Nestled in the fells of Kirkby Moor at the North end of the Furness Peninsula is Kirkby slate quarry, which has been producing slate since the 16th century. At this time, Kirkby in Furness was situated in Lancashire, and the slate that it produced was called Lancashire blue/grey.
In 1974 the county boundaries were rearranged and the County of Cumbria was formed, replacing Cumberland, Westmorland and North Lancashire, and Kirkby quarry was “moved” from Lancashire to Cumbria.
Although for over 400 years of the quarry’s history it was located in Lancashire, and the slate that it produced was called Lancashire blue/grey, it became increasingly difficult to explain why Lancashire slate now came from Cumbria, so the slate also became known as Burlington blue/grey. Today, Lancashire blue/grey slate is still produced from the same quarry and in the same time honoured fashion as it was more than 400 years ago.
With good links to the ship canal in Ulverston, Lancashire slate was shipped south and its use was ubiquitous throughout Lancashire and the northwest of England. Kirkby quarry was also within easy reach of the sea ports of Haverigg and Millom and slates were shipped from here around the Cumbrian coast to the Solway ports and distributed in vast quantities through Dumfries & Galloway and the west of Scotland where the material is still euphemistically called ‘Lancashire blue’ or ‘Lankies’.
Historically produced in random lengths and widths to maximise the use of the varied size blocks extracted from the quarry face, Lancashire slate was traditionally laid in diminishing courses with the largest slates used at the eaves and gradually smaller sizes laid working up to the ridge. This tradition of laying slates in diminishing courses gives a distinctive visual perspective to the roof.
Today Lancashire Slate is still produced in the same time honoured tradition of random sizes for laying in diminishing courses, as well as in a sized format (fixed lengths with random widths) which helps to retain a traditional random element to the roof design while speeding up the laying process and keeping the cost of installation down. For a regular, half band pattern to the roof, slates are available with a fixed length and fixed width.