WORKING THE LINE
The Exhibition theme this year was the working life of Lamorna.
Margaret Powell's family history has a long association with Lamorna and she gave us a talk at this year's private view about the development of the quarries - apparently Lamorna granite is particularly hardwearing, more so even than almost any other granite - she pointed out that the steps of the National Gallery still show no sign of wear from the millions of feet that have been tramping up and down them since they were built.
Here are some of her notes:
Granite – A Hard Subject
Today Lamorna Cove is dominated by the quarry, but before the quarry was opened the cove was just a quiet sandy beach with a few small fishing boats pulled up on the shore.
It was my great, great grandfather, John Freeman and his son William George who negotiated a lease from the owners, St Aubyn Estate, to open up a quarry to extract granite. Alas, all records of the St Aubyn Estate and this lease went up in flames in the Blitz in Plymouth.
The quarry in Lamorna was opened in 1849 when John Freeman was 49 years old and his son William George 22 years old.
John Freeman and Son dominated the granite quarrying industry in the West Country providing stone for engineering work throughout the world from the 1840s for nearly 100 years. The demand was enormous for bridges, docks, harbours, Admiralty Works, Town Halls, buildings and lighthouses.
Opening the Lamorna quarry required considerable investment and work. First the quay to be built, then houses for the workmen in the cove, the managers house (Lamorna Cove Hotel), harbour master’s house (Flagstaff), dynamite store. It created a massive upheaval in a quiet valley.
The intention was to ship granite direct from the cove.
The Freemans never lived in Lamorna, their home was in Falmouth as they worked scores of other quarries throughout the West Country. The other quarries they worked at different times in this area were at Carfury, Newmill, Zennor and Sheffield where they built the Row for quarry workers. They also owned a workyard at Wherrytown.
The granite from this locality can be easily recognised by the large feldspars and can be seen in St John’s Hall and in many other buildings.
Lamorna granite went up country to build the docks at Dover and Devonport, the lighthouses at Bishop Rock and Wolf Rock, breakwaters at Alderney and Portland, it was a time of great change in shipping as wooden sailing ships changed to steam driven iron ships. Buildings in London built from local granite include Lloyds Bank, New Zealand Bank, New Scotland Yard, steps to the National Gallery, the Embankment and the obelisk for the Great Exhibition.
John Freeman was a deeply religious man who had an excellent relationship with his workmen. With the Manager’s House in Lamorna he included a chapel where he encouraged his workers to pray regularly (quarrying was a dangerous occupation) he also put the plaque on the quay, “Unless you build with the help of the Lord, you build in vain”.
The Freemans were forward looking and enterprising using, in Lamorna, a tram jetty and a steam powered “Blondin” crane to lift the large blocks of granite.
Problems abounded at Lamorna because of the exposure to heavy seas and large tides, ships risked being wrecked when a southerly gale blew up, they had to leave the quay and run to sea until the gale dropped, this interrupted contracts.
Eventually the quay was abandoned in favour of land transport, first by horse as illustrated by Stanhope Forbes in his magnificent picture painted in 1894 “The Quarry Team”. Steam traction engines followed. Lamorna quarry closed in 1911.
During the years that the Lamorna quarry was worked the cove was an industrial site, the noise of dynamite drowning the waves of the sea, the air full of dust, ships coming and going, horses tethered to be superseded by steam engines burning coal, the whole valley full of men working a busy industrial site.
I have to bow my head and confess that it was my great, great grandfather who changed Lamorna with his blasting quarry.