HISTORY OF THE BRITISH QUARRY INDUSTRY
hand from small quarries near to the work-site stone has been our main
building material for countless centuries. Indeed this primitive method
continued right through to the middle of the nineteenth century, when
the very first primitive crushers appeared with the advent of the Steam
As the mechanics of crushing advanced, the vast number of private quarries
were gradually replaced by small commercial quarries which prepared stone
for sale to the end user. This continued until the mid 1950's , when the
building boom arrived and motorways and dual carriageways began to link
up the entire country.
Big business now started to develop an interest in quarrying. Large construction
companies began to buy these small operations, often closing them down
and transferring their work to other sites. Those they were unable to
buy might have their prices undercut or not used to supply the large contracts.
Many went to the wall. In 1960 there were in excess of 5,000 quarry companies
but by 1970 this number had fallen to less than 3,000.
Today there are only some 200 private quarry companies left throughout
mainland Britain! Five large companies, referred to as "majors," now claim
almost 90% of total output. They have refined their techniques of market
domination to a fine art form. Buying virtually all the concrete and asphalt
plants was referred to as "vertical integration". These facilities often
use in house buying policies to continue the process of freezing out the
independents. On large contracts the majors will often package aggregate
purchase along with concrete and asphalt which means the smaller operator
is unable to compete. They have also extended their empire into the supply
chain, buying out cement companies, thus forcing the independents to use
imported cement or perhaps pay a premium price.
Still the remorseless quest for total market domination continues unabated.
Now that they have almost run out of independent operators to buy out,
the majors have begun to consolidate, with Pioneer being the most recent
addition to the history book. They will join other, equally well known,
names such as Tilcon, Wimpey, Redland, McAlpine, Hoveringham, Steetley,
ECC Quarries, Bodfari, Greenhams, Hobbs and Hargreaves , to name but a
few. There are also signs that the majors are becoming much more reliant
on sub-contractors and mobile plant to carry out their crushing and screening
operations. Although this may offer short term savings by reducing capital
expenditure, the long term negative effects, on staff training and investment,
will be profound. It will also prevent people gaining practical experience
before climbing the corporate ladder to the boardroom. The end result
might well be that the majors retain only mineral rights and a sales staff,
with all quarry operations being contracted out.
When this process finally grinds to its inevitable conclusion and the
dust settles, we wonder what little will remain of a once mighty industry.
So far, the only part of Britain to escape this destruction has been Northern
Ireland. Here the majors have yet to gain the upper hand and private enterprise
still flourishes, with 120 independent quarries providing a high degree
of customer service, as well as much needed employment.