Each of the Channel Islands has its own distinctive history of quarrying; on Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Herm to the emergence of Ronez Limited, a company of Aggregate Industries Ltd, as the principal quarrying company on the Channel Islands.
The origins of Ronez Limited lie in the history of Jersey where there may be evidence of commercial quarrying in a 1651 reference to the Clos de Carieres in St John parish where almost two centuries later the Ronez Quarries were established when the Jersey Granite Company commenced operations there in 1869. A successor to this company was acquired in 1911 by the Croft Granite, Brick, and Concrete Company of Leicestershire.
In the 19th century the ports of St Helier in Jersey and St Sampson in Guernsey were important for the export of paving stones and chippings to the English mainland and by the early 1900s St. John's quarries had acquired their own jetty, crane, mooring buoy and were on occasion loading three ships or more with aggregate.
19th Century Channel Island census returns speak of quarrymen, stone cutters, stone dressers, stone crackers, and stone miners, as well as stone merchants, and as the demand for stone grew so labor had to be imported. Normandy and Brittany were obvious sources, but so too were England and Ireland, and even Scotland. In 1886 the Stone Crackers' Union was formed to defend the interests of quarries; in 1937 it was incorporated into the General and Municipal Workers Union which was active throughout the Channel Islands.
The German occupation of the Channel Islands from 1940-45 saw the requisition of the islands' quarries. The quarry manager at St. John's, because he was of British citizenship was interned by the Germans in Bavaria for the duration of the war. In Guernsey, Mowlem's plant was brought back into use by the Germans. The quarries on both islands were worked by slaves brought over from mainland Europe by the Germans who built railways on both Jersey and Guernsey to deliver the crushed stone and cement needed for building Hitler's Atlantic Wall.
With the war over the quarrying on both islands had to undergo a long and expensive process of reconstruction and several quarries did not reopen; their rehabilitation being uneconomic. At St. John's engineers came over from Croft to rebuild the plant and to build a new jetty. This gave opportunities for rationalization and technical advancement. Horses and carts and steam cranes gave way to huge excavators, dumper trucks and loading shovels. Electricity took over from steam.
In March 1961 the Jersey Cement and Granite Co. Ltd., commenced operations on Guernsey, thereby linking what was hitherto the separate quarrying traditions of the two islands. This was done by the acquisition of the quarries at Les Vardes, Bordeaux and Mont Cuet.
In the following year, 1963, ownership of the Jersey Cement and Granite Co Ltd was transferred from the Croft Granite, Brick, and Concrete Company, to English China Clays Limited and in 1966 in Jersey Western and L'Etacq quarries were purchased. At the same time, the Company extended its interests to Alderney, leasing land there at the Arsenal. A year later it changed its name to Ronez Ltd and in 1996 was acquired by CAMAS which in turn merged with Bardon Aggregates to become Aggregate Industries Ltd. The story comes to an end for the present; when, in March 2005 Ronez Limited as part of Aggregate Industries merged with the Holcim Group, an enterprise of Swiss origin which since it began in 1912 has achieved global status.
Knowing I was going to be on Jersey for a few days I had looked to see what was worth paying a visit while on the island, top of the list was Pontins holiday camp, but after that it looked as if Iíd be trying to find the remains of German fortifications from the Second World War, this I did not research too well I found out.
Many of the fortifications I found were either bricked up, locked up as tourist attractions or were very bare. After locating the MP3 Tower at Les Landes I found I couldnít access the area due to some sort of shooting event, so headed off to Pelmont Head.
Another uninteresting fortification, but looking East there was a large quarry and workings set in the hillside below. Not knowing if it was still in operation I sat and watched for a while working out ways in and out. It soon became evident that it was still a live site, much of which was in full view of the weighbridge, lorry park as well as all the tourists at Pelmont Head.
A quick look at the time and it was 16.40, I rightly or wrongly presumed that the quarry would shut at 17.00 as most of the other businesses seemed to do on the island. As if to cue the last lorry stopped work and headed up the track to the top of the quarry; I even thought I heard the gate close and chain put round it.
Nearly time to go, some German tourists were just finishing some butties, as they headed down the footpath I went the other way skirting the cliffs on the edge of the site. Half way across I heard a large diesel engine fire up and saw a van heading back down the track, time to find some cover. The next hour was spent under a boulder watching the JCB and the van drive around site, once stopping just above where I sat. My refuge gave me a good view of the site, the weighbridge, lorry park and tourists car park, but this also meant I would be visible if I moved.
After a long wait, things had quietened down and as I had seen no movements above or below I continued down to the workings. After a good mooch I headed to a couple of the more visible features to get the last few images and started back up the track. Halfway up the noise of sirens started to get louder, just as I reached my car the blue lights appeared at the weighbridge; so off I shot passing a second police car on the main road.
General view of the quarry just before I had to sit and enjoy the view for a few hours!
Watching the large digger and workings from my vantage point; there was also some great wild life bobbing around in the sea below
All was now quiet; the large machinery had finally shut down for the evening.
First proper view of the quarry workings.
A Ronez feed hopper
Down towards the docking area.
The older section of the site, lobster pots included.
Looking up the main convayor.
A spare convayor belt just waiting.
The changing rooms.
And the workshop.
The last look on the way back out, just as I started to hear sirens!
All in all a good mooch and passed a few hours on the island, it was interesting to see the old section of the workings as well as the modern equipment.