The census entries were located between Bradford Road and Albert Street, Idle. In the returns a ‘Blakehill Cottage’ is described as ‘recently built’. There Matthew Balme (67) lived with his daughter Mary (37) and Elizabeth Priestley (61), his widowed sister. Cudworth mentions that Balme lived first at Delph Hill Farm and then at Ivy Cottage. It is possible that Ivy Cottage was also known as Blakehill Cottage, but more probably Balme made a further and final move to a new house during the three years of life left to him. Matthew Balme died at Idle and is buried in St Wilfrid’s Church, Calverley where his tombstone is still easily visible. In monetary terms he was not a wealthy man, leaving less than £200. The fact that his friends inscribed on his monument ‘Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy‘ (Psalms 82:3) reveals how rich he was in other ways. His daughter Mary is buried with her father and remarkably we know a little more about her interests. Bradford Museums & Galleries curates an adjustable reading desk once the property of the Bradford Scientific Association. Mary Balme joined the association in 1906 and the desk was made with a legacy she left them when she died in 1931. You can read Heather Millard’s most interesting account of this object at:

Bradford Museums

The land outside most of the perimeter of the plan belongs to Messrs Nowell & Robson and in one place there appears to be a quarry edge. I attempted to locate this partnership in various trade directories. Nowell & Robson were clearly quarry owners and stone merchants; they also operated a coal mine in Raistrick. They had a London office at Westbourne Park Road, Bayswater from which they seemed to be providing paving slabs for London and working on the metropolitan sewer system. Possibly Robson provided the London contracting arm of the business. Certainly in the 1881 census, next to Blakehill Cottage, was Blakehill House, where Joseph Nowell (57), a stone merchant born in Dewsbury, lived with his wife and children. Assuming that there was only one house of this name it must have had a rather lurid reputation at the time of the census. At Blakehill House, Eccleshill in 1874 Joshua Armitage, ‘a lunatic’, was charged with the murder of John Howard, his attendant, who was seemingly strangled with a bath towel.

Because of his unique name I easily identified Jonathan Hargreaves Wilcock (1818-1890) who owns the remainder of the land outside the perimeter. He was a farmer of Owlet Hall, Idle (presumably the one now in Festival Avenue, Bolton). He was living there in 1881, being married to Hannah and having children Amelia & Harper. When he died in 1890 probate was granted for a substantial sum of more than £5000. As far as the plan landowners were concerned I was then left with James Hargreaves. There was of course a very famous man of this name who invented the Spinning Jenny. Well, it cannot be him, nor can it be the man Cudworth describes as James Hargreaves of Delph Hill: remember Delph Hill? This second man was a farm labourer who learned to weave after working hours. Having saved some money he leased Delph Hill Farm. He carried his first cloth pieces to Bradford market to sell. His sons William and Joseph later took Frizinghall Mill & Red Beck Mill for worsted weaving. But this James Hargreaves had died in 1816 so our man can neither be him, nor any son of that name.

The truth is that James Hargreaves was a common name. Since he is described as ‘late’ the man from the plan is likely to have died in the mid-1880s. I imagined him as a wealthy developer, rather than an occupant of one of the houses. Assuming that, as a man of property, he would have left a will I investigated probate records. The most plausible man was James Hargreaves (1834-83), ‘late of Eccleshill’, who died in Staverton, Wiltshire in 1883. His wife Elizabeth sought probate on a will leaving excess of £30,000; a huge sum for those days. The money was unsurprisingly earned as a cloth manufacturer. Another hint is that in 1883 one Henry Hargreaves, son of Elizabeth and James (manufacturer) was baptised at St Luke’s, Eccleshill. This was an adult baptism since Henry had been born in 1861. Possibly Henry had originally been baptised in another denomination and now wished to become an Anglican. James, with his wife Elizabeth Hargreaves and Jonas Hargreaves his brother, are in the 1871 census living at Lands Lane, Eccleshill. I can confirm this from the 1879-80 PO Directory. Why their son Henry is not with them in 1871, whether Jonathan Hargreaves Wilcock was related them, and how James came to die in Wiltshire, are questions I shall leave to better family historians than myself to resolve. At least I got you started, or at least this plan did.

Derek Barker Library Volunteer

Map of the Week: Allerton Stone Extraction

The minerals exploited within Bradford were ironstone, coal, fireclay and sandstone. At one time there was also a small lime industry, in Bingley and elsewhere, based on the excavation of glacial limestone deposits brought by the ice from the Dales. After the Shipley to Skipton section of the Leeds-Liverpool canal was opened in 1774 there was a more direct means of access to the Skipton limestone quarries.  Ice movements would presumably have left substantial quantities of hard stone on the surface. This would need to be removed before ploughing in any case, but in regions where drystone walls were the traditional field boundaries there must have been a ready use for such material. Elsewhere resistant outcrops of rock protruded through the top soil from which potential wall stone could be removed with a hammer or crow bar. On some common land, or waste, local people may have had the right to remove such surface stone deposits. In Northcliffe Wood in Shipley there are a number of undated shallow excavations by means of which a band of sandstone called Stanningley Rock was accessed.

In many parts of Yorkshire it would have been possible to rob a Roman fort or the ruin of a dissolved monastery to obtain building stone, but not here.  In Bradford ‘delvers’ could obtain a good quality, honey coloured, sandstone. Quarrying is thought to have begun in this area in the seventeenth century and continued until the twentieth. The need for stone was perhaps greatest in the period 1860-1900 although the walls of many stone buildings in that era would have had an inner skin made from locally produced brick, which was cheaper. Stone winning processes are illustrated in these two plans of Allerton from the LSL’s reserve map collection.

The first plan is of Allerton Grange Quarry. The dated workings are from 1875-76. Towards the bottom of the plan you can see an extraction track. On the full map the track leads to Grange Lane. This name has been crossed out and ‘Dog Lane’ substituted in pencil. Dog Lane it remained until the post-war housing development of the area. The quarry seems to be marked as Upper Grange in the second OS map of the area (surveyed 1891). In 1905 a cricket pavilion was sitting on the site but by the 1930s it was fields again.


The second plan shows an area south of Allerton village & Allerton Road, east of Hill Top Lane and north of Dog Lane. An extensive area of stone exploitation is indicated which not present on the first or second OS maps, but is present on the 1908 map. This plan was drawn by J Hindle, a well-known Bradford surveyor in partnership at various times with Charles Gott and Thomas Dixon. It is undated but is probably from the last decade of the nineteenth century. The important feature is that this is a stone mine, not a quarry. You may just be able to make out four ‘old shafts’ and a single ‘present shaft’. The pink areas represent stone already won or ‘got’, and evidently the land-owner has imposed a strict boundary to the exploitation. Good stone was not infrequently mined. Recently I was shown round some old mining sites in Shropshire where limestone was obtained in this way.


What rock was exploited in Allerton? The local geological guides record Elland Flags being mined there. This is a sandstone stratum consisted of several bands of varying thickness and quality which were located under the Better Bed coal seam, itself extensively mined in south Bradford. The maps include no evidence of ownership although nearby Allerton Grange Farm was on Atkinson-Jowett land. Contemporary trade directories list many stone merchants situated in Allerton any of whom could have been involved with these sites.

Derek Barker, Local Studies Library Volunteer