The rock-getters

The first stage of making stone products is to separate blocks of stone from the rock bed where they have been for millions of years. This was the job of the rock-getters.

Once the overburden of clay and soft rock had been removed to expose the beds of Haslingden Flag, the rock-getters took over. Working on the flat top surface of the bed, they would first mark out the extent of the block to be broken free. Rows of tapered holes were then cut along the marks and wedges hammered into the holes to split the rock, allowing the block to be prised free with crowbars.

This was heavy, but skillful work: The Rochdale journalist H C Collins, writing in 1960, captures the terminology and skills of the rock-getter. “The rock-getter was a man of muscle like Top Moran, Butter Mick or Jimmy Cairns, who could wield a 90lb hammer for a long spell without resting. First the holes for the wedges were made every foot or fifteen inches with a two inch broad chisel. The rock-getter would spit in the deepening hole to make the fine rock particles cling together, then clean it up with a bottoming pick .The wedges were inserted, (slightly less than the hole), and the 90lb hammer carefully and continually used on about a dozen wedges until the rock split and the piece was ready for ‘handy bob,’ the large crowbar to move away. If a wedge hole split it was said to ‘spalch’.

For those unfamiliar with pounds and ounces, 90lb (90 pounds) is about 40kg!

Detail from photo of rock getters This photograph shows a rock-getter at work. A row of wedges is in place and crowbars and hammers are ready for use.

Rock-getters using wedges to peg out the flags. The crane waits above ready to hoist the split flag.

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