Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Aberdeen: Adamant.

Now that we're obliged to use national multiple B&Q, we lament the loss of the Color Box hardware store on Holburn St, which we perviously relied on for studio supplies. We had a love-hate relationship with the family Robb who were the proprietors. The chances were, if you wanted something hardware-ish they would have it. You just had to allow 45 minutes for any visit to the shop, no matter how simple or complex your needs.

The site of 'The Colour Box'.
Nothing will last forever.

We were particularly frustrated and charmed in equal measure by the Robb's sexist and ageist policy of advertising vacancies for and employing 'Saturday Girls'. They wouldn't let them use the till, answer the phone or write in the ledger. Nor would they tell them the location of stock items (Mr Robb's biggest secret). The result would be that the girls operated more like personal shoppers than as shop assistants. Quite advanced retailing, really.

Anyway, we have fallen into the trap of nostalgia, which has made us digress... Let's get on with it...

The site of the former Colour Box hardware store is at present being renovated and converted into a Tesco Metro mini-supermarket. Fair enough, we suppose. We had feared that the site was looking a bit exposed; being bullied from the side and behind by Talisman Energy's après-post-modernist HQ building which had necessitated the demolition of a neighbouring row of Victorian mansion-block tenements in the 1990's. So we're quite happy to see the building being retained and it remaining as commercial premises. It's encouraging that human-scale local-level pedestrian shopping is making a return to the city. Naturally we approve.

The pavement outside the building is in quite a poor state, but does play host to an interesting artifact. (Let's hope it survives.)

Aberdeen Adamant.

A quick scan of the internet shows that these branded paving stones are not uncommon throughout the UK:




The paving slabs consist of a coarse aggregate composite concrete and granite chip material made by the Adamant Stone and Paving Co. of Aberdeen at its Adamant Stone Paving Works; part of the Dancing Cairns Quarry works close to the Bucksburn Howe. The quarry had been working since the late 18th century, when it was opened by Messrs Snell, Rennie and May, but as far as we can see, the production of paving stones from quarry tailings began only with the advent and installation of the patent hydraulic 'Fielding Press' from Fielding and Platt of Gloucester.

Hydraulic Fielding Press

Fielding & Platt - An innovative Gloucester engineering company.
The First 100 Years, 1866 - 1966
by Stephen Mills.

In 1897, the Adamant Stone & Paving Company of Aberdeenshire installed a Fielding press to produce concrete slabs. This was not the first press installed, as the first unit had been installed in December 1890, followed by a second three months later. This continued to work for a total of 73 years. Originally steam-powered, it was later driven by 168 hp Fielding twin-horizontal engine that worked for 37 years. Remarkably, the total maintenance costs over this period amounted to only £42. 8s. 1d.!
The word adamant comes from the Greek adamas, adamant - an adjective meaning 'untamable, invincible'. By extension, the word was used as a poetic synonym for the hardest metal or stone.

Today, having closed in the mid-1960's, the Dancing Cairns Quarry is almost entirely filled in, and forms a large part of the municipal Auchmill Golf Course. A few large outcrops are exposed alongside the fairways and greens, and the scarps of several of the spoil tips are visible along the north side, down the slope towards Auchmill Road. An extensive network of paths (PDF) exists for explorers on foot or mountain bike.


The name Dancing Cairns was commemorated in that of a pub with a formidable reputation in Middlefield. It was demolished about 10 years ago.

The manufacture and export of paving slabs made possible by the employment of a relatively simple, yet innovative piece of technology is an example of how value can be added to a commodity which is otherwise a low- or negative-value waste product. In this case, worthless mine tailings are made into valuable paving and kerb stones by the Fielding Press and its operators. This is the very definition of capitalism - value addition through the judicious use of technology, innovation and specialised labour.

Too often today, self-styled entrepreneurs who should know better confuse the words 'free market' with the word 'capitalism'. They mistake price for value and so cannot tell the difference between affluence and wealth.

Here at Other Aberdeen, we are perfectly well aware that these things are quite distinct.


Anonymous said...

Those are all around aberdeen. There are a few on george st, one in front of Marischal College and I've seen some just off King st at the castlegate side

andrewrudgley@hotmail.co.uk said...

I knew they were made in aberdeen but didnt know where! Adamant is duncin cairns quarried. great info!

Other Aberdeen said...

it was your hint elsewhere that prompted us to do further research, so credit to you and thanks.

Anonymous said...

I also spotted an Adamant stamp on the urinals at Aberdeen University Meston building one day as well. I was a big Adam Ant fan at the time so have spotted lots of these!

D MUNRO said...

I worked ther in the sixties making slabs using the presses, heavy work indeed. As an aside the buildings were heavil rat infested , they used to watch us eating our pieces.

Rattray said...

Great post. I'll look out for those branded slabs next time I'm in town. I remember Colour Box and I hope Square One on George Street is still fighting the good fight.
"They mistake price for value and so cannot tell the difference between affluence and wealth" is well said.
Are there are too many sharks in the gene pool?