Wednesday, 29 June 2016

All Hallows Church - Sandstone

A general view of All Hallows Church

When I very briefly looked at the exterior of All Hallows church in Harthill a few years ago, as part of a quick exploration of the village, I was surprised by the very yellow colour of the “Rotherham Red” sandstone that can be found here.

The Tower
Having worked in the building restoration industry in London, where the underlying geology essentially comprises Quaternary sands and the London Clay – with some Chalk, Flint and Greensand on its outskirts – I had to learn all about the various stones that have been imported from all over the British Islands, in an effort to meet the architect’s specification to restore an old building with a material that “shall match the existing”.

As an introduction to stone identification and stone matching, it was certainly a steep learning curve. Since developing the Triton Stone Library and further exploring a good part of the East Midlands and Yorkshire, I now possess a very good eye a subject that is extremely relevant to archaeologists, architects and surveyors.

In my most recent visit to All Hallows church, having thoroughly surveyed St. Helen’s church and the Conservation Area in Treeton, I wasn’t surprised to see that the oldest parts of the church were largely built from yellow/red mottled varieties of “Rotherham Red” sandstone; however, the texture of the stone used to construct the tower, the clerestory and various other 15th century additions to the church really struck me.

Variations in colour and texture on the south elevation

Compared to typical "Rotherham Red" sandstone, which is relatively soft and easily weathered away – with cavernous decay - its distinctive cross-bedding stands out proud and, when rubbing your fingers along this stone, it feels very gritty. Although there is little evidence of quarries on the ground or in documents, the village was once famous for the production of whetstones – an industry that was once common throughout much of South Yorkshire.

The Porch

I also noticed that the Carboniferous sandstone used for the dressings to the Victorian porch are quite unusual and very like the one that I had previously seen at the old Wesleyan chapel in Maltby; it is fine grained, susceptible to delamination and weathers with a very distinctive patina. The doorway to the church itself is constructed of yet another sandstone of unknown provenance and which possesses some very 'wild' variations in colour.

The South Door

Looking at the restoration of the sandstone elements of All Hallows church, I was very impressed by the choice of stone used in the recent structural repairs to the north aisle, which Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described as having "horrible neo-Norman windows".

Various restoration work to the North Aisle

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Harthill - Part II

A view of Winney Hill in Harthill

There’s nothing quite like undertaking a primary survey and, getting off the No. 74 bus at the terminus on Winney Hill, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yellow Sands Formation had once been dug out here; the plantation at the end of the village now contains a couple of modern houses with steeply rising back gardens and, very often, these were used to disguise former quarries and mineral workings on large estates.

A geological map of the area around Harthill

Walking down Winney Hill, the undulating escarpment that rises up from All Hallows church can clearly be seen and, taking a diversion to walk up Doctor Lane – where I had previously identified a quarry on an old map – a small housing development has now been built on this site, with only a few remains of the old quarry face being seen in the back gardens.

An old "Rotherham Red" sandstone quarry face

Carrying on down through the council estate on Serlby Lane, with the escarpment falling down to Union Street in the west, the terrace like topography of the houses and gardens here strongly suggests that this area was also once extensively quarried.

"Rotherham Red" sandstone produces a very distinctive soil

Peering between the houses to get a glimpse of their back gardens, in places the “Rotherham Red“ sandstone can still be seen in the deep shadows – between the ivy and the sycamores – but the name “Quarry Cottage” obviously provides a clue that needs further investigation.

Quarry Cottage

Although there are a couple of 20th century buildings constructed in dolomitic limestone, it is the “Rotherham Red” sandstone – distinctly red where used for the best quality masonry but with mottled red and yellow variations in basic walling - which gives the old part of the village its architectural character. 

All Hallows church

Monday, 20 June 2016

Harthill - Part I

The approach to Harthill down Winney Hill

During my investigation of St. Helen’s church, I have had the advantage of it being on my doorstep and I am therefore able to explore it at leisure; however, when surveying an unknown ancient building – as a professional – this luxury of time is not always available.

An exploration of the "Rotherham Red" sandstone on the No. 74 bus

Continuing with my exploration of South Yorkshire and beyond - by public transport – a trip to the village of Harthill seemed an obvious choice for my next project. The No. 74 bus follows the outcrop of the “Rotherham Red” sandstone, passing through a handful of villages where it has been used to build a wide variety of vernacular buildings and mediaeval churches.

Vernacular architecture - "Rotherham Red" sandstone and clay pantiles

Harthill is one of the most remote villages in the borough of Rotherham and it is the most southerly settlement on the “Rotherham Red” sandstone, which disappears beneath the Yellow Sands Formation and the Cadeby Formation - just over a mile away in Derbyshire.

A house built of Magnesian Limestone with a Welsh slate roof

When various volunteers in the South Yorkshire RIGS Group drew up a list of potential Regionally Important Geological Sites, based on a trawl through printed maps, memoirs and documents held in museums and libraries, not a single old quarry was identified in any of these villages.

The Old Rectory and Harthill War Memorial

Nowadays, Google Map and a wide variety of old parish maps and other documents are freely available for desk top research online but, when I was preparing my trip to Harthill, I could only find one or two places where evidence of these old quarries might be found.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Mediaeval Churches in Rotherham

All Saints church in Laughton-en-le-Morthen

Having undertaken a thorough survey of the building stones of St. Helen’s church and developed a better understanding of the techniques that an archaeologist uses to unravel the construction history of an ancient building, it has spurred me on to take this project to another level.

All Hallows in Harthill

Limited to travel by public transport, the previous year had been spent exploring various geological sites and historic monuments in parts of South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Derbyshire; however, with the easily accessible places now effectively exhausted, I have had to think of some other places that I know would be of interest to Geotourists.

St. Peter & St. Paul in Todwick

In England, the oldest building in any village, town or city is usually the church or the castle and wherever they are underlain by hard rock geology, the stone used to build them was generally quarried from very nearby.

St. John the Baptist in Wales

Essentially, the geology of South Yorkshire comprises Carboniferous Millstone Grit and Coal Measures, Permian dolomitic limestone and Triassic sandstone - with the latter largely being covered by Quaternary sands and gravels.

St. John the Baptist in Hooton Roberts

As a starting point, I have set out to explore the old mediaeval churches that are built on or near to the outcrop of the Mexborough Rock, from Hooton Roberts in the north to Harthill in the south, where the distinctive red colouration of the rock gives it the name “Rotherham Red” sandstone.

St. Leonard in Thrybergh

In the south-eastern part of the borough of Rotherham, I have now surveyed the part of the stratigraphic column that lies between the Carboniferous Treeton Rock and the Permian Cadeby Formation – from the top deck of the bus and by walking around various ancient villages.

All Saints in Aston

Wherever possible, I have taken photographs of the interiors of some magnificent churches that date back to the Norman Conquest and beyond and - continuing my exploration in other parts of South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire - my travels have provided me with a great insight into the logistics of quarrying and transport that existed during a time when Roche Abbey and Conisbrough Castle were also being built.