This week we remember a remarkable Yorkshirewoman who ran her own quarry and invented an artificial stone, Mrs Anne Greaves (1889- c.1948).
Anne Greaves was born Annie Harris in 1889 in Goole, Yorkshire. At the age of 20 she married Somerton Greaves and had her sons Eric and Raymond soon after. In the 1911 census she was recorded working as a confectioner and it is not clear from documentary evidence when she started to run quarries. It is certain that she was already well-established as a quarry manager in 1925 when she became the first lady member of the Institute of Quarry Managers (now the Institute of Quarrying). In 1926 she was leasing 9130 acres of land at Weeland, Hensall in the parish of Heck, Yorkshire, from the Church Commissioners and the Baron Deramore at £50 a year and may have been doing so for 7 years. This was the basis of her Weeland Sand Company, which was became a Limited company in 1933. The quarry produced sand, building stone and crushed stone, mainly for the road-building industry. The British Geological Survey described it as ‘Addingham Edge Grit’.
The company was wound up in 1948 but another company called Weeland Sand Co. (Leeds) Ltd. continued to trade until as recently as 2009 and, in 2014, planning consent was granted to turn the land into a recreational area. Satellite images of Weeland Road in 2017 show two areas of sand quarry landscape with industrial buildings. It would seem that the larger northern quarry is becoming a mountain bike trail or similar.
In 1934 Anne Greaves set up a parallel company, CF Harris Ltd in partnership with her brother, Charles Harris, initially principally a similar quarrying firm but which diversified into transport, and which is still in business today. Although the two businesses were unusually long-lived, it looks as though Anne’s involvement ceased in about 1948.
Anne does not seem to have owned the land from which the sand and stone were quarried but rented various sites. It is also not clear why she embarked on this enterprise, since there seems not to have been any connections with the industry in the family: her husband being a shipbroker and ship owner and her father, John Harris, a musician and seller of books and music in Goole. Local historians in Goole believe that the marriage may have failed as Anne and Somerton were not living together from soon after her children were born and that perhaps some kind of separation settlement provided her with the land from which she began her quarrying career.
In 1926 she realised that the masonry industry had been significantly hit by the loss of time-served masons due to WW1and that there were not many young men entering apprenticeships, due to the very demanding nature of the work and its associated health risks (silicosis of the lungs). Since the major component of the costs of including traditional stonework in new buildings was the wages for the skilled masons, she decided that there would be a market for a reconstituted or artificial stone, which could be made in any shape or size required by the client. However, she preferred to call this product “Cast stone” to emphasise that it was made from real stone. It was her opinion that a carefully thought-out formula for its constituent materials actually ensured a superior product to ‘real’ stone: “We all know what dreadful trouble there has been with the large public buildings in London owing to the deterioration of the stone, and we are told this is due to not being placed on its natural bed. We have nothing of that to contend with in cast stone.”
To distinguish her product from others in the market, she crushed the stone and mixed it with cement to produce a block that was uniform throughout. This was an important distinction, as many other products being marketed then were cheap concrete blocks, merely coated with a thin layer of ground stone to give a superficial appearance of masonry. Since these coated blocks would be susceptible to damage and wear, revealing the inferior materials, she was able to promote her product as performing as well as ‘real’ stone, in appearance as well as strength.
She did her own experimentation and seems to have had a clear understanding of the function of water in cementitious materials and the need to keep it to the absolute minimum .
In her article for The Woman Engineer she cites some clients whose buildings had included her product: in some semidetached houses at Hensall near her quarry,, another in Boston Spa and Dewsbury Infirmary. I have not found any records of Betna in industry sources after 1929 so it is not clear for how long she marketed her invention.
Largely from: True Grit – women in quarrying in 1930s England and 1880s Scotland. Dr Nina Baker, in The Construction Historian, June 2017, pp 7-10.