Interviews with people involved in the industry have provided fascinating and valuable information about the companies, working lives, and about how the sand was extracted and the machinery and processes involved. We’ve discovered more about the history of the early days of back-breaking shovelling, carried out by the sand ‘dobbers’ and the use of horse-drawn carts to remove the sand, through to the introduction of mechanical excavators, screening and washing equipment and the arrival of the light railway.
Mechanised means of loading the sand into wagons were more recently introduced, after which it would be transferred to the main railway line for onward transport to all parts of the country and abroad. Sophisticated industrial equipment is now used and sand is moved by road.
Well-known names in the sand industry are prominent in Leighton Buzzard and Heath and Reach. Garside Sands has been a familiar name, offering local employment for several generations. Arnold was also destined to become a well-known name in the local sand industry, following the establishment of a business formed by John Arnold in the 1860’s. The Jones’ family quarried sand after World War two and had three operational pits in the later 1960’s and LB Silica Sand Ltd is still trading locally too.
Garside Sands has been a familiar name offering employment in the sand industry around the Leighton Buzzard area for several generations. George Garside (1848 – 1926), a local builder, started a sand business in the 1890s.
George's first sand quarry was at Billington Road. During World War one, as this pit was becoming worked out, he began to quarry at Grovebury and further expanded his operations over the years to include quarries at Heath and Reach.
The 1903 Kelly’s Trade Directory records George Garside as building and silver sand pit owner, gravel and peat merchant, with his office (and home) at 28 Lake Street, Leighton Buzzard. In the early 1900s George Garside purchased the White House, Hockliffe Street, Leighton Buzzard and worked on it, adding a tower, and offices in the adjacent stabling. The Italianate style grand house, originally built in 1875, remains a landmark in the town. It is used (in 2009) by Leighton-Linslade Town Council.
In the late 1950s Garside’s office, at 39 Hockliffe Street, was in the former head groom’s house adjacent to the White House stables. The District Council moved into the White House in 1962 and used the stables as the Electrical Department and storage room. The Groom’s house was sold.
Every Easter, George’s wife travelled on one of Garside’s narrow boats to Paddington Basin to distribute Easter eggs, or oranges, to the boat children. George’s nephew, Hugh F Delafield (1891 – 1957) worked for him and, after George’s death in 1926, Hugh managed the operation on behalf of George’s widow until her death in 1931, after which he took full control. The 1936 Kelly’s Directory has the entry Garside Geo. sand mers. TA Garside, Leighton Buzzard.
On Hugh’s death in 1957 the business was left to his sons, John G and William H Delafield. Opportunity was then taken to expand and modernise and on 1 January 1960 George Garside Ltd was formed. William Delafield introduced a significant new hydro-cyclone process which further improved the quality of the pure silica sand.
A catalogue of the company’s archive is available here.
At the end of 1978 the company, then trading as George Garside Sand Ltd, was sold to a customer, English China Clays. Subsequent years have seen demergers and acquisitions. Today (2009) Aggregate Industries Ltd continues to trade as Garside Sands at Eastern Way, Heath & Reach www.aggregate.com/ and aims to continue the reputable ‘family business style’ started by George Garside.
A sand business was formed in the 1860s by John Arnold (c1816 – 1880). John was a builders’ merchant in Camden Town, London and extracted peat & loam from Kingswood Heath in Leighton Buzzard.
Arnold was to become a well-known name in the sand industry in the area, spanning for succeeding generations of the same family. Joseph (1841 – 1911) was born to John, and his wife Ann. The family moved around the country subsequently. Arnold’s first sandpit was opened at Stone Lane, Heath, around 1860. This was the first of many sand pits in the Leighton Buzzard area.
Around 1881 Joseph, a keen church organist, succeeded his father in the sand business. By this time the business was advertising its Pure Silver Sand, from Leighton Buzzard. By 1894, in addition to a London address, Joseph Arnold had a depot on Union Street (now Grovebury Road) where Grovebury Pit produced building sand, and an office at 24 Market Square, both in Leighton Buzzard. In 1907 Joseph had built Sandymount, an impressive home on Plantation Road, Leighton Buzzard, into which he moved.
Joseph’s two sons, Albert (c1875 – 1939) and Ernest (1879 – 1949) were running the business prior to their father’s death in 1911, when they operated eight sand pits. The business continued trading as Joseph Arnold until 1918 when it became Joseph Arnold & Sons.
The 1936 Kelly’s Trade Directory entry: Arnold Joseph & Sons, silver, silica & building sand pits proprietors & peat & loam merchants; contractors to His Majesty's Government, Billington Road (T N67); Chief Office, 124 Tottenham Court Road, London W 1.
In 1937 a limited company was formed, Joseph Arnold & Sons Ltd. The directors were Albert & Ernest. The ownership of some of the land remained with the brothers. In 1939 Albert died, leaving his share in trust to his four daughters. Ernest died in 1949 and his sons Joseph (b1907) & Frederick (b1910) became joint Managing Directors. Joseph managed quarrying operations from the Billington Road office, whilst Frederick dealt with customer liaison and financial matters in London, until that office closed in 1967.
Peter (b1945) son of Joseph (great, great grandson of the founder John) joined his father and uncle in business in 1962. In 1977 Joseph retired as Managing Director and Peter was appointed Assistant Managing Director. Upon Frederick’s retirement in 1980 Peter became Managing Director of the long-standing family business.
Changes to the board of management took place in 1988 when Peter resigned and control of the business was moved to descendants of Albert Arnold. Albert’s grandson Colin White was Chairman with his brother David director and company secretary.
The company name continued but the business traded as Arnold Sands (incorporated May 1992), part of the Arnold White Group plc. Now many of their quarries are worked by WBB Minerals Limited.
Little has been discovered about the Jones’ family who quarried sand after World War two.
In the late 1960s they had three operational pits:
• Fox Corner, Heath & Reach, for dry building sand and when that quarry was worked out, they moved across the road to Home Farm.
• Watling Street Quarry, also known as Potsgrove Quarry, pumping specialised sand.
• Ledburn Quarry, Linslade, opposite what is now Tiddenfoot Waterside Park, for concreting sand. They had also worked out Tiddenfoot pit, when they had struck water, but retained their office on that side of the road adjacent to Tiddenfoot.
Trevor Wilkins, as a 15-year-old, recalls starting work in 1967 for Jones Sand in Linslade. His recollection is that the business was operated by a Miss Jones, her sister Mrs Gaysford and her husband Bert. Their children Ann and Jan were also involved. Trevor’s mentor was the General Manager, Stan Pritchard, for whom he had a high regard as he encouraged Trevor to gain relevant qualifications. As a trainee mechanic Trevor helped maintain the machinery for the three pits. He left the firm, as Assistant Production Manager, in 1976.
The company was taken over by Ready Mixed Concrete Ltd around 1977. In 1982 their name changed to RMC Group plc. Cemex acquired RMC Group plc in 2005, thus doubling their size.
In the 1930s Frank Walpole, a young man, successfully used his tractor for contracting work in his home county of Norfolk.
One of his customers had a contract to build Cheddington and Wing airfields, during World War two. Frank assisted him, and bought extra-large earth moving machines. On completion of the airfields, and using his machines, he helped with open cast coal mining in South Wales and the Midlands.
Sand quarries in the Leighton Buzzard area were being worked by steam engines and horses and carts. Around 1947 Frank Walpole saw the potential to save time and money by using a big bulldozer, pulling a large earth scraper, to remove the Clay overburden or Gault, on top of the sand in the sand pits; he demonstrated that his one machine could do in a day, what it would take a steam engine and horses and carts to achieve in three or four months.
Mr Delafield, from George Garsides, was the first sand operator to allow Frank’s newly purchased machinery to uncover their sand, soon followed by Joe and Fred Arnold, from Joseph Arnolds. Garsides, in particular, also made use of the machinery to restore worked out quarries.
Frank’s son, Richard Walpole, was born in 1943. Shortly after then, realising that there was a good working base in Leighton Buzzard, Frank settled in the area and bought a house in Wing Road, Linslade. His business expanded, more machinery was purchased, and a manager was appointed to oversee the Welsh mining operations. For a short time there was an office in Bridge Street, Leighton Buzzard, and around 1948 a plant yard was opened in Grovebury Road, with an office.
As Frank’s knowledge of the industry increased so did working opportunities, and as well as local sand pits, he worked in gravel pits for larger companies further afield. Whilst there was competition for the work, Frank’s excellent reputation and meticulous way of working won him the contracts.
He bought his first derelict sand pit in Heath & Reach around 1955. Sheepcote Quarry contained a lot of rock and was worked out, but Frank’s machinery managed to move the rock to reveal sand. Around 1959 Frank acquired his first batch of Bedford Silica Sand Mine in Heath and Reach.
With Richard in the business, acquisition of quarries in Heath & Reach continued, and in the early 60s Frank formed LB Silica Sand. As well as local mining, they continued to do contracting work for companies outside Bedfordshire.
After LB Silica Sand bought out Hanson’s, the old Bedford Silica Sand Mines, the names Bryants Lane Quarry and Reach Lane Quarry were adopted. Then the company had the washing and drying facilities, from the former Bedford Silica Sand Mines, they were able to move into the processing of sand.
Frank Walpole died in 1996 and LB Silica Sand Ltd is managed by his son, Richard, from The Plant Yard, Grovebury Road, Leighton Buzzard. During his career Richard has witnessed the increased mechanism for excavating and seen many changes in the method of transport of and the uses of sand. Their industrial sand goes for foundry work, others for the leisure markets. This includes horse arenas, and artificial surfaces for football, tennis, and lacrosse. Their sand matched the requirements of NASA, the American space agency, who used it as a growing medium for food in space.
Their sandstone is used to restore churches, and large sandstone lumps can even be found at Whipsnade Zoo in the animal enclosures.
A by-product of the industry is the use of the quarries for filming. Revenue comes from both major films and television work.
Find out how the sand industry has changed over the years
Sand history >
Discover more about Bedfordshire’s varied and complex geology
Sand geology >
View early aerial photographs depicting how quarrying has advanced across the landscape
Sandpit sites >
The sand industry has had a major influence upon the local community
Working lives >
Different means of transport were vital to the development of the sand industry
Transporting sand >
Sand has been used widely in the construction industry for many hundreds of years
Sand uses >
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