Saturday, 26 January 2019

The Building Stones of Leeds - Part 1

A detail of the stonework at Leeds Town Hall

In writing this Language of Stone Blog, I have been recording my visits to various places where the geology, landscape and historic stone built architecture are the main attractions – and which reflect the kind of places that I like to visit as a tourist when abroadTo date, although proposed collaborations with colleagues in Spain and Italy - who have similar interests in Geoheritage and tourism - have not yet materialised in practice, my involvement with the Sheffield U3A Geology Group has continued to lay the foundations for these. 
Walk 1: Reproduced from the Building Stones Heritage of Leeds

During my two trips to Leeds in the latter half of 2018, I identified Leeds Central Library and Leeds Minster as two ‘anchor points’ around which I thought a full day out to explore the ‘Building Stones of Leeds’ could be organised for this group, as I had done in Sheffield earlier in the year. Using The Building Stone Heritage of Leeds as a guide, I finished off my last trip by having another look at some of the buildings on and near to The Headrow, as described in Walk 1.

A general view of Leeds Town Hall

The massive Town Hall, opened in 1858, was designed as a matter of civic pride to be grander than its neighbouring rivals in the wool trade - Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield – and uses various local sandstones from the Millstone Grit, including the very coarse variety of the Rough Rock from Bramley Fall that has been used in Kirkstall Abbey and numerous historic buildings in Leeds. 

A frieze sculpture at Leeds Town Hall

The columns to the south front are built of a much finer grained variety of Millstone Grit – the renowned Darley Dale stone from the Stancliffe Quarry near Matlock in Derbyshire. Although I have not seen any documentary evidence in support, the frieze sculpture and other details here look like they are carved from very similar sandstone. 

A highly weathered Portland limestone Lion at Leeds Town Hall

Flanking the front elevation of the Town Hall, four large Portland stone lions set on vermiculated Rough Rock plinths are well worth looking at in detail. These were added in 1867 but, unlike the similar carved gritstone lions in Saltaire that were installed two years later, they have weathered extremely badly over the years and, in one of the lions, this is emphasised by its advanced decay compared to a nodule of chert, which quite unusually is embedded in the limestone. 

A detail of a nodule of chert

Very high levels of atmospheric pollution were once an undesirable by product of the industries in cities and large towns in northern England, with their buildings being attacked by acid rain and encrusted in soot. Although the Carboniferous sandstones used in Leeds – as well as terracotta, faience and brick - have been resistant to the sulphurous pollutants, various limestones used in Leeds have not fared well. 

The modern extension to Leeds Art Gallery

A short distance along The Headrow, the modern extension to Leeds Art Gallery is built out of Crosland Hill sandstone, a medium grained variety of Rough Rock from Huddersfield that contrasts strongly with the stone used in the Town Hall. 

A general view of the Henry Moore Institute

Next door at the Henry Moore Institute, the front elevation is clad in an incongruous polished igneous rock from Quebec in Canada – a granodiorite that looks dark green in colour when seen up close, rather than black as seen at a distance. 

Leeds Civic Hall

I ended my day with a quick exploration of Millennium Square, where the Portland limestone Leeds Civic Hall and Leeds City Museum, built out of a very coarse grained Rough Rock from Horsforth, deserve much closer examination.

Leeds City Museum

Friday, 18 January 2019

Leeds Minster - The Interior

A detail of the sanctuary floor in Leeds Minster

After a brief exploration of the East Bar, the memorials in the churchyard and the exterior of Leeds Minster, I was greeted by the verger as soon as I walked through the north door and, having been briefly shown some of its interesting features, we sat down and talked over a coffee. 

A view west along the chancel from the sanctuary

When I mentioned that the church was featured in the Building Stone Heritage of Leeds, various people in the café area were curious to know more about this and, by the time I had finished talking with them, my plans to explore the church in depth had gone out of the window

A view to the east along the nave

With very limited time before the church closed at 3:00 pm, and with the bulk of the masonry – except for the columns to the arcades – being rendered and painted, I only took a few quick photographs of features that caught my eye and which I thought would be of particular interest to the Sheffield U3A Geology Group, or similar others. 

The Leeds Cross

The Leeds Cross, dating to the 10th century, is one of the most interesting ancient monuments that I have found in the very many churches that I have visited to date. When St. Peter’s church was demolished in 1838, various intricately carved stones were discovered in its fabric and rescued by the architect, Robert Chantrell, and the cross was subsequently rebuilt. 

The effigy of a knight carved in dolomitic limestone

In the same part of the south chancel as the Leeds Cross, there is an effigy of a knight that was made in York c.1325, using Permian dolomitic limestone from the Cadeby Formation. There is also the C17 Hardwick tomb, which is painted sandstone rather than the alabaster that is normally seen in monuments of this age, where family members are depicted in a kneeling position – as seen in Bakewell and Wentworth

The high altar with the reredos behind

The mosaic reredos in the sanctuary, by Salviati of Venice, was advocated by the verger as the feature most worth seeing but what struck me most here was the flooring, which reminded me of the inlaid table that I had seen a few days earlier at Holy Trinity church in Ashford-in-the Water

Mosaics by Salviati of Venice

I am not an expert in decorative stones and didn’t have the time to closely examine the stones, but I think that I recognised various marbles – truly metamorphic and polished limestone – that I had encountered in the Republic of Ireland, when temporarily working for the Geological Survey of Ireland as an assistant in the Geoheritage programme and as a building stone specialist

The floor of the sanctuary in Leeds Minster
These include green Connemara Marble, Cork Red Marble and black Kilkenny limestone – all of which were very popular with Victorian architects and often lavishly used in churches and public buildings, such as Sheffield Town Hall

A detail of the floor in the sanctuary of Leeds Minster

Most of the stones, which have been laid in the floor together with encaustic tiles, have been worn and scratched over the years and most have now lost their deep polish, with others having deteriorated and now being in a poor condition. 

A general view of the 19th century font

Together with other marbles used in the font, alabaster and purplish coloured crinoidal limestone in the reredos and others used in the memorials that adorn the walls of the north aisle, there is enough variation in the stones in the interior of Leeds Minster to interest visitors for some time and, for this reason, it will feature prominently in the investigation of the ‘Building Stones of Leeds' that will be undertaken in February this year.

A general view of the north aisle

Monday, 14 January 2019

Leeds Minster - The Exterior

A general view of Leeds Minster from the north-west

When investigating the mediaeval churches of South Yorkshire and the surrounding counties, back in 2016, my idea was to revive an interest in standing buildings archaeology that arose when undertaking a survey of the building stones used in All Saints church in Pontefract, ahead of a major programme of restoration to its tower. 

A view of the tower at Leeds Minster

Also, I wanted to try and establish a connection with architects and surveyors, who might value my specialist skills – as a geologist - in the identification and matching of building stone, which I used to good effect when establishing Triton Building Restoration Ltd. in London and subsequently as a consultant to this company. 

A view of Leeds Minster from the south-east

Although I have visited various churches that have been substantially restored or rebuilt/newly built by Victorian architects, these usually don’t show much variation in the styles of masonry or the building stones used and I therefore haven’t spent too much time describing them in this Language of Stone Blog

A Perpendicular Gothic style window

When I visited Leeds Minster, rebuilt 1838-1841, I spent very little time looking at its exterior, which is in a Gothic Revival style with largely Perpendicular details. Built in coarse grained Rough Rock, of a type that known as Bramley Fall – following on from the building of Kirkstall Abbey using stone quarried in Bramley – there is little scope for fine stone carving and the various crocketed finials are its most ornamental feature. 

Coarse grained sandstone from the Rough Rock

The plan of this Grade I Listed church, with its very large central tower placed offset on the north elevation and outer north aisle, is quite unusual but – looking for some interesting details - I just quickly walked around the exterior, taking a few general photos of each elevation and a couple of details that show the grain size and texture of the gritstone used here. 

Sandstone from the Elland Flags used for inscribed grave slabs

In the churchyard, numerous large inscribed grave slabs have been used to form the surface of various pathways and, on the north side of Kirkgate, similar stones cover the railway embankment that forms part of Penny Pocket ParkThese are made of stone quarried from the Elland Flags which, like the Greenmoor Rock and Brincliffe Edge Rock from South Yorkshire, was once extensively used in and around Leeds for paving, monuments and general building and widely exported to other parts of the UK.
A view of Leeds Minster from Kirkgate railway bridge

Friday, 11 January 2019

Memorials at Leeds Minster

The British Nuclear Test Veterans Association Memorial

In the northern boundary wall of Leeds Minster, adjacent to the East Bar, there is a war memorial dedicated to the Leeds Rifles, which was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and unveiled on Remembrance Sunday - 13th November 1921. 

The Leeds Rifles war memorial

Built with Portland limestone, it contrasts strongly with the Rough Rock from the Millstone Grit Group, which is seen in historic buildings throughout Leeds. When looking at it closely, the fossils oysters are seen to be standing proud – a result of the differential weathering of the softer limestone matrix in the polluted industrial environment that was once a feature of Leeds. 

A detail of a bronze plaque on the Leeds Rifles war memorial

Having discovered various points of geological interest during my previous visits to Leeds – including the decorative stones inside Leeds Central Library and various others on Park Row - I had by now began to think that the ‘Building Stones of Leeds’ could be put forward as a potential field trip for the Sheffield U3A Geology Group, especially since a similar event in Sheffield had gone down well earlier in the year. 

Bronze plaques on the Leeds Rifles war memorial

After taking a few photographs of the finely detailed bronze plaques on the war memorial, I entered the churchyard by the north-east entrance and was immediately attracted to another memorial that lies behind the Leeds Rifles memorial

The BNTVA memorial at Leeds Minster

This simple memorial is dedicated by the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association to the victims of the various nuclear tests undertaken by the British Services from 1952 to 1991 and, having a very good friend from Hiroshima, this proved to be a very poignant moment. Unknown to me at the time, it had been recently cleaned in preparation for a re-dedication service that took place only a few days before my visit.

A detail of a wreath laid at the BNTVA memorial

The East Bar at Leeds Minster

A blue plaque indicating the position of the East Bar

Taking advantage of the continuing good weather in October 2018 – after a very productive trip to Ashford-in-the-Water – my next day out coincided with a planned trip to the Manifold Valley with the Sheffield U3A Geology GroupOn this occasion, I was a bit disorganised and I was unable to obtain a lift but, being determined to go out, I decided to take another trip to Leeds – this time using The Building Stone Heritage of Leeds to guide me around. 

The Building Stone Heritage of Leeds

I have visited Leeds many times in the past 35 years and I know its principal historic buildings reasonably well, although I haven’t examined the building stones of any of them in detail, except Kirkstall Abbey and Leeds Central Library. Having skimmed through the book to find some other interesting buildings, whilst on the train from Sheffield, I decided to visit St. Peter’s church, which was rebuilt 1838-1841 on the site of four previous churches – the earliest dating to the 7th century – and renamed Leeds Minster in 2012. 

A section of walling with the East Bar and the Leeds Rifles war memorial

Approaching from the west along Kirkgate, with the main entrance to the church being beneath the tower that is unusually built in the middle of its north elevation, it would be easy to miss some of its interesting features – the Leeds Rifles war memorial and the East Bar

A general view of the East Bar and boundary walling to Leeds Minster

The East Bar is an inscribed block of sandstone set into a boundary wall that marks one of the boundaries of the mediaeval town. Although probably renewed when the church was rebuilt, it is made of a very coarse grained sandstone from the Rough Rock, which was used to build Kirkstall Abbey and has since been used in very many buildings in and around Leeds, together with finer grained sandstone from the Coal Measures

A detail of the East Bar

Apart from its historic interest, the section of walling into which the East Bar is set contains examples of the Rough Rock that have educational value. Students of geology are taught that the sediments that comprise the Millstone Grit were formed in an environment analogous to the modern Mississippi River and its delta, with meandering river channels frequently bursting their banks – forming temporary lakes

The walling here shows a block with coarse and fine grained sandstone

Out in the field, such as in the Peak District National Park, the coarse grained sediments with cross bedding are interpreted as being laid down in river channels but the overspill deposits are usually well bedded and much finer grained. I have seen many examples of both types of sandstone – in natural outcrops and quarries – but you very rarely see these together in a single block of walling stone. 

A detail of coarse and fine grained Rough Rock in a single block

When quarrying stone and subsequently using it for building, a fundamental principal of stonemasonry is that the individual blocks of stone should be laid on their natural bed in a building. To the best of my knowledge, it makes no difference to the structural integrity of a building if a block of stone is laid upside down, although it might look odd.

Blocks of Rough Rock showing graded bedding

For the field geologist, however, cross bedding and graded bedding – which is clearly visible here – are used to determine the way up of strata, which are often overturned in regions that have been subjected to mountain building events.

A detail of graded bedding in the Rough Rock

Friday, 4 January 2019

A Walk to Roche Abbey and Back

A view of the transepts at Roche Abbey

The last week in September proved to be exceptionally busy, with days out to the Longshaw Estate/Padley Gorge and the Loxley Valley, as well as an exploration of Fulwood and Ranmoor and a search for the tomb of Henry Clifton Sorby in Sheffield; however, when writing a brief report on these trips, in chronological order, I completely forgot about my walk from Laughton-en-le-Morthen to Roche Abbey and back with the Treeton Trudgers

One of the Treeton Trudgers from St. Helen's church

Living in Treeton, I had known about this walking group for many years but, being composed of retired people from this old coal mining village, where Londoners still seem to be associated with the terrible behaviour by the Metropolitan Police during the miners’ strike in 1984, I didn’t think that I would have much in common with them but, through my association with St.Helen’s church – where I organised the recent Heritage Open Days event – I had got to know some of its members and decided to give it a try. 

A view of Slade Hooton from Laughton-en-le-Morthen

I had been to Laughton-en-le-Morthen a couple of times during 2016, when exploring the mediaeval churches in and around Rotherham, and I had visited Roche Abbey several times. Back in 1994, as a member of the South Yorkshire RIGS (Regionally Important Geological Sites) Group, I had also led a walk for the general public here, to demonstrate the use of the Magnesian Limestone as a building stone. 

The geology around Laughton-en-le-Morthen and Roche Abbey

Having viewed this area on a geological map numerous times, I was particularly curious to know what the topography between these places was like, with the outlier of Magnesian Limestone upon which Laughton is set being separated from the main escarpment by Upper Coal Measures strata that mainly comprise mudstone and siltstone, with some sandstone. 

A view of the rear of Slade Hooton Hall

I had briefly driven through the area very many years before I became involved with the conservation of its geology – and clearly remembered the magnificent Slade Hooton Hall – but I could recall little else about this hamlet

Stepping stones below the overflow to Laughton Pond

Being part of a group and following the leader, I only had the time to stop to take the occasional photograph along the route to Roche Abbey, which only skirted Slade Hooton before following Hooton Dike down to Laughton Pond – built by Capability Brown - before it joined Maltby Dike, a larger stream that occupies the limestone gorge in which the ruined abbey is set. 

The course of Maltby Dike through Roche Abbey

Having delegated the survey of the old quarries in King's Wood to another less experienced member of the South Yorkshire RIGS Group, I would have liked to have further explored the area on my own but I had to be content with 10 minutes to take some general photographs of the abbey and the limestone crags, when we stopped at Roche Abbey for lunch. 

General views of the dolomitic limestone crags at Roche Abbey

The crags to the north of the abbey are formed by dolomitic limestone from the Wetherby Member of the Permian Cadeby Formation (formerly known as the Lower Magnesian Limestone), where massive beds alternate with thinner, rubbly beds, which are generally differentially weathered to leave overhangs in places.

Differential weathering of the dolomitic limestone crags at Roche Abbey

On this occasion, I didn’t have time to find and photograph examples of the fossiliferous, oolitic/pisolitic limestone that can be found here – as also seen in Conisbrough and Hooton Pagnell – or various other points of interest that make the area around Roche Abbey and Maltby Crags a very good location for a geological field trip. 

A section of the dolomitic limestone at Roche Abbey

The ruins of Roche Abbey, founded by the Cistercian Order of monks in 1147, has one of the most complete ground plans of any English Cistercian monastery, laid out as excavated foundations a few courses of stone high but, compared to Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds, there is not much left to see.

A general view of Roche Abbey from the east

The only substantial remains left on the site are the transepts and the old gatehouse, which can be viewed from the path that runs past the abbey, and even though I only had a few minutes – before we headed off back to Laughton-en-le Morthen, I managed to photograph the principal features.

A view of All Saints church on the way back to Laughton-en-le-Morthen