In March 2010 I had an interesting phone call from the head teacher of Creetown School in south west Scotland. The pupils were working on a major project called Time in our Environment. Part of the project was to erect a granite “Stonehenge” in the playground, each upright representing how Creetown granite had been used and recording where it is situated now.
The head teacher wanted to include two of Ronald Rae’s granite sculptures in the project, O wert thou in the Cauld Blast (Robert Burns) now sited in Milton Keynes and John the Baptist in Oxon, both carved in Creetown granite. Using the children’s drawings of the sculptures the Galloway Granite Company etched the images on to the upright stones. Ronald was invited to open the exhibition in June.
Ronald Rae was delighted to be part of this exciting project. Kirkmabreck, Creetown’s largest quarry was an Aladdin’s cave to him when he chose his very first monumental stone from there in 1964 which became the Deposition of Christ, now at Rozelle Park, Ayr. Rae returned to Creetown for many years in search of the silver grey granite that would be his inspiration, till the quarry closed in 1990. Boy with Calf currently on exhibition at The Falkirk Wheel is a fine example of the beauty of Creetown granite.
Kirkmabreck Quarry, Creetown, was in its heyday in the 1830s when 450 quarrymen brought down hundreds of tonnes of granite out of the hill without blasting! The stones were then shipped to Merseyside to become part of Liverpool Docks. It followed that Greenock, Leith, Birkenhead, Newport and Swansea docks were also built from Creetown granite.
Other sculptors have been inspired by this hardest of stones. Hew Lorimer 1907-1993, son of the architect Sir Robert Lorimer, used blocks of Creetown granite to create his 27 ft high sculpture, Our Lady of the Isles sited on the hill at Rueval on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, completed in 1958. This landmark sculpture of the Madonna and Child was funded by the local community.
The Japanese sculptor Hideo Furuta, born in Hiroshima, whom I met at Edinburgh University in 1989 when he was artist in residence there, spent several years in Creetown initially living and carving in the deserted Kirkmabreck Quarry in the 1990s. Hideo was well known in the village sharing his love of granite with the community. One of his major projects was to redesign Adamson Square in Creetown in 2005, which sadly became his memorial as Hideo died of cancer in 2007, aged only 57. He will never be forgotten in Creetown.
Granite quarries in Scotland
Nowadays the few granite quarries that are still operating in Scotland work on a smaller scale. Dalbeattie Quarry not far from Creetown rarely brings out large stones. Kemnay Quarry, which supplied some of the cladding for the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, and a source for Ronald Rae for several years, is now closed. Tillyfourie Quarry, the source of the pink Corrennie granite Rae used for his 20 tonne Lion of Scotland, no longer brings down monumental blocks only stones for crushing. Unfortunately granite from China, which is less expensive to manufacture, is now replacing Scottish granite for building projects.
One day all the granite quarries in Scotland will be silent, Nature will take over and the only sound to be heard will be the call of the peregrine falcon. Well done Creetown School for celebrating this noble and ancient stone, which according to isotopic dating is 391 million years old!