Stone Quarries

The Armitage stone quarry with houses on Aberford Road in the background.

The distinctive sandstone found in the district was quarried in Woodlesford and Oulton for hundreds of years until the early 1960s. 

At first individual house builders dug out stone from the immediate vicinity of the house often leaving a depression in the ground. Extensive quarries were then developed on either side of what is now Aberford Road and close to the site of the railway station. 

The trade probably reached its peak in the early Victorian period. One notable use was for the  improvements to Oulton Hall although experts believe Oulton church was built of Millstone Grit from further afield.  

A local history compiled by the former headmaster of Rothwell Grammar School, E.R. Manley, says stone was exported to London along the canal from Swillington Bridge up until 1906. 

Pigot’s trade directory from 1841 lists no less than 7 stone masons and merchants living in Oulton. Among them were Thomas Abbey, William Owen and his son of the same name, James Rhodes, Robert Whitehead, William Wrigglesworth, and a man or woman called Burnell. Also by that time the Old and New Masons pubs were already going strong, both run by landladies called Elizabeth! 

Towards the end of the 19th century the name of George Armitage and Sons came to dominate the industry locally as the firm spread from its base at Thorpe and Robin Hood to take over the main Woodlesford stone quarry in 1893. Members of the family lived at Iveridge Hall and The Grove in Oulton.

Built on Jack Lane in Hunslet by the Hudswell Clarke company this 0-4-0 shunting engine was used for many years at the quarry and brickworks. The engine was driven by Tommy Poppleton who is standing next to the large block of stone. Just visible behind the loco shed is the Co-op building on Aberford Road.

Armitage’s speciality was the production of large grinding wheels, often at least 6 feet in diameter, many of which were exported worldwide including Australia, Argentina and Brazil. They also dug out the clay, or marl, to be made into the famous red Armitage bricks from which most of the local terraced houses are built. 

The Woodlesford brickworks, which were built around coal fired Hoffman continuous kilns, opened in 1907. Around the time of the First World War local women were employed doing heavy physical work pushing barrow loads of bricks around. 

Eventually when the Woodlesford clay was exhausted a new brickworks was opened at Swillington in the 1950s.

Another view of the loco. Behind it is a crane used for lifting large blocks of stone which were cut up to make grindstones.

Leeds Intelligencer, Saturday 31 March 1866.

Yesterday morning, about half-past eleven o’clock, a sad accident occurred at Mr. Slaters stone quarry at Oulton. Henry Arundel, a boy, fifteen years of age, had been sent by the engineman to turn on the water to the stone-sawing mill, when his toe was caught in a cog-wheel, and he was drawn into the machinery and fearfully mangled, one of his legs being completely torn away. The poor lad was taken to his home at Rothwell, and it is expected his injuries are fatal.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 1 June 1901

George Armitage and Sons (Limited) (70,304).  

This company has been registered with capital of £54,000 in £1 shares, to adopt an agreement made between James Armitage, Abraham Armitage, and George Armitage of the one part, and the company of the other part for the acquisition of the business of quarry owners now carried on by the said J. Armitage, A. Armitage and G. Armitage, at Robin Hood, near Wakefield, Yorkshire, as “George Armitage and Sons,” and to carry on the businesses of stone and brick merchants, stone quarry owners, brick, tile, and pipe makers, manufacturers of all articles made of stone or brick, lime burners, cement makers, iron founders, iron masters, colliery proprietors, oil factors and dealers, coal merchants, farmers, valuers, auctioneers, builders, railway contractors, plasterers, slaters, plumbers, asphalters, concreters, paviours, gas, water, and sanitary engineers, etc.

The subscribers are: James Armitage, Iveridge, Oulton, near Leeds, stone merchant, one share ; Mrs. Annie Elizabeth Armitage, Westfield, Rothwell, near Leeds, one share; John Armitage, Oak Villa, Robin Hood, near Wakefield, stone merchant, one share; George Armitage, jun., Oak Villa, Robin Hood, near Wakefield, stone merchant, one share Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Armitage, Iveridge, near Oulton, Leeds, one share; Abraham Armitage, Robin Hood, near Wakefield, stone merchant one share; George Armitage. sen.. Westfield, Rothwell near Leeds, stone merchant, one share. No initial public issue. The number of directors is not to be less than three, nor more than five; the subscribers are to appoint the first; qualification, £5,000; remuneration £260 per annum, divisible. Registered office, Robin Hood, near Wakefield.

One of Young and Dogett’s steam road rollers parked on the quarry top in July 1954 near the site of the present Lidl supermarket. In the background you can just make out two chimneys at the brickworks, and behind the crane jib the terraced houses on Eshald Lane. The roller (8519) was built by Aveling & Porter in 1915. (Photo by Brian Shaw, Derek Rayner collection.)
Armitage workers at the Thorpe brickworks. The kilns in the background are similar to those at Woodlesford.