Stone mines and quarries

The Firs mine at Combe Down

The Firs mine at Combe Down

In my site intro I say “You’ll notice that I don’t say a great deal about the Combe Down quarries. These have been covered, far more expertly than I ever could, by others.”

However, recently, having become a trustee of the Combe Down Stone Legacy Trust that operates what is, presently, called Ralph Allen Cornerstone but will soon be changing to The Museum of Bath Stone, it seemed appropriate to touch on what started the village of Combe Down – the stone mines and quarries.

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. 

Philip Nowell was one of the best known quarry masters. By the time he died in 1853, his legacy included the building of major extensions to Longleat, seat of the Marquess of Bath, Windsor Castle then home to King William IV and Apsley House, the official residence in London to the Duke of Wellington.

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;…”

Upper Lawn quarry

Upper Lawn quarry

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.

Part of the legacy from all this activity over nearly 300 years in the stone mines and quarries  is The Museum of Bath Stone. It has a number of missions, namely to:

  • present the rich heritage of Combe Down and the significance of its stone in the building of Bath
  • provide a modern educational resource that uses the information available to enhance learning at all levels
  • be a resource available to the community for leisure activities

I hope to see you there sometime.

Galleries and maps

Unfinished Prior Park chapel in about 1855, Rev Francis Lockey (1796 - 1869)

Unfinished Prior Park chapel in about 1855, Rev Francis Lockey (1796 – 1869)

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.

Central Combe Down in 1899 -Somerset, Revised 1899, Published 1904

Central Combe Down in 1899 -Somerset, Revised 1899, Published 1904

The galleries that have been added are:

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 and a sort of ‘reverse Ponzi’ patronage scheme

The reception of the Rev. J. Williams at Tanna

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.

It was not always this way. In the 19th century many Europeans and Americans emphasised their racial, cultural, economic and religious superiority over black or coloured peoples. Earnest Christian believers felt called upon to obey Christ’s injunction to “go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark xvi.15). A number of missionary societies were formed: the Baptist Missionary Society (1792), the London Missionary Society (1795) and the Church Missionary Society (1799). Missionary included ordained ministers, educationists, doctors, nurses and others. At the height of the missionary movement, between 1880 and 1920, around 60 British missionary societies were actively engaged in this work with many thousands of missionaries.

But what has all this to do with Combe Down and Monkton Combe? Well, I have updated the lists of vicars for Combe Down and vicars for Monkton Combe. A number of them were missionaries. They include:

Percy Ewart Warrington in 1928

Percy Ewart Warrington in 1928

There was also the Rev Percy Ewart Warrington (1889 – 1961), vicar for Monkton Combe from 1918 – 1961 founder of Martyrs’ Memorial Trust. and a fascinating but unsympathetic character.

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.

Even with all the problems he created he left behind a legacy of the Allied SchoolsSt Peter’s College, Oxford and Trinity College, Bristol.

One small mystery remains. He left an estate of £47,121 12s 1d in 1961 which is worth about £2,197,000.00 now – how was that acquired on a ‘parsons salary’?

Entry Hill from the Romans to Frank Lloyd Wright

Entry Hill is part of 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)

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).

Although Entry Hill and the road network was important there was little population or housing either on Entry Hill itself or on Combe Down above it. Even in the 1930s the area from The Forester pub to the old Frome Road Workhouse had little housing.

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.

Valley Spring early 1970s

Valley Spring early 1970s

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.

It was designed by his brother Charles Peter Womersley (1923–1993). Farnley Hey, the first house he had designed for his brother won the RIBA bronze medal in 1958, and has been described as “one of the best demonstrations of the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959) in Britain”.

Valley Spring is one of Bath’s (and Combe Down’s) unknown jewels. It tries to follow Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture. To my mind it succeeds.

Combe Down war memorials and casualties

Holy Trinity church memorial window for Capt Charles John Odinel Daubeney (1895 – 1917)

Holy Trinity church memorial window for Capt Charles John Odinel Daubeney (1895 – 1917)

I have added some information about Combe Down war memorials and casualties in WWI and WWII.

There are already sections on ‘The Great War‘, the war memorial and the Second World War but there was nothing about ‘The Fallen‘, the war casualties.

We commemorate them on Remembrance Day (Veterans Day in the USA), 11 November that was Armistice Day in 1918 and marks the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning – the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, but, other than the names on the memorials, what do we know about the people about whom John Maxwell Edmonds (1875 – 1958) said:

When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today

  • Who were they?
  • What happened to them?
  • What about their families?

were all the sort of questions that I felt needed some kind of answer to honour them somewhat more fully.

So I decided to do some research and try to put faces to the names and find out as much about them as I could. I used the data at Ancestry including their census  data and military records. Also Forces War RecordsCommonwealth War Graves Commission and The British Newspaper Archive.

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: 

Hopefully. I will have answered some of those questions about Combe Down war memorials and casualties.

Tucking great! I’m broke!

William Smith (1769-1839), portrait by French painter Hugues Fourau (1803-1873). Painted 1837.

William Smith (1769-1839), portrait by French painter Hugues Fourau (1803-1873). Painted 1837.

Things added recently include:

An ‘upgrade’ to the history of Prior Park. This explains how it was, originally, the deer park for the Priors of Bath Abbey monastery. It was broken up after Henry VIII‘s Dissolution of the Monasteries and brought back together over a 30 year period by Ralph Allen.

A section on the Tucking Mill area, especially Tucking Mill House. This was the home of William ‘Strata’ Smith the father of English geology from 1798 – 1819. Tucking Mill Cottage next door, is still wrongly identified as his home.

Interestingly, William Smith bought Tucking Mill House and its small estate from Edward Candler (later Candler Brown), who also lived at Prior Park and  at Combe Hill Villa on Brassknocker Hill.

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.

From being a medieval tucking mill that cleaned and thickened cloth then in the 17th and 18th centuries a flour mill, it became a Fuller’s earth works in the 19th century. The area around became somewhat more ‘industrialised‘ when the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway (S&D) was built, including Tucking Mill Viaduct and the Combe Down Tunnel. The area also became important to Bath’s water supply as the Combe Down and District Waterworks, to take water from the Midford Springs was set up by Right Reverend Monsignor Dr. Charles Parfitt (1816 – 1886) who had inherited Midford Castle from Mrs. Jane Conolly (1798 – 1871).

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.

More memories from Frank and an 1832 marriage settlement

Butler Davis deed dated the 23rd day of March 1832, Settlement on the Marriage of Mr William Butler with Mrs Jane Davis

Butler Davis deed dated the 23rd day of March 1832, Settlement on the Marriage of Mr William Butler with Mrs Jane Davis

This time I am writing about more memories from Frank and an 1832 marriage settlement

A couple sleeping in a Morrison shelter during the Second World WarBy Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A couple sleeping in a Morrison shelter during the Second World War

That’s Frank Sumsion who tells us about Senior School and the outbreak of the Second World War. Those days were certainly interesting with the Bath Blitz in 1942, having to use Morrison shelters to protect oneself from the bombing and with every item of food and drink was rationed. It’s all very different from today. He also tells us about starting work just after his 15th birthday, working at  Combe Down Waterworks, being in Bath Civil Defence Service, a a succession of different motorbikes, working at a mushroom farm and meeting his future wife Jane.

The Settlement on the Marriage of Mr William Butler with Mrs Jane Davis. William Butler it was who, along with William Harrold built Isabella Place after Thomas Maude, 2nd Viscount Hawarden (1767 – 1807) started to sell the estate of Ralph Allen (1693 – 1764) that he had inherited from his father Cornwallis Maude, 1st Viscount Hawarden to pay his father’s debts. His mother had been Mary Allen, Lady Maude (1732  – 1775), his father’s first wife, and the niece of Ralph Allen who built Prior Park Mansion.

The marriage settlement between William Butler and Jane Davis. A marriage settlement was very necessary in those days for a wealthy lady like Jane Davis – her assets in the settlement were £808 16s 11d which is now worth about £976,900.00. Once again things were very different from today. At the time an unmarried woman had the right to own property and make contracts in her own name but, upon marriage, a woman’s legal rights and obligations were subsumed by those of her husband. Married women did not have any rights due to the legal fiction, called coverture, that a husband and wife are one person. Once a woman married she had no claim to her property as her husband had full control and could do with it whatever suited him! This did not start to change until The Married Women’s Property Act of 1870.

I hope you enjoy more memories from Frank and an 1832 marriage settlement

Adverts and street furniture

There are two pages in the site that I have not yet mentioned in this blog – adverts and street furniture.

I find both really quite interesting as they speak about the culture of the time just by their design and look as well as their purpose.

However one looks at it, for better or for worse, adverts change and reflect society and so sometimes become interesting themselves. The local adverts that I have found that mention Combe Down or Monkton Combe generally fit in the ‘factual and banal’ category but are sometimes no less interesting for that in the context of local history.

Some of the adverts, like the one for Combe Down Brewery are clearly well ‘ahead of their time’ and one wonders who it was that created it. Others, such as the one for afternoon tea at Mayfield are so basic one wonders how well they worked, but, perhaps they are historic proof of less is more?

Afternoon teas at Mayfield - Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - Saturday 5 November 1921

Afternoon teas at Mayfield – Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Saturday 5 November 1921

Combe Down Brewery 1862

Combe Down Brewery 1862

Street furniture such as post boxes, phone boxes, benches, fountains, watering troughs, memorials and everything else that has become so common now, such that now there are appeals to reduce some of it to stop motorists and others becoming confused, has exited since Roman times but it’s really only in the last 200 years or so that it has expanded from mile markers and the like.

Sometimes one has to look quite hard to find it like the waterworks plate, which many will, perhaps find ugly but which I think is quite charming. Others, such as the turnpike marker from 1827 are obviously charming and clearly well built to have survived for 190 years.

Turnpike marker on Combe Road

Turnpike marker on Combe Road

Combe Down waterworks plate on Bradford Road

Combe Down waterworks plate

So, adverts and street furniture, things to look out for.

Personal memories of Combe Down

I have long wanted to introduce some personal memories of Combe Down into the site. The article written by Jackie Carr, wife of Dr David Carr about the history of Combe Down surgery was a step in this direction.

J C Wilcox, Combe Down baker delivering at Southstoke early 1900s

J C Wilcox, Combe Down baker delivering at Southstoke early 1900s

Serendipity has struck with the memories of Frank Sumsion who was born on Combe Down in 1926, meaning he’s now into his 90s. He published these on Bathonian’s past and present memories on Facebook – a closed group for Bathonians and their families. I loved them and they had a great response from members. Thinking they deserved a wider audience, I contacted Frank and asked whether I could publish them here. Luckily he said yes, so they have been added.

Frank’s personal memories of Combe Down are about his childhood years in the 1930s. You may be interested to know that in his work life he joined Sparrows International Crane Hire in 1957 and became  Managing Director of Sparrows Heavy Crawler Cranes Ltd. He has a personal website about Sparrows.

Frank’s writing  about his personal memories of Combe Down brings out what life was like nearly 100 years ago, here’s just a taste of what he says:

"My first vivid memory as a four or five-year-old child was moving home with my dad, mum, two brothers and sister into an almost derelict cottage in Byfield Place, off Summer Lane, Combe Down. I clearly remember walking into a very dark room with one gas light in a corner, a stone sink and an iron fireplace with a hob and small oven...."

"My memories of Combe Down are still quite clear in my mind, it was all so different then. As children, we wandered everywhere and people seemed to notice you and talk to you more...."

"Another 50 yards or so brought you to Mrs Colmer’s sweet shop, a favourite of ours. Mrs Colmer ran the shop, and Mr Colmer, the local shoe repairer, worked in the cellar below. We wore boots most of the time, the soles covered in studs to make them last, my dad repaired them...."

"Towards the right-hand side of the Firs Field was a ‘light hole’, approximately 20 feet in diameter, it serviced the underground stone mines, it was surrounded by a dry-stone wall three or four feet high. We were told never to climb over the wall...."

"I vividly remember vast numbers of the once-common lapwing (the peewit). Before the Second World War lapwings would flock at Foxhill. There were no houses only fields, owned by Springfield Farm. Part of my evening paper round involved delivering to an old farmhouse, at the outset of war it was taken over by the Admiralty. During what must have been early summer, I would spend an hour or more sitting perfectly still in the fields, surrounded by hundreds of these birds. Also there always seemed to be a skylark, high in the sky, singing clearly..."

"I previously mentioned our return to Combe Down School. My first teacher was Miss Condy, she taught juniors and came from Claverton. She was kind and caring. I soon moved up the general classes and remember most of the teachers names...."

Please do read Frank’s personal memories of Combe Down, I promise you that it’s well worth it.

At The Old Vicarage – more tea Vicar?

Cleveland Bridge Bath in 1830 - engraving by FP Hay

Cleveland Bridge Bath in 1830 – engraving by FP Hay

I realised that I haven’t mentioned The Old Vicarage and the clergy of Combe Down in the blog.

That’s an error as  as the house was designed by Henry Edmund Goodridge (1797 – 1864) who designed one of Bath’s iconic monuments: Beckford’s Tower. He also designed one of the world’s earliest retail arcades The Corridor in central Bath. He designed Cleveland Bridge at the site of a Roman ferry crossing, linking the A4 London Road with the A36. It’s a cast iron arch bridge with lodges like miniature Greek temples at each corner and was was built in 1827 by William Hazledine. Oh, and he had also designed Holy Trinity church.

The Old Vicarage was used by the vicars of Combe Down until 1974 when it was sold to Dr John (Jack) Ferens Turner (1930 – 2002) and his wife Dr Anne Curtis Turner (née Pyke) (1939 – 2006).

Rev G W Newnham

Rev G W Newnham

There have been some interesting ministers living at The Old Vicarage, such as Rev George William Newnham (1806 – 1893) who was Vicar from 1842 – 1877. He was married 3 times and had 17 children!

His third wife Harriette Helen White (1820 – 1889) set up what became the Institution for Idiot Children and those of Weak Intellect at Rockhall House on Combe Down. He also started the Combe Down allotments.

There was Rev Carr Glyn Acworth (1842 – 1928) who was Vicar from 1877 – 1890. He was also was married 3 times but he had no children.

Rev Alfred Richardson (1853 – 1925) was vicar from 1902 – 1914. After he retired he wrote: An historical guide to Monkton Combe, Combe Down and Claverton with Rev David Lee Pitcairn (1848 – 1936) who was vicar of Monkton Combe from 1883 – 1914 and also a great grandson of Arthur Guinness (1725 – 1803) – the brewer.

Ven Albert Bushnell Lloyd (1871 – 1946) was vicar from 1930 – 1933. He  was a missionary and Archdeacon of Western Uganda. His written works include: Uganda to Khartoum (1906), In Dwarf Land and Cannibal Country (1907), Dayspring in Uganda (1921) and Apolo of the Pygmy Forest (1923).