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> Issues > Building stone industry in Britain
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Triassic building sandstone resources
Triassic sandstones have been worked for building stones across much of their outcrop, which extends from the Devonshire coast, through Somerset and the Midlands (Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire) across into Nottinghamshire and on into Northumberland, Cumbria and south-west Scotland. In each of these areas very significant sandstone production took place in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, present day production has contracted so that building stones are now produced at only a few quarries in these areas.
The Triassic succession is best known for its production of red sandstones but, significant local production of other lithologies, particularly coarse breccias and conglomerates and non-red or white sandstones were also quarried in some areas in the past. The major sandstone production came from the unit now termed the Sherwood Sandstone Group (formerly the Bunter and Keuper sandstones). In the south west of England these sandstones are generally of poor quality and were only worked for local buildings.
Production was centred on the outcrops of the lower Exe Valley (Dimes 1990). Locally the Heavitree Stone a breccia, consisting of coarse, reworked fragments of the surrounding rocks are particularly distinctive and was widely used in the Exeter area.
Further to the north in Somerset dolomitic conglomerates representing a marginal facies of the Triassic were commonly used for building stone in the Chew Valley area (West Harptree) and at Draycott where it was known as the Draycott Marble. The local red and grey sandstones also commonly appear in the village houses over much of the the outcrop (Chew Magna and Chew Stoke). No quarries are working the Triassic sandstones or breccias of the area at present.
In South Wales the red Radyr Stone is a breccia of similar origin used widely for decorative work in the Cardiff area (Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff Docks and in the bridges of the Taff Vale Railway). Other sandstones quarried from the Triassic successions of this area include the yellow Sudbrooke Stone, a sandy limestone used by the Romans at Caerwent Fort and Caldicot Castle, and the very fine grained Quarrella (Rhaetian) and Sutton stones from the Bridgend area.
Triassic North Curry sandstone at Thorne Falcon Somerset
the whole of the Midlands area of England the Triassic sandstones were
at one time heavily exploited for local building. In Worcestershire the
best known quarries were those at Ombersley and Hadley and in Staffordshire
there is evidence of numerous sandstone quarries in the sandstone outcrops
but few appear to have achieved more than local importance e.g Colwich,
Colton Mill Crumpwood and Fulford (Hull 1869). The only surviving Staffordshire
quarries are those at Hollington which have been worked for centuries,
the pale red Hollington Stone graces many historic buildings in the local
area and further afield as in Coventry Cathedral. In Shropshire the white
Grinshill Stone is best seen in buildings in Shrewsbury and surrounding
villages. Other quarries operated at Weston and Grog Hill. IN Nottinghamshire
sandstones of the Sherwood Sandstone Group were formerley quarried alommng
the Trent at Weston Cliff, Pistem Hill, Castle Donnington In Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire thin sandstone developments, known locally as skerries,
occur in the Mercia Mudstone Group and have been widely used in the past
for local buildings (lott .
A number of Triassic red sandstones were quarried for building stone in the Cheshire area particularly from 1850's onwards. The main building sandstones outcrop in shallow and high ridges around the margins of the Cheshire Plain. The building stone industry was based around the quarries at Runcorn, Rainhill, Storeton and Woolton etc, many now buried beneath the suburban sprawl of Liverpool. These red sandstones were extensively used for local buildings and production was significant enough to generate an brief export trade to America.
In the Stockport and Knutsford areas the red sandstones of the Sherwood Sandst=one Group) were quarried at Lymm, Timperley, Quarrybank, Styal and near Alderley Edge. They were also quarried for building stone at Helsby, Manley, Simmond's Hill, Delamere, Kelsall and Peckforton.
Substantial quarrying of red Triassic sandstones has continued in Cumbria in the St. Bees area and the Eden Valley. The red St Bees sandstones have been quarried since earliest times but commercial production increased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the stone was exported to America. In the Vale of Eden the red sandstones of the Lazonby quarries have long been important and are still in production.
In south west Scotland Triassic sandstones have proved to be a particularly valuable building stone resource (Clashach, Corsehill, Locharbriggs, Corncockle, Gatelawbridge, Spynie & Cove).
Diamond pattern sandstone roof in Dumfries probably from Gatelaw Bridge quarry
Sandstones were used in the past not only for building purposes but to support a plethora of other local stone industries. Most notably sandstones from the Millstone Grit of Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Northumberland were long used to provide millstones for flour mills throughout Britain and also supplied to a large overseas market in Europe and America. Smaller grindstones were produced to support the great cutlery industry of Sheffield for many decades of the 19th and early 20th century. At Wickersley near Sheffield in 1856, there were for example 30 quarries providing grindstones to the Sheffield trade. A further large volume of which were also being exported to America (Hunt 1856). Scythe or sharpening stones were carried by almost every working man to maintain an edge on his tools as he toiled at the harvest in the fields. On a lesser but less important scale massive pulpstones were produced for use in the paper and cloth industries. Other sandstones were used to fashion cider and cheese presses or to grind chemicals for the paint industry. All these products have long since been replaced as technology has improved but in the not too distant past they provided work and an income for a considerable number of people.
In the Glasgow and Edinburgh areas of Scotland a similar picture emerges. Extensive quarrying took place near and within the present city boundaries. Much of Victorian Glasgow is built of local Triassic red sandstone while the city of Edinburgh is built largely of grey-brown Carboniferous sandstones.
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