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What Is Granite?

Granite Worktops, Granite Installations, Granite Kitchens

It is nearly impossible to visit a village or town or travel a road in the UK and not be aware of the presence of granite as a building material. The use of granite peaked during the Victorian era and was a thriving industry across the nation for centuries.

Granite quarrying in Britain began to show promise in the late 18th century as the striking natural stones strength and durability gained nationwide acceptance. The use of granite spanned many building purposes from structural and engineering foundations to decorative building interior applications, an industry that still thrives today.

Britains granite quarrying industry has roots in the areas of Aberdeenshire, Kirkcudbrightshire (southwest Scotland), Devon and Cornwall, Ross of Mull and Shap in Cumbria. Production was not limited to these quarries as smaller operations provided good amounts of local granite for a number of construction projects, including individual residences.

During the Victorian era, granite quarrying was spurred by the stones broad acceptance for everything from public and commercial buildings to interior finishes. Banks, in particular, used granite to symbolise their solidity and strength as well as put forth an impenetrable exterior.

Granite From The British Isles

Granite was quarried throughout the British Isles, usually around the coastal towns from where it was shipped to the mainland and transported to the main urban centres. During the 19th century, the granite industry established itself as a major exporter of the stone with markets in the Americas, Europe and Australasia. The UK granite quarries presented a wide array of distinctive textures and colours attributed to the compositional variation of granite.

In the British Isles, the quarries served evidence as to the disparities in the ages and origins of the stones. Many quarries can be identified by the colour and texture of the stone.

Understanding how granite is formed is key to understanding the composition of the quarry stones. Granite is formed from the cooling of large magma bodies at depth in the crust. The slow cooling process allows for the growth of large and interlocking mineral crystals.

Granite contains about 55-75 percent silica and is usually pale coloured and marked by coarse granular crystals that are noticeable. These interlocking crystals help to add strength to the stone but also make the stone suitable for polishing without disrupting the composition.

Finer grained granites are ideal for foundations, walling, kerbstones, setts and paving. Granites with larger crystals (porphyritic) are more coarse and are highly used for ornamental work. It is the existence of the silica in granite that makes it strong and durable.

Southwest Granite Quarries

Englands principal quarries were located in Devon and Cornwall where five separate intrusive granite masses were discovered in a chain across the Devon-Cornwall peninsula. By the 19th century, production at these quarries was booming. The leading quarries were located at:

Most stones from this area are noticeable by the distinctive light grey colour and coarse grain. Granite had been used in Devon and Cornwall for monuments and buildings since prehistoric times. However, it was not until the 18th century that serious quarrying operations were set in place.

De Lank granite was used for the Eddystone Lighthouse, constructed in 1756. The Beachy Head Lighthouse was completed in 1828. Dartmoor granite was supplied for Londons Waterloo Bridge in 1817. Princetown granite was used for the London Bridge in 1831 and then again when the bridge was widened in 1902. Light grey granite from Merrivale, Devonshire, was used for the Parliament buildings in 1840, another landmark.

The Cornish granite industry was boosted by the introduction of the steamship in 1840. Large quantities of granite were used to build the massive docks throughout Englands southern tier. Cornish granite became extremely popular in London as a result of the steamships capabilities to deliver in a timely manner.

Examples of post 1840 projects in London include:

About Shap, Cumbria

Shap is a relatively small quarry but has enjoyed tremendous commercial success because of its coarse porphyritic composition that features striking pink feldspar crystals. This granite is a favourite for monuments throughout the UK. The polished columns are easily identified. The entrance pillars to St. Marys Cathedral in Edinburgh are just a sampling of this granite.

From the Mountsorrel, Leicestershire quarries, specialised in building stones of granite. From the early 19th century on, shipments of these granite stones were delivered to virtually every town across the kingdom.

Today, nearly all production of granite in the UK has stopped. There are but 52 quarries producing at this time. However, with good reason, there has been resurgence in granite demand. Supply has increased accordingly. While most granite is imported, the country is striving to regain its former footing with this amazing stone.


The Granite House, 42 Murdock Road, Bicester, Oxfordshire. OX26 4PP
Tel: 01869 324 442, Fax: 01869 241175, Company Reg: 05213040

Areas we operate within:
Abingdon, Amersham, Aylesbury, Banbury, Bicester, Birmingham, Buckingham, Bracknell, Chesham, Cheltenham, Coventry, Gloucester, High Wycombe, Milton Keynes, Newbury, Northampton, Oxford, Portsmouth, Reading, Slough, Southampton, Stratford Upon Avon, Swindon, Uxbridge, Warwick, Witney

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