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Easdale, slate quarries and associated workings

A Scheduled Monument in Oban North and Lorn, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.2925 / 56°17'33"N

Longitude: -5.6594 / 5°39'33"W

OS Eastings: 173646

OS Northings: 717138

OS Grid: NM736171

Mapcode National: GBR DDD2.QH3

Mapcode Global: WH0H2.139F

Entry Name: Easdale, slate quarries and associated workings

Scheduled Date: 25 August 2015

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM10355

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Industrial: mines, quarries

Location: Kilbrandon and Kilchattan

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Oban North and Lorn

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of the slate quarries, working bays and associated industrial buildings and other infrastructure, including the engine house, boiler house, forge, powder houses and tramways, in the western part of Easdale island, and the two quarries in the SE of the island. The surviving elements of the slate quarrying include seven, substantial and separate quarries, five of them flooded; widespread loose material and spoil-heaps (the by-product of slate extraction and processing); and the remains of buildings, machinery and infrastructure used to excavate, process and transport the slate. The quarries are up to 100m across and over 60m deep; in some cases, they are reported to be 90m deep. The monument occupies a substantial part of Easdale island. The earliest two quarries are located in the SE of the island, while the remainder dominate the NE, N and W sides of the island.

Easdale, Seil, Luing and Belnahua are the principal 'slate islands' of Argyll. Easdale slate, a black carbonaceous pyritic slate, had been collected from the shores of Easdale and quarried from the surface on an ad hoc basis for centuries before the quarries were developed commercially during the first half of the 18th century. Glasgow Cathedral, for example, founded in 1197, is said to be roofed with Easdale slate; some 15th-century graveslabs in Argyll are made of Easdale slate; and in 1697 Ardmaddy Castle was re-roofed with Easdale slate. When the management of the quarries on the slate islands was taken over by the Marble and Slate Company of Netherlorn in 1745, eight crews of four men were employed on Easdale, with an annual production of about one million slates per year, mostly for roofing. By 1771 the workforce had increased to 13 crews. The introduction of the slate tax in 1799 on slate transported by sea caused the profits of the company to drop.

Most of the beds of good slate at Easdale lay near or below ground-level and, when pumps were introduced in the 19th century, the workings were carried down to considerable depths and production increased. The engine house provided the motive power for the railway system and for the pumps in the quarry. A decrease in the price of slate during the 1840s saw the company's profits fall significantly, and in 1862 the individual quarries were sold to different owners. Natural disasters also threatened the continued production of the quarries. A storm in November 1881 caused severe damage on Easdale, flooding the quarries and destroying buildings. From 1896 to 1906 the Easdale Slate Company employed approximately 100 men, but production ceased when the company went bankrupt in 1911, although two men continued to produce slates on the island between the two world wars. The quarries are now exhausted. Today, Easdale Island Museum houses a collection of artefacts, documents and photographs relating to the slate-quarrying industry.

The scheduled area comprises three irregular-shaped areas to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. Specifically excluded from the scheduling are the above-ground elements of all modern boundary features, hand-rails, signage and all other modern additions, and the top 30cm of all modern paths, to allow for their maintenance and repair. The scheduling also excludes the look-out point atop the highest point of the island. In the case of the two quarries at the SE side of the island, the scheduled areas generally extend 5m beyond the near-vertical faces of the two quarries, but they specifically exclude the gardens of the adjacent cottages to the W, all modern fences and other structures, and all services and other modern intrusions beyond the faces of the quarries.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular, the development of the slate quarrying industry in Scotland. It represents a well-preserved industrial landscape resulting from the extraction and working of slate, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. In combination with the quarry-workers' housing and the harbour, the quarry areas can contribute to an understanding of industrial and manufacturing processes in the 18th and 19th centuries and the associated social history. Easdale is known as 'the island that roofed the world', because its slate was famed as a robust and attractive material for roofing, which was exported to various parts of the world. The surviving remains of the slate quarries and associated infrastructure are a key element in the story of Scotland's industrial heritage. The considerable and extensive remains of waste material highlight the sheer scale of the quarrying and processing work that took place here. There is good potential for the survival of evidence of early commercial extraction techniques, and of the infrastructure required to process and transport slate. The quarries and surrounding areas may contain buried materials, equipment and machinery from the slate industry. The Easdale slate quarries can significantly enhance our understanding of the early quarrying of slate and the developments in industrial processes that led to Easdale becoming one of Scotland's foremost slate quarries. The monument has exceptionally high associative value, both locally and further afield, which is enhanced by the survival of a significant amount of documentary and other evidence for the social and economic history of slate quarrying. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our ability to appreciate and understand an important Scottish industrial landscape, resulting from the extraction and working of slate in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

The monument is recorded by RCAHMS as CANMORE NM71NW 2.00 and by the West of Scotland Archaeology Service as WOSAS PIN 852.

Hay, G D and Stell, G P 1986, Monuments of Industry: An illustrated historical record, RCAHMS. Edinburgh.

Historic Scotland, 2000, Scottish Slate. The potential for use (= circulated typescript report). Historic Scotland. Edinburgh

Hume, J R 1977, The industrial archaeology of Scotland. 2. The Highlands and Islands, Batsford. London.

Ritchie, J E and Anderson, J G C 1944, Scottish Slates, Geological Survey of Great Britain, wartime pamphlet no. 40.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1975, Argyll: an inventory of the ancient monuments: volume 2: Lorn. HMSO. Edinburgh.

Walsh, J 2002, Scottish Roofing Slate: Characteristics and tests (= circulated Historic Scotland typescript report). Historic Scotland. Edinburgh.

Canmore

https://canmore.org.uk/site/22614/

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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