Quarrying Methods

This page demonstrates the working process which was used for about 200 years to quarry Bath stone underground. The method seems to be the same for all quarries and must have been considered the best way to remove the most stone as efficiently as possible.
The area to be quarried was marked out at the working face at the end of the heading. Picks of different lengths were used to cut a horizontal slot into the breach, called the picking bed, along the top of the desired bed of stone under the ceiling. This was 6 – 9” deep at the front and about half that at the back. This allowed a saw to be inserted to create vertical cuts. When the picking bed had advanced sufficiently, an oil lamp was placed into the cut to see where to aim the next blows – in the quarries today black dots can be noticed all over the ceiling created by the soot from these lamps.
Once a slot has been picked out, a long narrow saw, called a razzer, was inserted and a vertical cut started. Once deep enough a much wider saw, called a frig bob, continued to cut down to the base. The wooden handle could be reversed to allow the saw to be used near the roof of an underground quarry. Frig bobs could be eight feet in length and saws were lubricated by water dripping from a can placed on top of the cut. The first wrist block cuts had to be narrower at the back so the stone could be removed without jamming along the sides.

Once the two sides of the wrist stone block had been sawn, the wrist stone was removed by inserting a plug and feathers or wedges and chips between the stone and the natural bed below thus forcing the block to break down the back. Jumper or handy bars were used to bump the block out of the face or if particularly stubborn a Lewis was fitted into the face of the wrist in a narrow slot cut into block. A crane was fitted to the Lewis via a chain and the crane pulled the block out of the working face.

Once the wrist block was removed, the back of the wrist was cleaned with a pick to allow a sawyer with a Razzer to make a cut along the back of the remaining blocks on either side. They would also be broken from their beds by the plug and feathers and removed with a Lewis. The width of the breach and number of blocks that could be removed would depend on the quality of the stone and how much ceiling support was deemed to be needed. The last cuts called the pillar cuts either side of the breach had to be finished without stopping, or the pressure from the ceiling pushing down on the pillar could jam the saw or crack the stone. The pillar cuts on either side tended to taper towards the pillar at the bottom, this was a method used so that the sawyer could produce a larger block from the lower beds than the upper ones with less time consuming picking involved. The larger the blocks, the less cutting was needed, so the more the quarrymen could earn. This resulted in some huge blocks being produced, often weighing 6 tons or more.

Once the top beds of stone were removed, work started on the lower blocks. They would be sawn along the back as well as horizontally and the blocks removed after breaking them off the bed with chips and wedges and a handy bar or jumper bar until the base of the workable stone was reached – often about 18 feet from floor to ceiling. The process was then repeated so the heading was driven forwards.

Sawing Block Clift.jpg

Sawing Block Clift Quarry.jpg
Vertical Cut.jpg
Monks Park 1928.jpg

The stone when in the ground is classed as ‘green’ which means it is saturated with moisture. This is relatively easy to work as it is soft and cuts easily, however when it dries out on the surface it naturally becomes harder and more weather resistant. Stone quarried during the winter months needs to be protected from frosts due to the moisture content, generally, the blocks are stored underground until April, then taken to the surface storage to dry and be suitable for supplying the following winter. Today, the quarrying is much more mechanised but the same principles apply – further details can be found HERE