Saturday, 29 April 2017

Mandale Limestone

A sample of Mandale limestone

During my 9 month long exploration of the mediaeval churches in and around South Yorkshire, finishing at the church of St. Nicholas in High Bradfield, I had achieved my principal objective of refining and further developing my geological skills that I consider to be of practical value to archaeologists and architects.

A general view of Clifton Park Museum

As every geologist whose house and garden is full of rocks, fossils and minerals will know, I encountered various places where I felt compelled to collect a piece of rock – from a natural outcrop or a dry stone wall and very occasionally from an historic building – without recourse to using a geological hammer.

A geological survey without resort to the use of a geological hammer

20 years ago, while living in Bakewell and undertaking a survey of the RIGS within the Peak District National Park, I made an effort to find the Once-a-week quarry in Sheldon and to acquire a sample of polished Mandale limestone - which I added to my very large collection of building stones that later formed the basis of the Triton Stone Library in London.

The Triton Stone Library

Having explored very many of the dales that are deeply cut into the Carboniferous limestone within this region, I had seen a wide variety of corals, crinoids and brachiopods exposed in their weathered rock faces – as well as in countless dry stone walls and vernacular buildings; however, when polished, this particular stone becomes even more spectacular.

A  sample of Mandale limestone used as a stepping stone

My sample of Mandale limestone was never included in the Triton Stone Library and now forms one of two stepping stones that can be found in my herb garden and, although its polished surface has long since weathered away and algae have penetrated any open pores, it is has stood the test of time extremely well compared to a similar sized sample of Ancaster limestone - of the same age - that has just crumbled away.

Mandale limestone and Ancaster limestone

When working for Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham, where Mandale limestone is used for some of the floors and fireplaces in this 18th century building, I noticed that its floors were severely deteriorating and, on more than one occasion, I was asked by the person responsible for its maintenance to advise on the best method of repair – as the previous attempts with epoxy resin had clearly failed.

A defect in the Mandale limestone in the floor of Clifton Park Museum

Whilst taking another look at the floor, while visiting the Rotherham Show, I saw that a sample of Mandale limestone had actually been displayed in the museum several years ago and so I decided to arrange a visit to Rowsley, where Natural Stones Sales Ltd. are now marketing this unique stone product.

An example of Mandale limestone in Rotherham

Monday, 24 April 2017

St. Nicholas Bradfield - The Interior

A view along the nave at the church of St. Nicholas in High Bradfield

Having quickly surveyed the exterior of St. Nicholas' church in High Bradfield, where the styles of its architectural elements now appeared very familiar, I had limited time available to explore its interior before I had to make my way down to Low Bradfield to briefly look at the vernacular architecture in this village – from which I planned to catch the hourly bus back to Sheffield.

The Norman font

Without artificial lighting, the interior of St. Nicholas' church was quite dark and, although there were intermittent periods of sunshine that enabled me to clearly see some of the architectural details, on this occasion I had to be content with taking a few general record photographs of the principal structural elements.

A general view of the chancel

According to Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the various piers – which are alternately circular and octagonal in the north arcade and octagonal in the south arcade – are recycled from an earlier structure of c.1200, as seen at Ecclesfield church where the bases have also been raised.

Carved capitals with floral decoration and castellated upper details

The western respond of the arcades, adjacent to the 14th century tower, have very unusual capitals – being flat faced with floral decoration and a castellated upper section; however, the capitals to the rest of the piers in the arcades have been hacked off completely and reprofiled.

A general view of the reformed piers and the arches to the arcades

Above these reformed piers, the arches that spring from them and the rest of the masonry that rises to form the clerestory appears to be very uniform – as does the general masonry to the walls of the aisles and this coincides with the general rebuilding that is considered to have taken place in the Perpendicular Gothic style during the1480's.

A general view of the south chapel and nave from the chancel

Taking a quick look around the chancel and the adjoining south chapel, the piers and capitals are all octagonal and the profiles of the various arches are similar to those of the arcades. At high level, there are also a series of crudely carved corbels, which support the posts to the roof, which was renewed in 1901.

A memorial to victims of the Great Sheffield Flood

There are various Victorian white marble monuments scattered around the various walls, along with a Welsh slate memorial to the victims of the Great Sheffield Flood, and there is also a very plain Norman font and an old Saxon cross, which was originally in Low Bradfield but subsequently relocated to St. Nicholas' church.

The Saxon cross

At the end of a year spent exploring various mediaeval churches in and around South Yorkshire – as well as the local geology and historic buildings of the places that I have visited - I now had a much better appreciation of the building stones and architectural styles that help the standing buildings archaeologist to unravel their construction history and architects to select a suitable stone for repairs.

Colour variation in the sandstone used for flooring

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

St. Nicholas Bradfield - The Exterior

A general view of the south elevation of the church of St. Nicholas

I first saw St. Nicholas' church in High Bradfield when I went to explore the geology around the nearby Rocher End Brook with the newly established South Yorkshire RIGS Group, but I only have recollections of its magnificent setting high above the upper Loxley valley.

A general view of the east end

Having seen it again for the first time in over 20 years, at the end of a full year spent exploring the mediaeval churches in and around South Yorkshire, I immediately recognised its Perpendicular Gothic style architectural elements – the castellated parapets, pinnacles and the window tracery.

A general view of the north aisle and clerestory

A quick walk around its exterior, however, shows that the windows to the tower have Y-tracery, which is in the Decorated Gothic style and attributed to the 14th century, and the windows to the clerestory and to the north aisle are all flat headed; however, although I didn't study the masonry in any detail, all of the gritstone ashlar appears to be generally similar in style and colour and there are no obvious variations that indicate different phases of building.

A gargoyle

Various gargoyles drain the roofs to the aisles, with that to the south depicted with its mouth being pulled wide open, as is very often seen in mediaeval churches of the same age. Also, a couple of fine grotesques flank the east end of the chancel and, although weathered, the forms of a dragon and a dog can still be easily recognised.


In the churchyard, the majority of the graves are simple inscribed slabs or chest tombs as can be seen around the majority of the churches that I have visited, and date from the Victorian period, but there are also a few 17th century inscribed slabs set into the path that leads to the porch.

17th century grave slabs

Vernacular Architecture in Bradfield

The Watch House

In both High Bradfield and Low Bradfield, apart from the church of St. Nicholas, there are only a dozen listed buildings – including a K6 telephone box – and most of these are cottages, farmhouses and other associated buildings; however, although I didn't see any old quarries where I could examine a large section through the Rivelin Grit, the local gritty sandstone has been fully exploited as a building stone and good examples can be seen everywhere.

The Old Post Office

Fine ashlar can be seen in the Old Post Office and the Old Horns Inn too but the Watch House - which was built in 1831 to address problems with grave robbers –  has fine window dressings and a castellated parapet for ornamentation but, like many of the other historic buildings, its walls are built of well squared and coursed blocks to which a tooled finish has been applied.

Paving, kerbs and setts on Jane Street

Looking down the various lanes that intersect High Bradfield, the setts, kerbs and riven paving demonstrate the versatility of the sandstones from the Millstone Grit Group, with both the massive and flaggy beds being applied to good use. At an altitude of 260 metres and fully exposed to the often very harsh winters of the Peak District, its durability as a building material is well proven.
At roof level, although Welsh slate has been used for Victorian buildings such as the Old Church Hall – and the Old Post Office - there are very many good examples of traditional stone slate in those built at an earlier date.

The Old Church Hall

Other uses of the local stone can also be seen in the village stocks, various carved gateposts, stiles and steps and a horse trough - which captures the flow of a small brook that springs from the hillside above the village.

A horse trough fed by a spring and a stile in the dry stone wall

Walking down Woodfall Lane to Low Bradfield, there are various old agricultural buildings that have been converted to residential use, several terraced cottages and a few other larger houses but none of these are of particular architectural merit.

Cottages on Woodfall Lane

The most interesting buildings that I saw in Low Bradfield are two Wesleyan chapels. The oldest, built in 1817 is now used as the parish council offices and on the opposite side of the road is a late Victorian building dated 1899. Comparing the masonry to every other building that I had previously seen on my walk, the latter is quite unusual in that although the walling is a typical buff/brown gritstone, a distinctly pink/red variety of sandstone is used for the dressings. 

The Victorian Wesleyan chapel

Monday, 17 April 2017

Geology & Archaeology in Bradfield

A general view of High Bradfield

When I visited St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield in the middle of October, I had by now surveyed more than 30 mediaeval churches in South Yorkshire and the surrounding counties over a period of 9 months - as well as investigating the local geology and various historic buildings. Autumn was now starting to close in and I knew that there wouldn't be many more days out before the year ended; however, taking advantage of a sunny day on the following weekend, I set off on the bus again to explore Bradfield in the Peak District National Park.

A simplified map of the geology around Sheffield

High Bradfield and its sister village, Low Bradfield, are set on the Huddersfield White Rock (formerly named the Rivelin Grit or Chatsworth Grit in this region) 10 km north-west of Sheffield city centre, but they are separated by a steep slope that is formed by one of the well defined faults that run through the district. 

A detailed geological map of the area around Bradfield

The geology here is very similar to that seen at Carl Wark, Higger Tor and Burbage Rocks  - and it also forms the rugged topography that dominates the Rivelin valley. It comprises massive coarse grained sandstones with well developed large scale cross-bedding and frequent beds of small pebbles, which gives the sandstones within the Millstone Grit Group a very distinctive character.

A view from High Bradfield towards Low Bradfield

The Rivelin Grit has produced much building stone of a massive nature and can be frequently seen in bridges, embankments and other civil engineering works around Sheffield, as well as in a variety of historic buildings and for kerbs and setts. In places, it was also widely exploited for grindstones, many of which can still be seen lying about the old quarries where they were worked.

Rivelin Grit taken from a dry stone wall on Woodfall Lane

There is no mention of either village in the Domesday Book but, 500 metres to the south-east of High Bradfield, an outcrop of the younger Rough Rock rises above the village to form Castle Hill, where various archaeological remains have been interpreted as either a Saxon encampment or a Norman motte and bailey castle, but which has largely been quarried away.

Castle Hill

Another motte and bailey castle is found just a stone's throw away from the church of St. Nicholas to the north-west, at Bailey Hill, which has earthworks around parts of the bailey to the south and east and with an easily defended steep slope running down to the west.

Views of Bailey Hill

Low Bradfield, 1 km down Woodfall Lane from High Bradfield, lies in the upper part of the Loxley valley and it is strongly associated with the Great Sheffield Flood that swept two bridges and several buildings away, including the old manorial corn mill - which once made a significant contribution to the largely agricultural economy here.

A view down Woodfall Lane from High Bradfield

Sunday, 16 April 2017

St. Mary Ecclesfield - The Interior

A detail of the monument to Sir Richard Scott

When visiting St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield, I took advantage of an open day that coincided with a community event that was being held in the nearby Gatty Memorial Hall but, with an orchestra setting up for a concert that was due to take place shortly, my exploration of its interior was only brief, with enough time only to photograph its essential architectural features.

A view east along the nave

According to Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the columns to the arcades have been reused from a previous structure and date back to c.1200 and were provided with tall bases and capitals to fit them into the proportion of the new nave. As seen in several other churches, the north arcade has round columns and those of the south arcade are octagonal, with the octagonal capitals and the arches above them being uniform in style, which Pevsner attributes to the early 14th century.

The north arcade

Looking at the masonry above the arcades, this is all ashlar, with large blocks of yellowish sandstone used throughout and it is not obvious that the height of the nave has been raised, although the style of the windows are clearly Perpendicular Gothic.

The south arcade

The same pattern of masonry is seen in the lower parts of the walls of the naves but a large proportion of their upper parts comprise squared and coursed rubble walling, with very irregular bed heights and block sizes; however I didn't have the opportunity to any of the stonework closely, except to see some of the mason's marks that were pointed out to me by one of the parishioners who showed me around.

Mason's marks to the arcade columns

Scattered around the walls, there are hatchments various fine quality and often elaborate memorials, dating from the later Victorian period onwards, where a wide variety of decorative stones have been used together with mosaic and ceramic tiles.

Various wall memorials

The most impressive of the memorials is the large monument to Sir Richard Scott, made in 1640 by William Wright, which uses black polished limestone for the columns and inscribed panels and alabaster for the fine decorative details and the reclining figure.

The monument to Sir Richard Scott

Other features of interest are the 1662 font, the remains of a Saxon cross that may have had a double shaft and, although digressing from the theme of natural stone, there is 12th century chest carved form a single tree trunk and fine carved woodwork dating from 1500, which includes misericords and poppyheads to the choir stalls.

Various poppyheads to the choir stalls

Friday, 14 April 2017

St. Mary Ecclesfield - The Exterior

The south elevation of St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield

Approaching St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield from the war memorial, which is set within its churchyard, the structure appears to be very uniform in appearance - with its windows, castellated parapets and pinnacles being typically Perpendicular Gothic in style.

A view of St. Mary's church from the south-east

The original church dates back to c.1220, but all of the visible external fabric was reconstructed between 1478 and 1500, to form an exceptionally large mediaeval parish church with a cruciform plan. This reflects the importance of St. Mary's church in mediaeval society as the centre of administration in Hallamshire, which was once one of the largest parishes in England.

The east end of St. Mary's church

A closer look at the general masonry, when walking around the exterior, shows that the stonework is consistent in colour and texture with no obvious signs of any extensive restoration – both Victorian remodelling or essential repairs – except for the renewal of the tracery to the west window and a few other dressings, where the sandstone is lighter and more uniform in colour.

The west end of St. Mary's church

The massive sandstone, although possessing a dark grey patina, is yellowish in colour and medium grained in texture, with cross bedding apparent where softer beds have been differentially weathered. Its block size and physical characteristics clearly differentiate it from the sandstone seen in the vernacular architecture in Ecclesfield and, although there is no supporting documentation that I know of, it is probable that the stone was brought downhill from the quarries in the nearby village of Grenoside.

The porch at St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield

It is the porch that provides the most interesting feature of the church, with its half-detached angle buttresses linked to the main structure by tiny flying buttresses, which are adorned by a variety of finely carved grotesques.

Details of the porch at St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield

Although some of these have been eroded to the extent that their original form has been partially or totally lost, there are others which clearly depict some very frightening creatures – including one that reminds me of the work of the Irish artist Francis Bacon.

A detail of a grotesque at St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield