The Industries of Scotland: their rise, progress, and present condition, by David Bremner. Published in Edinburgh, 1869.

The Granite Quarries of the Stewartry

Granite exists in almost exhaustless abundance in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. The three principal districts where it is found - namely, that in the north-west, extending from Loch Dee to Loch Doon; the second, stretching from Loch Ken to Palnure Water; and the third, from Criffel to Craignair - occupy nearly one-fourth of the surface of the Stewartry. Though the existence of the granite was well known many years ago, the proper mode of working it was not understood; and no idea being entertained of the important uses for which it could be made available, no attention was until recent years paid to quarrying or working this valuable rock.

When a gentleman's residence, or other decorated building, was being erected in the locality, the corner and other principal stones in the structure were formed of the Old Red Sandstone from Dumfriesshire. And when the bridge over the Dee at Tongland was built - in the years 1804-5-6, after a plan by Mr Telford, the celebrated engineer, at a cost of nearly £7000 - it appears never to have entered the mind of anyone concerned to utilise the granite boulders which lay scattered at convenient distances from the site of the bridge. On the contrary, the stones employed in the erection of the structure were transported at great expense from Annan and the Isle of Arran; and they were subject to a heavy duty, which greatly augmented the aggregate outlay.

The late Mr Andrew Newall, Dalbeattie, had for some years previously carried on in a small way the trade of granite hewing; but it was not till 1825 that anything like extensive operations in the working of granite were commenced in the district. In that year the Liverpool Dock Trustees leased from the late proprietor of Munches - Mr John H. Maxwell - a portion of Craignair Hill, in the immediate vicinity of Dalbeattie, with the view of opening a quarry on it to obtain blocks suitable for dock purposes; and having entrusted the supervision of the works to a confidential and skilled manager, that gentleman began operations with so much energy and satisfactory success, that within a few weeks he shipped to Liverpool the first instalment of stones. With these the engineer of the docks - the late Mr Hartley - was so well pleased, that orders were immediately received to open another quarry on the hill, and engage as many more men as could be obtained.

These instructions were as speedily carried out as the efficient conduct of the already extensive existing operations at the hill would allow. At those two quarries some hundreds of workmen and labourers were daily employed, and some thousands of tons of the wrought material were annually sent to Liverpool, and applied to dock purposes only. That was the first impetus given to the granite trade in Galloway. It’s beautiful product, as inspected on the banks of the Mersey, soon made Craignair famous; and there the works continued to be prosecuted with unflagging energy and satisfactory success till 1832, when the manager having failed in his efforts to obtain blocks of the very large dimensions required at the docks, except by incurring great expense in the removal of the superincumbent mass of debris, opened a quarry on the farm of Kirkmabreck, in the parish of that name, in the south-west of the Stewartry. Two of the Craignair quarries are worked by Messrs D. H. & J. Newall, who turn out large quantities of dressed granite. In addition to these quarries there are two others in the hill. One is worked by Mr Charles Newall, who employs a considerable number of hands, and is one of the contractors for supplying stones for the Thames embankment.

About four years ago Mr Hugh Shearer of London was successful in obtaining the first contract for supplying granite for the Thames embankment, and opened several new quarries on the Munches estate, reopening at the same time four quarries which had formerly been worked by the Liverpool Dock Trustees. Such is the beauty and durability of the stone that it is said the engineers of the Board of Works prefer it to any other; and Mr Shearer and the partners he assumed about a year ago - the designation of the firm now being Messrs Shearer, Smith, & Co. - have supplied, and are still supplying, many thousands of tons of material for the great work referred to, and have besides sent large quantities of paving stones into Russia, several Mediterranean ports, and South America. They have also furnished a great part of the paving stones recently used in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leith, and some of the principal towns in England; and are at present applying their forces to the conversion into paving-stones of the hundreds of thousands of tons of material accumulated in their " spoil heaps," which has hitherto been treated as waste.

It is largely owing to the enterprise of Mr Shearer in securing the use of the stone in the Thames embankment, that the Kirkcudbrightshire quarries owe their present celebrity. Messrs Shearer, Smith, & Co. employ from 300 to 600 workmen, according to the demands upon them. Their works have a direct connection with the railway system of the country, and they have a loading pier on the river Urr, so that they have ample facilities for transporting their produce. The stones for the Thames embankment are forwarded by rail, dressed and ready for the builders.
In the parish of Kirkmabreck very extensive operations in granite working have been carried on for a long series of years. Adjoining the public road leading to Gatehouse, about two miles from Creetown, is an extensive quarry, leased by the Liverpool Dock Trustees. All the stones procured there are used for dock purposes only. There are four vessels constantly employed by the Liverpool Company in transporting the stones to their docks, and other vessels are often engaged in the same service. On one occasion, when the quay at this place was transferred from one proprietor's land to that of another, there were nineteen vessels constantly occupied for six months in the removal to the banks of the Mersey of the material that had accumulated at the abandoned wharf.

About two miles east from these works, on the farm of Bagbie, on the estate of Kirkdale, belonging to Major Rainford-Hannay, a quarry was opened in February 1864 by Messrs Forrest, Wise, & Templeton. The stone of this quarry is of first-class quality, and, like that at Kirkmabreck, can be worked without blasting. In connection with their works the firm have a commodious quay erected for the shipment of such portions of their prepared materials as are transported by sea, and between it and the quarry they have constructed a tramway.

There is still another quarry in this neighbourhood deserving notice. It is situated near the apex of the hill at whose base are the Kirkmabreck quarries, and almost in a straight line from these works. It is within the farm of Fell, and hence called Fell Quarry. It is worked by the Scottish Granite Company. Messrs Newall have an extensive polishing establishment. The process of polishing is of recent introduction into Galloway, the first experiments in it having been made by the late Mr Andrew Newall a few years ago. By Messrs D. H. & J. Newall the art has been brought to a state of great perfection, and is extensively carried on by them with a constantly increasing business. From their quarries on Craignair the firm are supplied with part of their material for polished work. But large quantities of red granite are obtained from the island of Mull.