Britain's first superquarry: Tunstead/Old Moor
The combined Tunstead/Old Moor quarry was for many years the largest quarry in Britain and remains the most complex. It has underpinned an important sector of the UK economy for over half a century.
In1891, intense competition to supply lime to Merseyside chemical producers resulted in the merger of fourteen companies which became the ‘Buxton Lime Firms'. In 1926, the group had 22 quarries around Buxton. Another merger formed Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd (ICI), then the world's largest chemical company.
Between the wars, uneconomic sites and recession prompted the search for Britain's first superquarry site. Geological, market and transport studies were conducted.
Extensive deposits of regularly bedded and consistent high-purity limestone, (uninterrupted by volcanic rocks) were found at Tunstead, conveniently located alongside a railway link to the Cheshire chemical works. The quarry and associated plant made extensive use of new technology which was either purpose built, or bought in from the USA. By 1949, the complex was highly mechanised and annual output approached 2 million tonnes. By 1957, all ICI's other Buxton sites except Hindlow had closed.
Proposals to open up Old Moor quarry, east of the railway (and, controversially, just within the Peak District National Park) to maintain supplies into the 21 st century were eventually approved in 1980. Tunstead was taken over by Minorco and is now part of the Tarmac Group, which, in turn, is owned by Anglo American plc. It will remain a vital source of basic raw materials for UK industry for many years to come.