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> Issues > Building stone industry in Britain
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Carboniferous building stone resources of the Lower Carboniferous, limestones
and sandstones (Dinantian)
The generally hard and intractable nature of the Carboniferous limestones of Britain has meant that with few exceptions (e,g Birmingham Town Hall) they were only ever used for local building purposes. Stone block to provide a rough ashlar was widely quarried along all the limestone outcrops and good examples of its use can be seen in parts of South and North Wales, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northumberland and in the Midland Valley of Scotland. In some areas the typically grey limestone is replaced by reddened dolomitized varieties which have also proved locally popular for building, in for example parts of South Wales (Whitchurch) and north Leicestershire (Breedon). In general, however, the principal product from the Carboniferous limestones is lime for cement and chemical industries and as crushed rock aggregates. In a few areas the limestones were exploited for ornamental purposes. Particularly successful in this respect were the Hopton Wood quarries in Derbyshire which have supplied polished stones for paving, fireplace surrounds and more soberly perhaps as tens of thousands of crosses and monuments to commemorate the dead of two World Wars. Elsewhere in Derbyshire a number of different fossiliferous beds have been used in the past to provide decorative inserts for fireplaces and ornaments in many of the large houses and churches in the region. The best known include the crinoid-rich Derby Fossil stones and the Ashford Black Marble quarried from the organic-rich Bee Low Limestone (Ford 19??). In North Yorkshire other limestone beds have been similarly exploited for their decorative properties e.g. the black, coral-rich Frosterley and Dent marbles and the Egglestone Marble. A few quarries continue to sporadically produce polished fossiliferous limestones slabs for decorative use in these areas today.
Chandos House London Craigleith sandstone
the Lower Carboniferous of Britain there is a marked change in lithology
from the limestone-dominated successions of Yorkshire and the south of
Britain to a northern succession in which sandstones become much more prevalent
in the sequences. In Northumberland and the Midland Valley of Scotland
sandstones have long been extensively quarried for building stone. In Northumberland
the best known sandstones came from the Blaxter, Doddington, Darney and
Prudham quarries. These quarries have provided durable sandstone for houses
in many of the towns and cities in the north east (Newcastle, Sunderland
etc) and some are still widely exported to the rest of Britain (e.g. Crane
1979; Bunyan et al 1987).
Lower Carboniferous sandstones also provided much of the building stone for the towns and cities of the Edinburgh area particularly during the 19th century, Some of the quarries have a much longer history. The best known include the Craigleith, Hailes, Humbie, Ravelston and Binnie sandstones. The city of Edinburgh has a fine display of buildings constructed from these local sandstones (Bunyan et al 1987; McMillan et al 1999). Despite their previous importance few of these quarries remain in operation today.
Grit Group (Namurian)
The sandstones of the Millstone Grit Group provide some of the best and most durable building stones in the UK. They outcrop most extensively in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Northumberland and are known to have been quarried, at least locally for centuries (Moorhouse 1990). During the late 18th and 19th centuries, however, particularly with the coming of the railways, quarrying activity reached a frenzied peak as new towns and cities expanded across Victorian England. Most cities or towns in the Midlands and North have most of their houses and some at least of their major civic buildings built from sandstones of the Namurian Millstone Grit (e.g. Leeds (Dimes and Mitchell 2006).
In the Peak District of Derbyshire, the exploitation of the Namurian sandstones also has a long history. All the major sandstone beds have been locally quarried for building stone particulariy where most accessible along the Derwent valley (Farey 1815; Stevenson et al. 1971; Smith et al 1967).
In the High Peak area sandstones
from the Shale Grit (at Kinder Bank), Kinderscout Grit (at Chinley Moor,
Lady Bower, Stokehall) the Heyden Rock (at Thornseat), Ashover Grit (at
Combs, Ridge Hall and Longhill), Chatsworth Grit (at Birch Vale, Buxworth)
and the Rough Rock (at Cracken Edge) have all been extensively worked in
Stapleford Cross Carboniferous - Millstone Grit
Lancashire most of the major Namurian sandstone beds were quarried locally
for building stone. These durable stones were much in demand for local
housing (e.g. Kinderscout Grit in Hadfield and Mossley), factories, mills
and engineering projects such as railway bridges, viaducts and reservoirs.
e.g. the Pendle Grit used in the Ogden Reservoir, Warley Wise Grit for
the Sabden Reservoir, Kinderscout Grit for the Walshaw Dean and Longdendale
reservoirs. Fletcher Bank Grit was used for the construction and restoration
of Manchester Cathedral (Earp et al. 1961). Extensive quarrying industries
developed in several areas notably along the Tame Valley and in Longdendale
(Bromehead et al 1933).
The sandstone of the Pendle Grit Formation was extensively quarried for building stone near Longridge in the mid to late 19th Century. The town hall at Preston is built of Longridge Stone.Lancaster is a fine stone city built largely from local quarries in the Pendle Grit. The Haslingden Flags were quarried in several areas around Chorley and, most extensively, along the Rossendale Valley from Whitworth through Haslingden itself to Pickup Bank. Many of the local towns and villages were built and roofed using block stone and flagstone from these quarries.
In Yorkshire most Namurian sandstones have also been worked locally for building stone, under a plethora of local names, for centuries past e.g. the 12th century abbeys of Kirkstall (Bramley Fall Stone) and Bolton (Stephens et al. 1953). The main sandstone beds, the Guiseley, Kinderscout and Pule Hill grits and Rough Rock have all been extensively quarried. The Kinderscout Grit, for example, was quarried in the past around Todmorden and Hebden Bridge for local buildings (e.g. Heptonstall Church), at Howarth, Addingham Edge, Caley Crags and Pool, near Otley. Stone from the latter was widely used in the Leeds area (St Ann's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Leeds) and was also exported. The Pule Hill Grit (Clock Face Quarry) is still quarried today in the Huddersfield area. Local quarries in the Chatsworth Grit supplied stone for many of Sheffield's buildings Of the many sandstone beds, however, the most widely exploited are probably those of the Rough Rock. The Rough Rock (Crosland Hill Stone) provided much of the building stone for the towns of Halifax and Huddersfield and other local villages. It was also quarried extensively near Pateley Bridge in the Scotgate Ash Quarries. The latter are known to have been active since at least medieval times but saw a massive expansion in operations with the coming of the railways from 1862 until the 1920's and supplied stone for many important city buildings and even for export (Blacker 1995). The Bramley Fall Stone which was quarried at Horsforth in Leeds from the Rough Rock aquired an enviable reputation for strength and durability and was widely used in bridge and dockyard construction in London and elsewhere. At Pontefract the 13th Century castle is built of local Carboniferous sandstone, termed the Pontefract Rock, which is still quarried today.
In Yorkshire the Bradley Flags, Rough Rock Flags (at Ferniehurst and Baildon) and Scotland Flags (Midgley, near Halifax) have provided building stones and flagstones for paving and roofing which have been used since at least the early 18th century (Walton 1940) which today are still quarried and exported throughout the country.
Thin section of Forest of Dean stone
Measure Sandstones (Westphalian)
The sandstone beds commonly associated with the coalfield successions have been extensively exploited in some areas. In South Wales, Gloucestershire and North Somerset the blue-grey Pennant Sandstones have been extensively quarried. The outcrops along the steep South Wales valley sides are still pockmarked with numerous small quarries clustered around each valley community. Few of the quarries achieved wider recognition, in general the sandstone supply is so plentiful that local quarries were opened for each building project and abandoned at the end. An exception is the Craig yr Hesg quarry at Pontypridd which has provided its hard, massive, blue-grey sandstones for construction and engineering projects for almost a century (Coulson 2005). Though little if any evidence now remains some of the sandstones were also exploited as tilestones for roofing purposes.
In the Forest of Dean and across the Severn Estuary in the Bristol area the Pennant Sandstones have also been extensively exploited. Stone quarries have operated in the Forest of Dean since Norman times. Much of the stone from these quarries has been used to suply the suburban housing developments in Bristol.
Derbyshire the sandstones of the Coal Measures have been used locally for
building since Roman times (e.g. Roman site at Ockbrooke). Numerous small
quarries are known but no major exploitation of the sandstones has taken
place with the exception perhaps of the Crawshaw Sandstone (Woodhead Hill
Rock) and Wingfield Flags. In the High Peak area the W oodhead Hill Rock
and the Milnrow Sandstone have been worked around Whaley Bridge. Further
to the south and east the Crawshaw Sandstone was extensively quarried in
the Holymoorside, Alton and W oolley areas.
Formerly large quarries exploited the Wingfield Flags for building stone, paving and roofing slates at Freebirch to the west of Chesterfield. The flags were also worked at Bole Hill Quarry. The 15th century manor house at South Wing field was constructed of sandstone from the Wingfield Flags quarried from the Crich Moor area. Some quarries, like the one operating within the estate lands of Hardwick Hall for example, were opened solely to supply stone for building the original halls and have been operated regularly ever since for conservation work.
The sandstones of the Coal Measures in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and to a much lesser extent in eastern Cheshire have also been extensively exploited in the past throughout their outcrop area. The fissile sandstones of the Dyneley Knowle (at Appley Bridge, Billinge and Stalybridge) and Upholland flags, from the Lower Coal Measures provided paving and roofing slates for local use e.g. in St. Helen's,Wigan, Bolton, Darwen, Accrington, Bumley etc. (Aldridge 1900; Wright et al 1927; Jones et al. 1938).
The more massive beds of these lower Coal Measure sandstone units have also been locally worked for building stone e.g. Crutchman (Milnrow) Sandstone and Old Lawrence Rock.
The Middle Coal Measure sandstones from the Cannel, Trencherbone and Peel Hall rocks were locally exploited for building stone at Haigh, near Wigan and Famworth near Bolton e.g. (Jones 1938).
In Yorkshire the sandstones of the Coal Measures (including the Gaisby, Grenoside and Thornhill rocks) are still extensively quarried. The Coal Measure sandstone from the Gaisby Rock, more commonly known as the Bolton Woods Stone, has also long been exploited for dimension stone. The town hall at Manchester (Spinkwell Stone) is among many major Victorian buildings to be built of this stone (Dimes 1990). The Thornhill Rock was also once very extensively quarried around Wakefield and Morley and is still quarried today in the area.
Elland Edge quarry showing the old underground workings.
the most famous and successful of these Coal Measure sandstone quarrying
industries in Yorkshire, however, were those at Elland near Halifax. The
Elland Flagstones have been quarried since the 12th century, but their
heyday was during the late 19th century. By 1900 there were at least 40
flagstone quarries in operation in the area around Northowram, Southowram,
Hipperholme and Brighouse. These quarries provide building stone, stone
roofing slates and paving for the cities of Leeds and Bradford and many
other local towns and villages and also exported their products much further
afield. After the 1st World War the industry went into rapid decline and
is now continued by only a few operators in the area (Wray 1930; Godwin
In Northumberland most of the sandstones quarried come from the Lower Carboniferous successions, however, a number of quarries have produced building stone from the Coal Measure sandstones outcropping along the sides of the Tyne Valley.
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