Quite what all this proves, other than that my blogging frequency has declined, I don’t really know. Having said that it’s interesting to me to see the range of subjects that have been covered.
Also, there are many things that are within the site that have not been covered by the blog. I find the money troubles that Cornwallis Maude, 1st Viscount Hawarden seems to have inflicted on himself quite fascinating. I’m not particularly risk averse but the way some of the aristocracy behaved back in the 18th century really does boggle my mind – though, I suppose it shouldn’t given all the financial shenanigans we see today! Even so having mortgages of £18,008 18s 0d in 1799 on land that was doubly mortgaged to different lenders, seemingly without their knowledge and not having the wherewithal to pay the interest does seem slightly risky.
So many of these things are so normal to so many of us these days that we barely even think about them and, sadly, when we do, it’s too often to criticize the ‘patriarchal attitudes’ or similar of the people who pushed them and who were, in their day seen as progressive. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Combe Down’s freestone is, of course, why the village exists. Combe Down’s quarries were heavily worked between 1730 and 1840 and did not cease operations until the early years of the 20th century. Over 40 quarries have been listed on Combe Down. In 1895 The Builder listed 10 open quarries and one mine on Combe Down. Upper Lawn Quarry, across the fields from Gladstone Road, continues to operate today, the last quarry on Combe Down.
According to The British Geological Survey: “The best freestones in the Chalfield Oolite are found in the upper part of the Combe Down Oolite Member and within the Bath Oolite Member, where the rocks are composed of fine- to coarse-grained ooid-limestone with a sparry cement and little matrix.”
When quarrying stone needs to be carefully removed and prepared for use without causing damage to or weakening of the stone and quarrying is hard work. When the Combe Down stone mines stabilisation was taking place, lots of graffiti was found and it provides a fascinating insight into the lives of the miners, throwing light on such matters as the price of beer in 19th century pubs and the miner’s often uncomplimentary attitude to their employers.
Two centuries of excavation of Bath stone left a huge void under the original parts of Combe Down village and so an infilling project was started. It lasted for 10 years from 1999 until 2009, covered 25.608 hectares, and affected 649 properties. The total volume of infill placed was 620,894 cubic metres, enough to cover a football pitch to a depth of nearly 90m.
Things that are new on the site recently are a small section on Combe Road – something of a shaggy dog story given that it, unfortunately, has so little of consequence in it. But one can’t just make things up for a site like this.
There’s also a great YouTube video on the Combe Down quarries page that is an animation of a quarry crane produced by Mark and Ben Jenkinson to illustrate the Corsham Institute’s Bath Stone exhibition in autumn 2016 at Cranes at Work. Cranes were an essential part of the quarrying process: they were used to lift the blocks of stone cut from the working face onto carts, which were then pulled to the surface by horse or donkey; or later, the transport was provided by small locomotives. The main structure of the cranes was wooden, with metal gearing and fixings. They could lift blocks of around 5 tonnes. A crane would be erected in a new working area until all the stone within its reach had been quarried. Then it would be dismantled, moved along to a new area, and re-erected to continue working.
They want to restore the remains of a shaft wall where Combe Down freestone was hauled out and create a curved seat for all to enjoy as a memorial to Ralph Allen’s role in the building of Georgian Bath with Combe Down stone. It will also commemorate the stabilisation project that, by 2009, restored the village to safety.
With the approval and support of B&NES, local councillors Bob Goodman and Cherry Beath, the UNESCO World Heritage Enhancement Fund, conservation professionals and local community groups, they now have seed money pledged. However, they need to raise a further £6,000 to get this project underway. If you would like to donate just text DONATE STONED to 88802 to give £5.00.
It all started last year. A group of Duke of Edinburgh’s Award students helped with an archeology project to detail and record the conservation of the last surviving mine shaft on public land in Combe Down.
The students feel it is important “to have a site visitors and locals can visit to see how mining for stone shaped our village and also shaped the world famous architecture in Bath and the surrounding area”. They detailed their work in a great blog ‘Firs Field Mine Shaft‘ where there’s information about how they surveyed the site, made a map and planned and executed their dig. The students had help from The Museum of Bath Stone, the Combe Down Heritage Society and experts from Cliveden Conservation and Odgers Conservation. The blog has many images of them hard at work and is well worth a visit.
The project got some great publicity from Bath Newseum who also created a video with Val Lyon who directed the Firs Field Project telling the story in more detail.
A small point first. Despite some people’s insistence, and my own preference, that stone is quarried, in the UK a ‘mine’ is defined, legally, as an underground working and a ‘quarry’ as a site of mineral extraction without a roof. In other parts of the world, the world, ‘mining’ is used interchangeably with ‘quarrying’.
Brief history of quarrying Combe Down stone
Bath stone was used by the Romans, who were probably the first to quarry on Combe Down from the 1st to 5th centuries, but, with hundreds of years of quarrying at the same sites, all evidence of earlier workings has been lost and there are no written accounts.
The Anglo-Saxons built mostly in wood though in the 7th century Osric founded the first Abbey in Bath. The Saxons had a ready supply of material left from the Roman era and even today some Roman stone is still visible in Bath Abbey. A later Abbey was built and used for the coronation of Edgar in 973, but this was demolished in 1088. Whether any of these buildings used Combe Down stone is unknown.
It was, of course, Ralph Allen who transformed the landscape of Combe Down and started the village with his quarrying activities. He had begun to purchase land on Combe Down in 1726 and by 1731, he held a monopoly over the quarries. By 1744 he owned the entire area and, with architect John Wood, had planned and put into effect a complete rebuilding of Bath using Bath stone, the best source of which was on Combe Down. Together they were responsible for Prior Park, Queen Square, The Circus and the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases.
Ralph Allen died in 1764 and his estate eventually passed to the Viscount Hawarden who took no active interest in the stone mines and quarries, but was happy to rent them out. The first Viscount Hawarden died indebted in 1803 and his son began to sell of the estate to pay his debts. Individual quarry masters were now able to purchase land to quarry. There was a steady influx of skilled migrants from the Corsham / Melksham area as stone production expanded and thus began probably the most productive period of quarrying on Combe Down.
The ‘boom’ was relatively short lived. Underground evidence suggests that by 1840 most of the stone had been quarried and the coming of the railways led to newly discovered workings at Box and Corsham to provide an alternative source of supply. But, though less was quarried, Combe Down stone was still recognised as of superior quality. According to Horace Bolingbroke Woodward in 1876: “In regard to the qualities of the Great Oolite, the best stone for weathering is considered to be that at Combe Down;…”
Although quarrying fell into decline after 1840, it continued in some parts of Combe Down, particularly on the north side of Bradford Road, until well into the 20th century. Combe Down has had both quarries and mines though only one, Upper Lawn Quarry continues to operate today, the last quarry on Combe Down.
All this activity in the the stone mines and quarries left a legacy – underground workings. By the 1980s, roof collapses at Firs Quarry led to housing subsidence and an underground survey of the Firs and Byfield quarries was carried out in 1994. It found that approximately 80% of the underground quarries had less than 6m cover and as little as 2m in some places. Irregular quarrying and robbing stone from supporting pillars had left the quarries unstable.
A stabilisation program was started. By 2009 the project was complete. The result was that 649 properties were stabilised, most domestic homes. The total volume of infill placed was 620,894 cubic metres, enough to cover a football pitch to a depth of nearly 90m. 590,894 cubic metres of foamed concrete, plus 30,000 cubic metres of stone were placed into the quarries.
I have spent some time adding to the galleries for Prior to Now and there are over 1,000 images of people, buildings and activities on Combe Down on the site.
The earliest photographic images are of Prior Park in about 1855 by the Rev Francis Lockey (1796 – 1869). Rev Lockey and his family lived in Swainswick near Bath, in a house known then as Swainswick Cottage and now known as the White House. Amazingly Lockey’s photographic studio (now a conservatory) survives virtually intact at his former home. The studio has been confirmed as being the earliest known surviving photographic studio by the Science Museum. Rev Lockey began experimenting in 1849, first using paper negatives and later glass plates developed using the calotype photographic process, which had been patented by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 1877) in 1841.
As well as these galleries I have also added two maps. They are very large image files that take some seconds to download on even a fast connection but, once loaded and if all works as it should you can click on the image and zoom into it.
Missionaries operate on the front line between cultures. We don’t hear so much about missionaries these days.Today they are seen by many as invasive, forcing their language, culture and religion on an unwilling population – as another form of colonialism and exploitation.
Rev Sir Montagu Harry Proctor Beauchamp (1860 – 1939), vicar for Monkton Combe from 1914 – 1918 and one of the Cambridge Seven: students from Cambridge University, who, in 1885, decided to become missionaries in China.
He ran a sort of religious, ‘reverse Ponzi scheme’ and founded or bought fourteen schools or colleges but ran them in an illegal and financially disastrous way by investing their profits in a wasting asset – advowsons – which, eventually, led to him having to resign all his positions and the schools to be rescued.
Entry Hill – the name tells you pretty much all you need to know. For generations this was the main route to and from Bath to the South West, and was a part of the Fosse Way, that ran diagonally across England from the Roman cities of Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) to Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) in the South West after passing through Bath (Aquae Sulis).
So, it’s not surprising that there are few listed buildings in the Entry Hill area nor those that are there are mostly revised farm or quarry buildings as that was went on in the area until very recently.
The surprise comes in the form of Valley Spring, the only Grade II listed building in the Bath city area, out of well over 2,500, that is a 20th century building.
The house was built, between 1968 and 1969, for John Basil Womersley (1927 – 1979), managing director of Bath Cabinet Makers and Arkana, which specialised in contemporary and curvilinear tulip furniture.
There are 56 people mentioned on the war memorial cross for WWI and 36, all duplicates, on the Combe Down school memorial board. The Cruickshank brothers (who are not on the war memorial cross) and the men of the parish who fell in the First World War are also commemorated in a stained glass window at Holy Trinity church. There are 16 people mentioned on the war memorial cross for WWII. I have been able to find some information on 64 of those 74 people.
Whilst it is almost invidious to mention individuals I will mention those that have already appeared in Prior to Now:
Smith was also involved with Charles Conolly who owned Midford Castle in a plan to quarry stone. This was to lead to Smith becoming heavily indebted and eventually led to being imprisoned for debt and losing his house and estate. Midford Castle was also briefly owned (2007 – 2009) by the actor Nicholas Cage
Other than William Smith, the Tucking Mill area seems to have had no notable inhabitants.
In the last 60 years or so the area has been somewhat returned to nature. The S&D line, the viaduct and Combe Down tunnel closed in 1967. The old mill and Fuller’s earth works were knocked down in 1979 to make room for a larger reservoir. This now provides free coarse fishing to disabled anglers in a lake stocked with roach, rudd, bream, perch, carp, tench and gudgeon. The railway track, viaduct and combe Down tunnel were also reopened in 2013 as the Two Tunnels walking and cycling route.