A (Very) Short History of the Bromsgrove Sandstone
Here at Building Stones HQ we are busily putting together an exhibition to coincide with our upcoming roadshow at Avoncroft Museum 26th-28th August. Here’s sneak peak of some of the research going into that, much of which draws upon the Reverend Alan White’s excellent historical paper on the Bromsgrove quarrying and brickmaking industry.
The Bromsgrove Sandstone was formed in a desert on the supercontinent Pangaea, during the Triassic, roughly 250 million years old. However in the interests of making this a very short history we are going to ignore the first 249,999,750 years of its history and start our story just 250 years ago.
Bromsgrove is possibly best known for the nail making industry that flourished there in the late 18th century, employing over 900 nailers by 1778 (Victoria County History, 1913, para 15), however it also had a long and illustrious although now largely forgotten industry of quarrying for building stone.
Notes about the parish written for a Society for Antiquities questionairre in 1774 state “We have…an excellent kind of sandstone in diverse parts of the parish…it is easily got out by manual labour…and it is easily worked, but being exposed to the air it becomes hard and durable as witness the church and tower at Bromsgrove thought to have been built about the beginning of the Reign of Edward the Third and yet there is not one stone that appears in the lesat to be perished”.
Due to the occurence of such high quality beds of building stone there, Bromsgrove has given its name not just to those particular beds of Triassic sandstone – wherever they occur nationally – but also to an extinct dinosaur relative found in the Bromsgrove Sandstone Formation in Warwickshire.
For a town so blessed with natural building resources Bromsgrove is not conspicuous for its use of stone. Nonetheless there are numerous examples, many of them ancient, of the stone’s use in and around the town. These include the aforementioned St John’s Parish Church, Grafton Manor, the churches of Upton Warren, Stoke Prior and Tardebigge. More recently – from 1858 to 1907 – All Saints, North Bromsgrove, St Godwalds, Finstall, Dodford Church and St Peters RC Chuch utilised the stone, in the lattermost case reportedly from a working in what is now the graveyard. According to White, census records show an explosion in the numbers of quarry workers from 1870 onwards, likely driven by the demands of church building and compounded by the fashion for imposing stone boundary walls around the Victorian villas built around this time.
The early ordnance survey maps of Bromsgrove’s Hill Top and Rock Hill areas give us a fascinating insight into a changing landscape at the turn of the century.
In 1885-6 when the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey “County Series” were being produced the maps reveal an active area of quarrying for the Bromsgrove Sandstone. Some quarries like Millfield (north of Fox Lane) had already lapsed and, although details of the face and trackways can still be seen, over the 40 years to the 2nd revision of the maps in 1927 we can see they are steadily filled in and built over with houses (later to be the victims of severe subsidence). Similarly the large wooded rectangular quarry south of Hill Top appears to have been partially filled and levelled to give a terrace for the building of the Isolation Hospital. Meanwhile many new delves are opening nearby. Several nascent workings from Hill Top to east of the hospital of Fox Lane, and one at Rock Hill can be seen on the 1885 map and we can chart their expansion over the succeeding 40 years.
While for the most part all traces of this once flourishing industry have dissapeared they have left a lasting, if largely hidden, legacy in the streets garden of the area. Many of the old access trackways have had their courses preserved as modern streets and passageways. These include Quarry Lane, Forelands Grove, the road and footpath from Fox Lane to Carnoustie Close and the alleyway between Rock Hill and Enfield Close.
Remains of the quarries themselves are sparser but there are large hollows still in the overgrown area and gardens south of Hill Top. The original worked sandstone face can still be seen along the north edge of Forelands Grove and indeed the entire block of houses along the street follows precisely the boundaries of the old quarry.
In this way the industry that once worked the earth here has left its hidden mark on the neighbourhoods that have succeeded it.
We will be running rock and fossil activities for all ages at Avoncroft Museum 10:30-17:00, Tuesday 26th-Thursday28th August.
For admission charges and museum opening times please visit http://www.avoncroft.org.uk/visit-us/.