Craigleith Quarry Local Geodiversity Site
Craigleith Quarry was the largest and best known of Edinburgh's sandstone quarries, with a worldwide reputation for producing building stone of the highest quality. Although mostly infilled, and now the site of a retail park, enough of the quarry face is visible to illustrate the geology of the quarry, and it was designated a RIGS in 1999 (now renamed a "Local Geodiversity Site (LGS)". We have produced a free leaflet on the Craigleith Quarry LGS (see the Lothian GeoConservation publications page for details).
6: Soft sedimentary deformation features Within the pale sandstone beds pillow-like structures are seen. Most are several tens of cms to a metre in size, and are associated with dramatic folds and distortion. The underlying and overlying beds are not folded, so deformation likely occurred when the sediments were still soft and wet, possibly triggered by an earthquake. Shaking the wet sediment also forced water upwards creating small sand volcanoes.
7: Oil-Shale Overlying the limestone (at 5) is a thick bed of black tough and papery mudstone. A brown streak when these mudstones are scratched with a knife indicates an unusually high organic content. Microscopic algae were abundant in the original muds resulting in algal rich mudstones known as oil-shales. Oil products extracted from the shales formed the basis of the West Lothian oil industry which flourished during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Changing environments Throughout the sedimentary sequence the variety of rock types and structures provide evidence for changing environments during the Carboniferous period. The area around Craigleith changed from one of large river systems and deltas with tropical swamps, to lakes and a shallow sea. Each of these has left its own geological signature in the rock record. It is important that Local Geodiversity Sites like Craigleith are looked after and preserved for others to enjoy and learn from.
Craigleith Quarry was the largest and best known of Edinburgh's quarries, with a world-wide reputation for producing building stone of the highest quality. It provided most of the building stone for Edinburgh's New Town, and exported stone to London, Europe and the United States. The quarry was active for over 300 years and the final massive hole had faces 110 metres (360 feet) high. Filled with inert waste in the 60 years after quarrying ceased, it has now become the Craigleith Retail Park opened in 1993.
The Early Years The first recorded use of Craigleith stone (then known as Innerleith or Enderleith) was between 1615 and 1619, when 200 arch stones were carried to Edinburgh Castle, using the King's own carts. The quarry also provided stone for Holyrood Palace.
Building the City The construction of the Edinburgh New Town in the 18th and 19th centuries saw a massive increase in demand for building stone. Craigleith stone was used for prestigious buildings such as Register House and Charlotte Square. In 1791 huge, 22 feet-long blocks were used for the 6 pillars at the entrance to Robert Adam's University of Edinburgh Old College. Each pillar weighed nine tons and required 16 horses to haul it. In 1823 a massive block weighing 1500 tons, was transported in pieces to Calton Hill to form the architrave of the National Monument.
Improvements to the Quarry In 1835 an improved shorter route into the City was constructed enabling 60 horse and cart to complete five deliveries per day. A railway line was also constructed to carry waste out of the quarry a job which previously had been done by horse.
with Nature Flooding was a continual problem during the lifetime of the quarry
and water was removed by the use of a Horse Gin water pump powered
by a horse which was eventually superseded by a steam powered pump.
RL Stevenson In Robert Louis Stevenson: The Collected Shorter Fiction edited by Peter Stoneley, Robinson Publishing, 1991, is a description of the misadventures of John Nicholson Christmas Day and frozen...hiding place in Craig Leith Quarry
Leith Docks - The Last of the Stone The last major project for which Craigleith stone was used was for Leith Docks in 1895. Then, more than 90 men were employed; the work force was down to 40 by 1900 and to 25in 1905, when the last good quality building stone was produced.
A New Lease of Life During the First World War the deserted quarry was thought suitably remote site on which to manufacture TNT, previously manufactured at the Lothian Chemical Company.
Last Days of Craigleith Quarry Quarrying recommenced in 1922, with 12 men employed, but by 1942 all work had stopped. After the Second World War, Craigleith Quarry was gradually filled in. However, in 1995 100 tonnes of loose blocks were removed to make the Chinese Garden pathways in the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
Building stone today Although sitting in Edinburghs most famous sandstone quarry, Sainsburys had to go to Stainton in Northumberland for stone for the entrance to the Store. Stainton stone was also used for the Stone Alphabet façade, a major feature at the carpark entrance. Scottish sandstone is still available from a few quarries, such as Clashach in Moray and Cullaloe in Fife, an excellent match for Craigleith stone.
The Craigleith Trees Between 1835 and 1865, several fossils of giant tree (Pitys withamii) were discovered within the quarried sandstone. The largest, know as the Craigleith Tree, is now on display in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh. To commemorate the discovery of the fossils, on the wall by the doorway to Sainsburys, Carboniferous tree stems and leaves have been carved. Along the pavement, are planted a row of the primitive tree, Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) once thought extinct and only known from fossils but found growing in China in 1941.
Earth Movements and Earthquakes The sediments were subsequently buried under 2000m of further sediments, and became hardened to rocks. They were later squeezed and folded by dynamic Earth forces so are now gently inclined to the east.
Craigleith Today Of the once vast exposures of rock at Craigleith Quarry, only one or two preserved areas remain. But their fascinating features provide clues to the geological and historical past of Craigleith. Thanks to Sainsbury's sympathetic development of the site, Lothian and Borders GeoConservation designated the face behind the store as a Regionally Important Site in 1999.
Craigleith Quarry lies approximately 3km west of Edinburgh city centre along the Queensferry Road at its intersection with Craigleith Road and South Groathill Avenue (Multimap link). The quarry has now been infilled and built on, starting in 1993 when Sainsburys opened their superstore. It has since developed into the Craigleith Retail Park. Some of the upper part of the quarry face remains and reveals evidence of Edinburghs geological and historical past.
By bus: Craigleith can reached by Lothian Buses from Edinburgh. Currently (2005) routes 24 and 38 go into the retail park and routes 41 and 42 stop nearby, though this may change. Ask for Craigleith Retail Park.
By car: The main entrance into Craigleith Retail Park is off Craigleith Road as you approach traffic lights on the (A90) Queensferry Road. There is ample parking in the Retail Park car park.
The geological trail is located behind Sainsburys superstore. Visitors should report to the information desk inside the store before and after visiting the trail for safety and security purposes. The trail can be accessed by a footpath which starts at the South end of the store.
produced by Lothian and Borders RIGS ©2005
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