This article is extracted from the Autumn 1902 issue of the Gallovidian. The Stewartry Observer, popularly referred to as "The Squeak"  was published in Dalbeattie.

Dalbeattie Granite Industry

History and description of Messrs D H & J Newall's Works.
 By Ivie A Callan, Editor, "Stewartry Observer"

THE prosperity of Dalbeattie depends on the granite trade, upon the condition of which the population rises or falls. The last census showed a considerable increase, and indexed also renewed activity in the staple industry of the Granite Burgh. Before proceeding with the history of the firm of Messrs D. H. & J. Newall, and a description of their works, it might be well to ask such questions as - What is granite? What is its origin, its composition, its age?

Granite is a rock about which there was, and is, much apprehension; and perhaps the most common of all mistakes is in regarding it as the oldest of all rocks, forming a foundation for all others. This is not strictly correct, as granites are known to be of widely different ages - some very old, some comparatively recent, and some to have risen through stratified rocks of every period of time, just as Dalbeattie granite rises through the adjoining whinstones, disturbing and sending veins into them, thus clearly proving that granite is the intruder, and consequently the more recent. Granite is classified as belonging to the order of igneous rocks - i.e., rocks which have resulted from a molten condition, cooling from a state of fusion - not on the surface, however, like the lava of a volcano, but at greater depths below the surface, and at enormous pressure. None of the features of the lava mark the granite, which is always completely crystalline in texture, homogeneous-like in its arrangement of its mineral constituents, presenting quite a contrast to the heterogeneous-like aspect of the lava. 

If we were to cut down any active volcano some thousands of feet below the surface, we would probably find granite. In our country we have had volcanoes cut down by the never-ceasing action of wasting influences, the islands of Skye and Mull being good examples. Dalbeattie granite has doubtless had the same origin, but at a very much earlier period in the world's history. Every trace of the lavas and other associated igneous products have long since been swept away, leaving nothing but the ancient cores or shafts of granite rising through the slates of the Silurian age, so that what is now exposed to the surface was at one time far below it. Granite is composed of; among other minerals - quartz, felspar, mica, and sometimes hornblende schori; the chemical parts being - silica, alumina, iron, lime, magnesia, etc.


It is not with any degree of accuracy that the actual date of the commencement of the granite industry can be stated, for it gradually grew from the gathering of boulders in the district. It is not thought that there were quarries in Dalbeattie one hundred years ago, yet the centenary of Buittle bridge took place in 1897, the stones for which were brought from a distance, although Craignair was close at hand The earliest recorded date of business done was in 1821, when the grandfather of the present Laird of Munches gave a certificate order for a pair of granite gateposts; while it is also recorded that on March 17th, 1828, Mr Andrew Newall paid the proprietor for 26.5 tons of granite at one shilling per ton. This, it is presumed, was gathered up mostly anywhere on the estate. "Auld Andrew" Newall, great-grandfather of the present generation - began quarrying first at Craigmath, Barrhill, Old Land, Newabbey, and latterly at Craignair; and the business has remained in the family ever since, the firm still trading as Messrs D. H. & J. Newall, although none of these men are now living.


To have some idea of how the jagged rock is dislodged and cut, in your imagination accompany us to the quarry. See yonder men on the niche on the perpendicular face of Craignair. Busily they are boring far into the rocky hill, making holes oft-times thirty feet deep ere the charge of powder is rammed in. Listen to the tremendous crash of the explosion, which may be heard for miles around, followed by a great rush of granite boulders, causing a noise like unto an artillery duel. Picture, later on, the floor of the quarry strewed with immense heaps of rocks, including blocks of granite weighing hundreds of tons. (A few years ago, along with Mr H. Gillespie, we measured a stone as large as many a cottage, and which weighed nearly 700 tons). Lying in the rough in the quarry, the blocks which are intended for the hands of the hewers are marked off by the foreman where they are to be cut. The driller is next called into requisition, and on the lines marked for him he drills a number of holes (dependent on the size of the stone) about six inches apart, and about three inches deep. Into these small plugs are driven between two thin pieces of steel, causing the plugs to act as wedges. These plugs and feathers, as they are technically termed, are driven, one after the other, into the stone, the operator endeavouring to make them all have the same strain, the stone being thereby split in two, and in this state taken to the mills. When a stone is placed on the "banker" the hewer is given a sketch of what is wanted, and if the stone is too large for the purpose intended, he knocks off the superfluous rock with a mash hammer. He proceeds to lay his lines for squaring the face by hewing a little piece off at each corner, and on this he places two little squares and tries it up with a straight edge. Having got the lines correctly he then proceeds, with a punch, to get the rough off, and when this is done a single axe is brought into play, and the whole face axed down to a uniform level. If the work is to be unpolished, the patent axe or bush hammer is next applied. In all work where there are mouldings, the workmen are supplied with zinc models showing the various members, and from these models he has the reverses made in thin wood, which he can apply to his work and so determine if his curves and squares are true.

In some cases full-sized drawings of work are made on the boards, and from these drawings the workman can get all his details. In carved work, models in Plaster of Paris or Caen stone are usually furnished, although carving or incised work may be done from drawings.


The first attempt to polish granite was made in 1834, the stone, a small piece of granite, being now in the possession of Mrs James Newall, Liverpool, whose grandfather polished the stone on a freestone flag. In 1841 a memorial stone was polished in a shed at Craignair. The method was crude, and it was considered an impossibility that a polished surface could be put on a granite block. Perseverance and emery, however, proved the practicability, although. the men almost despaired of accomplishing the task, for, after a certain finish had been obtained, the more they rubbed the worse it got, the coarse emery, when renewed, scratching the stone badly. The polishing was all done by hand, with a plane-shaped box hollowed in the plain surface. A wood frame is placed round them a little lower than the edge of the stone and then covered in with plaster of Paris, to prevent the iron rings which are used in polishing from breaking the edges of the stone. These vertical machines, as the name indicates, are upright shafts, having at the lower end a ball on universal joints, to which a series of iron rings, or in some cases only one ring, are attached. The upper end of the shaft is also on universal joints, and moves in a loose socket, with a back-weight attached to regulate the pressure of the rings on the stone. The ordinary vertical, although still largely used, has lately been superseded by the radial polishing machine - a larger machine with much heavier rings, worked by a central upright shaft, and swung from place to place on the stone by a pivot arrangement at the side. Messrs Newall have a machine of even newer construction, which, being worked on a large central pivot pillar, can be swung round and set to work on one carriage while the stones in a carriage on the opposite side are being got ready. The man in attendance sets the machine in motion, and begins the polishing process by throwing into the rings a mixture of diamond grit or chilled iron (globular in form and something like very fine shot) and water; the rings in their revolutions being guided over the surface by the attendant. Four or five hours' running with this will have rendered the stone wonderfully smooth. The whole stuff is then washed off, the utmost care being taken that no particle of the grit remains to damage or scratch the surface in the next process. After washing, the plaster, where broken, is renewed; :he rings replaced, and the same process gone through, this time with carborundum* and water. This process is continued until the granite is absolutely smooth, and the carborundum ground down to a fine paste.

Carborundum is a very fine powder, something like emery, but cleaner, sharper, and brighter in appearance It is made from corundum, rock and sand being mixed together and passed through a furnace under enormous heat. The melted product, after cooling, assumes all the tints of the rainbow. It is ground into powder, and imported in this form for polishing purposes, and has almost superseded emery in the second process of polishing granite. It is manufactured at the Falls of Niagara.

The washing process is then repeated. The next operation is the final one in polishing, and is accomplished by means of "putty powder" (oxide of tin) and felt, the latter being fixed on the iron rings. This gives the gloss to the stone, and finishes the polishing. All moulded stones are polished in what are known, from their motion, as pendulums. Plaster of Paris casts are taken of the moulding, and reverses of these are procured in cast iron to fit the stone. The polishing process is then gone through on the same lines as that previously described.


Within recent years Messrs D. H. & J. Newall have brought saws into use with good effect. These saws also have the pendulum motion. A steel blade, or blades, with the aid of diamond grit - a coarser quality than that used for polishing - and water, cuts the block, thus giving two clean faces without the aid of hewing. If the blocks are to have fine-axed faces it may be necessary to go over them lightly with a patent axe; but if for polishing, they can go right from the saw into the polishing machines. Circular work is now nearly all done by turning lathes, with a circular cutter working at an angle on both sides of the stone. Boring is also done by machinery, and holes through paint rollers, etc., are bored with the aid of a hollow steel tube attached to a vertical revolving shaft. This machine is also fed with diamond grit, and the core which is left in the inside of the drilling can be converted into small columns, whereas, in the old method of dressing by hand, the whole centre was, of course, bored out.


Stones for the mills, those used for architectural and monumental purposes, must necessarily be of fairly large dimensions. Smaller stone is used for making setts, and the chips are crushed for granolithic purposes. With Dalbeattie lies the honour of first introducing as a business the crushing of granite for granolithic paving. Like all other branches of the granite industry, it had a small beginning. Messrs Shearer, Smith, & Co. were the first to erect a crusher, but previous to that they had men employed riddling the sett-makers' chips, for which the price was then fifteen shillings per ton.

Messrs D. H. & J. Newall were among the first to erect a crusher, but the demand for crushed granite, for granolithic and, Macadam purposes, increasing so greatly, in 1898 the firm erected a machine which is capable of turning out 300 tons per day, in sizes from three inch Macadam to the smallest size of crushed granite used for concreting purposes. One of the incentives for its erection was the advantageous disposal of the ever-increasing mountain of refuse granite which was accumulating on the banks of the River Urr. The huge "tip" was calculated to contain nearly one million tons of granite, and at one time was considered unprofitable and was a source of concern to the management of the quarries; but the words of a gentleman, uttered twenty-five years ago in Dalbeattie Town Hall - "that these huge mounds of granite would by-and-bye disappear, and be utilised in the formation of the streets of London and the other large towns throughout the kingdom," although at the time considered to be rather overdrawn, have proved to be truly prophetical, and are now being realised.

The ground occupied by the is eighty-six feet long by fifty-one feet wide. The roof of the screening room is fifty-eight feet high. We will try to give some idea of "crushing" in operation The stone is hauled from the quarry " tips" and dumped into the two hoppers, where the crushing is done between a cone placed on a gyratory vertical shaft through the centre of a cylindrical shaft. As it gyrates the crushing cone impinges against the side of the shell, in relation to which it is constantly approaching and receding. Passing through these breakers, the crushed granite is caught by a set of elevators and taken to the screens, measuring forty inches in diameter, and sixteen feet and twelve feet long respectively. The screen for No. produces any sizes from 1.25 in. to 3 in., and can be changed at the shortest notice. The rejections of this screen fall down a shoot into No. 3, where they mingle with the smaller material fed into this crusher. The produce of No. crusher is taken up by a second set of elevators to the screening room, where it passes through a screen with a inch, 0.375 inch, or 0.5 inch diameter mesh, or whatever size may be wanted. The rejections from this screen are made to pass through another shoot to a set of rolls with an ingeniously contrived rocking arrangement on the top, so as to distribute the granite equally over the surface, and from these rolls it is again elevated to a small mesh screen, through which it has now no difficulty in passing. No. crusher is capable of producing 200 tons Macadam, and No. 3, 100 tons crushed granite daily, making a total of 300 tons. Below the screening room there are six large bins, supported on high walls of solid concrete, capable of containing 50 tons each.


The engine-room is a model of neatness, and is fitted with glazed bricks. The engine is a self-contained throttling one, and is designed for quick motion, and may be run at almost any speed. A Worthington boiler feed-pump of the piston pattern, and which is good for 150 lbs. pressure, is in close proximity to the engine. The boiler is a horizontal tubular one. Its horse-power is based on 30 lbs. of water per hour, which the pump supplies with ease. Water is obtained from a well sunk in the room. The engine-room is fitted with electric bells communicating with the crusher platform and the screening-room above, so that in case of accident, or for any other cause, the whole of the machinery can be stopped immediately at a signal from either of these places.


When it is known that Messrs Newall turn out 25,000 tons of crushed granite annually, it will be readily recognised that the question of transit would prove a difficulty when undertaken by carting. Under such circumstances traffic was at times bound to become congested. To obviate the difficulty the managers (Mr W. N. Newall and Mr Gillespie) considered what system was most to be preferred. At first it was intended to construct a railway track, but the difficulty of bridging the River Urr had to be contended with, and ultimately the idea was abandoned as being much too costly. Mr Newall and Mr Gillespie then visited several ropeways running in the South of England, and came to the conclusion that a ropeway between Craignair and the railway was the thing required, and was forthwith erected. An idea of the saving of labour effected may be gathered from the fact that after the granite chips are thrown into the crusher, the produce is not again handled. 

The crushed granite is conveyed to a special railway siding, constructed near Meikle Dalbeattie, by means of buckets drawn by a wire rope running round pulleys at each end. The buckets travel under the crusher bins (already mentioned), where six of them can be loaded at once, by simply pulling a lever. They are then pushed from under the bins and automatically leave the rail at the terminal station and are taken on by the cable. When once on the rope the buckets can only be released by lifting them bodily off, but if by chance or carelessness a load is allowed to run along to the station shunt rails unattended it would simply take on to the cable and automatically fix itself. The distance between the two stations is 870 yards, and to support the cable there are six graceful Eiffel-tower-like steel trestles from 30 feet to 50 feet high. Twenty-two buckets run on the cable, each having a carrying capacity of six cwts., and are calculated to convey 200 tons in a day. Along the extreme top of the trestles is a telephone wire connecting the two terminal stations. In the crusher buildings a six horse-power vertical engine drives the ropeway. Railway waggons are run alongside the station terminal and filled direct from the buckets, which are tilted by the man in charge. The waggons then pass over a weighing-machine specially constructed for the purpose. The ropeway is the first of the kind erected in Scotland.


Another important branch in which granite is employed is the laying of roadways, tramways etc., with setts. It is important in more ways than one, if only from the fact that the "causey-men," or settmakers, are the highest paid of granite workers. The fact is not due to any extraordinary skill or intelligence being necessary, but is alone attributable to the advantages pertaining to a well-conducted union. This the men have long ago recognised, and today have a larger percentage of workmen affiliated than any other workers' union in the country. We cannot ascertain when granite setts were first used, but it is many years ago. Of late years an attempt has been made to introduce wood paying, and in many places it has superseded granite, but where a hard-wearing, non-slippery surface is required recourse has to be made to granite, and in this respect Dalbeattie granite excels all others. It is many years before Dalbeattie granite is worn smooth, which is accounted for by the fact that the concussion caused by the horses' shoes, instead of acting as a polisher, in reality roughens the stone. Should you take the trouble, when in a city whose streets are paved with Dalbeattie granite, to examine a sett after being struck by a horse-shoe you will see what we mean. Although the first outlay is more than whinstone or some wood pavements, it is cheaper in the end, as the following table of the relative cost of wood and Dalbeattie granite, with the expense of maintaining each for thirty years, will show.


Owing to the high face of Craignair Quarry it is often very difficult to obtain stones large enough to suit the firm's requirements, and to other three new quarries have been opened up, two in the RounaIl Wood and the other in the "Coo" Park. The former were opened last year, and some splendid large blocks obtained therefrom; but the one in the Coo Park, which was opened this year, promises to exceed in quantity and quality anything in the neighbourhood. At these quarries steam boring machines are in use, and effect a great saving not only in labour but also in the time taken to dislodge the granite.


In the yard there can often be seen the fronts of some buildings in red granite. The blocks are obtained from the firm's quarry at Peterhead and brought to Dalbeattie in a rough state. Here they are polished or carved as they may be required, and as in the case of all other work, carefully built and fitted in sections previous to being despatched. Here may also frequently be seen the close-textured grey granite from their quarries in Westerly, Rhode Island.


After the death of the two senior partners, Mr Homer and Mr David Newall, the business was carried on by Mr Joseph Newall, in whose hands the works assumed large dimensions - and were placed on a sounder commercial footing.

Mr Newall, who was a man of wide scholarly attainments and of a particularly sociable disposition, was greatly respected and beloved by all who came in personal contact with him, and his death was a great blow to the district. The business was left entirely in the hands of his widow, who shows many of the characteristics of her late husband. In all of the many improvements undertaken within recent years Mrs Newall has displayed a keen interest, and her counsel in the affairs of the firm has proved of marked value. This article would be incomplete, however, were we to omit any reference to the two gentlemen on whom fall the direct responsibility of the management - Mr H. Gillespie and Mr W. N. Newall. The management forms a happy combination of long and tried experience and youthful enthusiasm and up-to-dateness. Mr Gillespie has been connected with the firm nearly all his life, and has seen it grow from a small concern until now it has taken its rank among the leading granite firms of the country, and to him in no small measure is its present position attributable. Mr W. N. Newall is a direct descendant of the founders, and the recent additions and improvements to the plant may be traced to the knowledge he acquired during his visits to America. Nor is his knowledge of the " arm-chair order, for he makes himself conversant with the minutest details by personal supervision. Under such a managerial combination progress and success are assured.

In drawing this article to a close, we may be permitted using the words of Mr Gillespie when he said it was only natural, when we think of the works of architectural beauty and the skilfully executed sculpture work of our granite craftsmen, that we should be proud of our native granite. Craignair will never be allowed to fade from our memory. Even should it do so for a time, some building or monument will meet our gaze to awaken and refresh us. The Great and Little Bass Lighthouses (Ceylon) shed their beacon lights over the Indian Ocean, and furious cyclones beat against their solid structures of Dalbeattie granite. The billows of the Atlantic hurl themselves against the base of the Eddystone Lighthouse, and there the same material bids defiance to their almost resistless charge. Stately ships sail in and out of the harbour of Trinidad, the old Stanley Dock in Liverpool, and numerous docks and harbours throughout the United Kingdom, and find safe refuge therein, sheltered by the solid masonry from the same old hill. 

The rock from its bosom has taken its place, among others, in beautifying the Thames Embankment. Its polished brightness embellishes the frontage of many a bank and office and public building; and endless traffic is carried on, and millions of people pass daily over, the hardy, material abstracted from her sides to form the highways and cover , the pavements of numberless cities and towns throughout these realms. In contrast with the stirring and stormy use for which our native granite is adapted and adopted, many beautiful memorials, selected from the same prolific source, have been reared throughout this and other lands. It has been used to commemorate the virtues and bravery of not a few of the nation's heroes, amongst them Lord Nelson, General Gordon, and General Neill. Dukes, earls, and statesmen have chosen it to form their last resting-place, and the lovers of Shakespeare and our own beloved Burns have not been behind in acknowledging its beauty and its worth. Travellers will find it in America, in Africa, in China, in Australia, and in many parts of the European. continent; and even from the little town of Tiberias it stands proudly overlooking the blue waves which nightly roll o'er deep Galilee. Truly, then, we may well unite in singing the praises of this grand old hill in the words of the poet Sproat:

Then let us join at Nature's shrine
And breathe our earnest prayer;
That though she gave no golden mine
She blessed us with Craignair.