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Rubislaw Quarry

Rubislaw quarry in Aberdeen reached over 90 metres deep, and was known as 'the deepest hole in Europe'. It opened in 1741 and, along with several other quarries in and around the City, produced a grey muscovite-biotite granite extensively used for building in Aberdeen and also widely exported (e.g. Bell Rock Lighthouse in 1806, Waterloo Bridge in London 1817 with other granites).

Very durable grey granite has been quarried near Aberdeen for 300 years, and locked and dressed paving, kerb, and building granite stones have long been exported from the district.

In 1764, Aberdeen granite pavement was first used in London. About the year 1795, large granite blocks were sent for the Portsmouth Docks.

The chief stones of the Thames Embankment, London, are from Kemnay granite quarries, 16 miles north-west of the city.  Aberdeen is almost entirely built of granite, and large quantities of the stone are exported to build bridges, wharfs, docks, lighthouses, etc. elsewhere.

Aberdeen is famed for its polished-works of granite, especially grey and red. They employ about 1500 hands in polishing vases, tables chimney-pieces, fountains, monuments, columns, &c., for British and foreign demand.


Rubislaw Quarry -
Men at Work
Cutting Granite Blocks
General views of granite quarry, probably Rubislaw near Aberdeen.  In several parts of Britain large granite masses occur near the surface.  Blocks of granite are forced out by blasting.  Men fill hole with charges and then the explosion.  Splitting blocks to shape by hand, using a row of nails and a hammer to split large block; The finest blocks go to the granite yards. Cutting - smooth steel blades are fed with mud containing steel shot. Cut block wheeled out of yard for preparation by dressing and polishing. Used for Sculpture, Road making - granite setts. Squad of men lay setts on road; Crushed granite for road surfacing.  Bridges and breakwaters.  Stone bridges, over the River Dee, the Forth railway bridge and a harbour walls; Granite for building.

Rubislaw Quarry in Aberdeen was not the largest excavated hole in Europe although it was the deepest in the world in relation to it's surface area.  In the 1970's standing on the very edge and looking down and it was a frightening experience. The men climbed up and down ladders and walkways to get to and return from their work every day.  At these depths the rock to build the beautiful granite buildings of Aberdeen could only be extracted by the inspired invention of the "Blondin" by a man called John Fyfe from Monymusk near Aberdeen (see Kemnay Quarry


The "Blondin" (named after Charles Blondin (1824-07) the famous tight-rope walker) consists of tight steel cables strung across the top of the Quarry with a trolley which lowered and raised a bucket/grab to raise the stone from the bottom of the Quarry.  The mechanism of the original "Blondin" prototype was still in place at the top of the Balmedie Quarry some years ago.  John Fyfe was a very inventive and shrewd businessman and went on to become the largest granite producer in the world.  Rubislaw Quarry has now filled with water and has been sold for probably leisure/boating use.


John Gibb was born near Falkirk in 1776, and only moved to Aberdeen to take up the post of Engineer to Aberdeen Harbour in 1809. He acquired an interest in a quarry at Tyrebagger in 1816. His son Alexander Gibb was also a Civil Engineer, and for several years they operated from Waterloo Quay as Civil Engineers, Contractors and Stone Merchants: their early contribution to the Granite Industry was their introduction of larger drills for blasting holes, allowing larger stones to be brought down in one blast. In 1830 John Gibb acquired the lease to all the quarries on the Rubislaw Estate, which he and his company continued to work for many years, adding to his sites until at one point he held the greatest number of quarries in the north-east. As an Engineer himself, he valued the strength of granite in major construction and worked closely with other engineers such as Thomas Telford who used large quantities of granite. Alexander inherited the lease on Rubislaw from his father in 1850, oversaw the installation of steam cranes at the site, and died in 1867. William Gibb, John Gibb's grandson, was born in 1835, studied Engineering in Aberdeen and Berlin and lived for some years in Australia, before he entered the business on his father's death. By 1873, when he was developing the business, he had a workforce of 71 men. The business at that time was operated from premises in Union Street, Aberdeen. In 1880 the Company adopted the additional name of Rubislaw Granite Quarry, which was changed to Rubislaw Granite Company Ltd., in 1890. In that year the company was still owned by William Gibb, but he was in failing health and wished to attract help in the management of the business: he was joined in the venture by the Architect Robert Gordon Wilson, a building contractor named Robert McKay, and 2 Quarriers named Charles Christie and Frank Manson. The share capital of the new company was £38,000, some of which was held by Easton & Stegmann Gibb, William's younger brothers, who had not entered the business. The 1st Limited Company in the granite business in Aberdeen, it was at initially based in Belmont Street in the centre of the City, but later for many years had offices in Queen's Road, Aberdeen, where the post of Company Secretary was held by James G. Esson. The Company invested heavily in new equipment from 1896 to 1900, spending nearly £5,000, though after 1900 its profits began to fall until the beginning of the 1st World War. Throughout the 1st half of the 20th century, foreign imports damaged the granite trade. Probably because the quality of the stone at Rubislaw was high it continued to be successful in the interwar years when other granite companies were in difficulties, but it also used much of the site of the original quarries at Rubislaw for housing development in the 1930s. The quarry at Rubislaw became increasingly difficult to work in the late 20th century, and it was eventually bought by John Fyfe's business in 1967. It was closed completely in 1970. Rubislaw Granite Company Ltd was dissolved on 15 February 1994.

Granite and material brought down by blasting.  Large granite blocks were blasted from the quarry walls. A large block would have a chain around it lifting from the quarry by the Blondin Cableway.  View at surface of the quarry showing granite blocks being dressed for building stone. Pneumatic drills are used to drill short holes in the large granite blocks to prepare them for splitting using the plug and feather method. Rubislaw Quarry.  Portable pumps were used for clearing quarry floor of water. The pump's hose went up the quarry face; it would extend to the surface. With the quarry being so deep and expansion of the quarry usually downwards, water seeping from the joints (seen as dark stains in some photographs would collect at the low points in the quarry floor.  Un-pumped it would eventually fill to the surface.

Rubislaw Quarry Today

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Last modified: 01/09/2013