Aggregates operations are valuable assets

Therese Dunphy

September 12, 2017

Throughout the year, Bill Langer has been writing about environmentally friendly uses of aggregate in his Carved in Stone column. From roofing materials to beach replenishment, he has highlighted various ways that aggregate can serve to enhance and preserve the environment. While entertaining, these articles serve a more important purpose. For those of you who deal with neighbors and local community leaders who question the value of having an aggregates operation nearby, the various uses highlighted in Bill’s column provide useful talking points about the value of our industry. Hard hats off to Bill for providing content that can help you educate and inform those who surround your business. I’d also like to recognize him for serving as Aggregates Manager’s longest running columnist. In December, Bill will finish his 20th year of writing about geology and the industry for us; a most noteworthy accomplishment!

While Bill has focused on environmentally friendly aggregate applications, I’d like to share a tale of how an underground mine served another beneficial purpose. During World War II, as British troops battled at Dunkirk, the directors of London’s National Gallery scrambled to develop a plan to protect the gallery’s artwork from German bombs. An early suggestion called for art to be shipped to Canada. The gallery’s director, Kenneth Clark, objected to the plan due to concerns about U-boat attacks. He approached Winston Churchill, who is often quoted as responding: “Hide them in caves and cellars, but not one picture shall leave this island.”

Artwork was secretly shipped out of the museum on Sept. 2, 1939, a day before Britain declared war on Germany. It was temporarily stored in private country estates. Meanwhile, two members of the museum staff searched for the perfect location for long-term storage. They wanted a site that was fireproof, had the right level of humidity, offered large openings, and had minimum steps. They found just that at Manod quarry. The site was close to rail access, remote, and accessible only via a long stretch of winding mountain roads.

Work quickly began to prepare the slate quarry for its additional use. Approximately 5,000 tons of rock were blasted to create a big enough entrance tunnel for the largest paintings. Brick buildings were built in the underground chambers to provide a controlled climate. Special rail tracks and cars were constructed to transport the artwork. By the summer of 1941, the artwork was all successfully retrieved from its various locations and stored at this new site, where it remained for the duration of the war.

While there, museum staff was able to observe the effect of stable humidity and temperature on the artwork, and these discoveries influenced how the collection was displayed and maintained when it returned to the museum. In fact, the developed section of the quarry was reserved for future storage use during the Cold War.

Now, that’s being a good neighbor!

(Editor’s note: To learn more, visit the National Gallery’s website at

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