Tuesday 18 June 2024

The Church of St. William of York

Clothed in Glory

When having a quick walk up Ecclesall Road, to look at the Brincliffe Edge/Greenmoor Rock used for some of the late Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses, I was surprised to come across three relief sculptures on the west front of the Roman Catholic Church of St. William of York - a modern church that I had not taken much notice of before. 
The Chucrh of St. William of York
As a photographer that had been once commissioned by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) to photograph as many examples of post-war architectural sculpture that I could find – at £10 per 7” x 5” black and white print supplied - I am sure that I would have noticed these, when making occasional use of the supermarket that stands on the site of the John Gregory brickworks. 
Relief sculptures by Richard Watts

I only had a few minutes before I had to catch the next bus to join Paul and Dave of the Sheffield U3A Geology Group, to finalise our field trip itinerary for 2023, so I didn’t get a chance to have a good look at the stonework. I wasn’t familiar with the reddened sandstone for the dressings and walling stone and I just took a few record photographs.
Saved From the Deep
When I got home and undertook some research on this, I was interested to discover that the sculptor was Richard Watts, who worked as a landscape architect at Sheffield City Council. Along with his colleagues Ric Bingham and Zac Tudor, he had been very helpful when I wrote several articles about the Peace Gardens, Sheaf Square, Tudor Square and other Heart of the City developments for Natural Stone Specialist and the Stein and Stone Plus magazines in Germany. 
Various articles describing Heart of the City developments in Sheffield
After he had left Sheffield City Council, I encountered Richard during an event organised at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, where he was working on a small piece but I never realised that he had been working as a sculptor and letter cutter alongside his job as a landscape architect. 
Washed and Healed
Looking at his website, I was interested to discover that he learned his craft from his father, who was influenced by the work of Eric Gill. This came to mind when I first saw the relief sculptures - Washed and Healed, Saved From the Deep and Clothed in Glory. As a geologist with specialist skills in stone matching, I also noted that these sculptures are made from Woodkirk stone, which is still quarried from the Thornhill Rock in Morley.
Sessile Oak by Richard Watts
Although not related to the church, while looking at his website I noted that he had also carved Sessile Oak, a sculpture that I had been very impressed with when visiting Bowden Housteads Wood a couple of years earlier. 
A statue of St. William
On the north elevation of the church is a statue of St. William, which is not by Richard Watts but was retained from the original chapel of ease - built on the site in 1904 by the architects C and C.M.E. Hadfield, who designed several Roman Catholic churches in Sheffield. The latest extension to the church, which also incorporates a plaque that is inscribed in Latin, was added in 1971 by John Rochford and Partners.
An inscription in Latin

Saturday 15 June 2024

Terraced Houses on Ecclesall Road

Edwardian terraced houses on Ecclesall Road

Following on from visits to Moorgate Cemetery and Boston Park in Rotherham - to prepare for the “Let’s talk about the stones” walk in April - March 2023 started with a trip to Ecclesall in Sheffield, to meet up with Paul and Dave of the Sheffield U3A Geology Group to finalise the field trip itinerary for the rest of 2023. 
Locations visited with outcrops of the Greenmoor Rock

Since first undertaking a survey of Green Moor in Barnsley back in 1996, to identify potential RIGS (Regionally Important Geological Sites) in South Yorkshire, I have encountered the Greenmoor Rock in many places. Although I have been to Banner Cross, Greystones, Nether Edge and Endcliffe Park a few times, I couldn’t recall seeing any buildings in the area that I thought were obviously built with this sandstone - known in Sheffield as Brincliffe Edge Rock.
The brickworks and quarries marked on the 1924 Ordnance Survey map
When coming down Ecclesall Road on the bus after a previous meeting at Paul’s house, I was struck by the obvious grey/green colour of the sandstone that has been used for the frontages of the brick built terraced houses, which were erected on its east side in various stages during the very late Victorian to Edwardian periods. 
No. 735 Ecclesall Road
With a bit of time on hands before my meeting, I got off the bus from Sheffield at the Ecclesall Road/Rustlings Road stop to have a quick look at the terraced houses - Nos. 721-737 - on the east side of the Trinity United Reformed Church, which were built on a site that the 1905 Ordnance Survey map shows as a quarry and first appear on the 1924 edition, which was based on a resurvey of 1914/1915. 
Edwardian terraced houses on Ecclesall Road

In 2021, I had spent a good part of the year travelling all over Sheffield to visit the Sheffield Board Schools, combining these with the British Listed Buildings Photo Challenge, during which I had traversed all of the major sandstone formations in Sheffield that have been used for building stone. 
No. 737 Ecclesall Road
Although very few quarries are now visible, the physical characteristics of the principal sandstone formations that outcrop on the west side of Sheffield - the Chatsworth Grit, Crawshaw Sandstone and Loxley Edge Rock – are very different to the Greenmoor Rock, which is thinly bedded, fine grained and particularly suited to paving, headstones, lintels, sills and steps. 
No. 739 Ecclesall Road
Nos. 739-749, on the west side of Trinity church, were built at a slightly earlier date and first appear on the 1905 map, which was revised from 1901 to 1903. Although more modest in style than the later Edwardian terraced houses, which have two storey bay windows and a gable attic floor, they are built out of a similar green/grey sandstone that has a dull light muddy brown patina. 
Nos. 743 and 745 Ecclesall Road

I quickly walked up Ecclesall Road until I reached the Co-Op supermarket, which is built on the site of the former John Gregory brickworks, which opened c.1877 and closed c.1942, but I didn’t have time to look closely at the extensive rock face that can be seen here. 
The site of the former John Gregory brickworks
Stopping quickly to photograph the fine relief sculptures by Richard Watts at the Church of St. William of York, which I shall describe later, I took a couple of photos of the quarry face seen from a gennel to one of the terraced houses, which first appear on the 1905 Ordnance Survey map. 
A view along a gennel on Ecclesall Road

Tuesday 11 June 2024

An "Omelette" Structure in Boston Park

The 'omelette' structure identified by the Sheffield Area Geology Trust

When undertaking initial research into the “Let’s talk about the stones” walk for the Friends of Moorgate Cemetery, I came across a brief news report on the Sheffield Area Geology Trust (SAGT) website, dated 14th January 2023, to say that a very unusual ‘omelette’ structure had been found by members during a survey late in the previous year. 
A short article about the 'omelette' structure in Boston Park
I had long since detached myself from any formal involvement with geological conservation in Rotherham, because the Rotherham MBC planning section wanted me to continue providing my professional services for free, when they now had a statutory responsibility for this. I wasn't at all happy with this very bad attitude, especially since Doncaster MBC and the British Geological Survey had arranged for me to be well paid to resurvey the RIGS in Doncaster for the Doncaster Geodiversity Assessment, which formed an integral part of the Local Development Framework. 
A section of the quarry face with soft sediment deformation structures

A majority decision by the remaining active members of the South Yorkshire RIGS (Regionally Important Geological Sites) Group, now deceased, agreed for it to be absorbed into SAGT. I was briefly a member of their Rotherham Local Geological Sites Panel, but I really didn’t appreciate being sidelined by retired university academics and school teachers, who hadn’t lifted a finger to help with the original RIGS initiative and don’t live in Rotherham. 
A section showing soft sediment deformation
As the principal surveyor, chairman and publicist for the South Yorkshire RIGS Group, I played a great role in placing Rotherham on the geological map. This continued with my involvement at Clifton Park Museum, where I was commissioned to catalogue their substantial collection of 1500 minerals and to help with the new displays after it was refurbished. 
A detail of a section with soft sediment deformation structures
Nevertheless, as a geologist I was genuinely interested to be informed that these very rare ‘omelette’ and other soft sediment deformation structures had been discovered here. This was believed to be the result of a sudden flood and I went to have a look for myself. 
A soft sediment deformation structure
The article states that SAGT are trying to determine if there is further evidence for this sudden flood hypothesis and I wanted to pass on some knowledge that might help them with this. Back in 1994, when I first became aware of the RIGS initiative, and later in 1996 while surveying potential RIGS in South Yorkshire, evidence of this was clearly visible behind the bowls pavilion. 
Boston Park in 1994 (top) and 1996 (bottom)

Here, in the exposed rock face, in addition to the scattering of clay ironstone nodules, which are common in the Rotherham Red sandstone – a locally distinctive variety of the Mexborough Rock - there is a bed of conglomerate over 20 cm thick that is composed of these rounded nodules and was presumably laid down in a flood event. 
Boston Park in 2011
Although the old quarry face had started to become quite overgrown in places, the conglomerate was still clearly visible in March 2010 and December 2011 but, during subsequent visits in 2016, 2018, 2021 and 2023, this was obscured by vegetation. 
Boston Park in 2023

Further indirect evidence of a flood event recorded in the Rotherham Red sandstone at Boston Park is in the slabs of sandstone used to line a walkway, which contain numerous large Carboniferous plant fossils that formed in a log jam. These slabs would not have been suitable for building stone and were set aside, but unfortunately it is not known where in the quarry face these came from. 
The walkway with plant fossil bearing slabs
As part of my original survey of potential RIGS sites back in 1996, I also saw good exposures of the Mexborough Rock in Darfield Quarry, 13 km to the north of Boston Park, where the formation has a light brown colour that is typical of most Coal Measures sandstones in the region, but also contains a significant contaent of clay ironstone nodules. 
An extract from my photographic database
Although my photo of it has unfortunately become mislaid in my collection of over 4000 colour transparencies, a conglomeratic bed of similar thickness can be seen in Darfield quarry, which I visited again with my next door neighbour Dan - who played in the quarry as a boy - a couple of months after my last visit to Boston Park. 
Darfield quarry in 1996

Having had dealings with the manager of Green Spaces in Rotherham several times over the years, I spoke to him about whether or not it would be possible to clean the section of the quarry face with the exposure of conglomerate. Rotherham MBC have no plans to do this, but it was suggested that SAGT might want to do this themselves. Having been unable to e-mail SAGT, I contacted them through their Facebook page to offer my help, but got no response. 
A bed of conglomerate at Darfield quarry

Let's Talk About the Stones - Part 2

A detail of the Cornish granite used for the headstone of Annie Handley

In preparation for my walk around Moorgate Cemetery in April 2023, which Janet Worrall had given the title “Let’s talk about the stones”, I used the Stroll In The Cemetery guide to track down memorials to John Guest, Richard Chrimes and members of the Beatson/Beatson Clark families. 
Memorials to various members of the Habershon family
In the Habershon family plot, I found the Italian white marble headstone to John Matthew (d.1894), a sandstone headstone to Alice (d.1918) and a cross to commemorate Matthew Joseph (d.1929), which is made with a grey granite from the Cornubian batholith in south-west England. 
The memorial to Harry Crowcroft
The memorial to Harry Crowcroft (d.1900) is quite elaborate, with an Italian white Carrara marble angel set on a pedestal that has a polished inscribed shield and oak leaf details that contrast with the adjoining tooled stone. I didn’t get close enough to look at the texture and mineralogy, but it looks too dark to be a Scottish granite and I will have to look at it again another time. 
The memorial to members of the Aizlewood family

From a distance, I can tell that the obelisk that commemorates John (d.1907), Sarah (d.1908) and John Arthur (d.1862) Aizlewood is made of the dark pink Peterhead granite, which was commonly used for banks and other prestigious buildings, as well as for memorials. 
The memorial to John Barras
Rotherham is set upwind of the old steel manufacturing centre along the Lower Don Valley, which stretched all the way from Sheffield, and most of the older memorials in Moorgate Cemetery are blackened by the resultant pollution to various degrees. This makes it difficult to identify the various stones when seen at a distance - for example the monument to John Barras (d.1885). 
An inscribed granite panel on the Barras memorial
From my my photographs, it looks like the bulk of the memorial is made of blackened massive sandstone, except for the inscribed panel and the urn. Enlarging my photo of the panel, I can see that it is a very pale grey granite with distinct foliation picked out by the alignment of the biotite mica – a feature of both Kemnay and Rubislaw granite. 
The headstones of William Pridmore, Joe Smith and Leonard Carrison
The headstones to William Pridmore (d.1895), Joe Smith (d.1917) and Leonard Carrison (d.1917) are further examples of just how varied in colour and texture, the granitic rocks used by the memorial masons could be – even before the trade in granite became global. 
The headstone of Ada Davis

Moving on to the headstone of Ada Davis (d.1918), the red rather than pink colour of the alkali feldspar made me think that this was perhaps one of the Swedish or Finnish granites that were once imported into Aberdeen for processing, but my detailed photo doesn’t match very well the very many photos of these granites, which are still available and advertised online. 
A detail of the red granite used for the Ada Davis headstone
The best match that I found was from the British Geological Survey GeoScenic photo archive, where the various Ordovician (450 Ma) Corrennie granite samples have mineralogical and textural characteristics that are similar, despite slightly different amounts of biotite mica. 
Specimens of Corrennie granite on the GeoScenic photo archive
The monuments to John Evans (d.1881), Sarah Crowther (d.1887) and John Corker (d.1883) have a broadly similar design with a plinth, tapering square section pedestal with a capital topped with an urn. The Evans monument looks like an Aberdeen granite, but the others have a much higher proportion of ferromagnesian minerals than a true granite, which would probably be classified as a gabbro or perhaps a diorite. 
The memorials to John Evans, Sarah Crowther and John Corker
Looking at more than 110 photographs of Scottish granite specimens on the GeoScenic site, none of them have a high ferromagnesian mineral content and my initial thoughts are that Rustenburg gabbro from South Africa may have been used for one of these, but it really needs an expert in the various stones used in monumental masonry to confirm this. 
Memorials to Sarah Williamson and members of the Lee family
Of the substantial C20 memorials that I saw, Sarah Williamson (d.1927) looks like a gabbro column, with a capping of grey granite from Cornwall/Devon and William Lee (d.1934) and his family is made of gabbro/dolerite with a capping of Kemnay granite. 
Various C21 headstones
As a geologist, I never cease to be fascinated by the wide variety of colours and textures that can be seen in the various granites, gneisses and migmatites that are now imported from India, China and Brazil to be used for headstones, but the highlight of this visit to Moorgate Cemetery was the twin headstones to the family of John Hanby.
Twin headstones for various members of the Hanby family
In the temperate British climate, it has never been a good idea to use marble for external use, because it will react with the carbonic acid in rainwater and this will be exacerbated when there is severe sulphurous atmospheric pollution. This can be seen particularly clearly in the twin Hanby memorials, where the surfaces are so weathered that much of the lead lettering has fallen off.
A detail of weathered marble