Saturday, March 7, 2015
Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire
Geologist wanted: apply within
When I passed through Ashby de le Zouch last year it was quite late in the day. There was time only to ponder an interesting shop front, have a high-speed browse in a bookshop, and walk around the town in the gathering dusk. The impressive parish church, St Helen’s, was open, but it was virtually dark in there and I made a mental note to return; and I had to be content with jumping and stretching in front of a stone wall to try to see bits of the castle.
Looking at the outside of the church, one thing that struck me was the interesting mix of building materials. My photograph shows a section of the west wall of the tower, which is part of the original 15th-century structure. Geology is not my métier, and I’m not sure what is going on with the materials here. The red stone is fairly obviously local sandstone; the grey stone I thought must be limestone,* although there are local sandstones with a greyer or yellowish tint, so it may be one of those. There are also bits of infill in what look like reused tiles. In the first version of this post I wondered if these could be Roman tiles, but a reader (see the Comments section) quite rightly points out that they're too thin to be Roman tiles, and represent relatively modern repairs.
A bit of research, online and in books, hasn’t thrown up any clear answers to the question of the stone.§ Various sources refer to the building as a sandstone church (which it is, predominantly); one or two say “limestone and sandstone”.† If anyone knows more about the various origins of this rich and colourful array of building materials, I’d be very pleased to hear from them.
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*The Resident Wise Woman, who has been, in her time, a keen collector of fossils, also thought it looked like limestone.
§English Heritage’s informative Building Stone Atlases for Leicestershire and the neighbouring counties show mostly sandstones in this area, although there’s a patchwork of other stones in small quantities.
†Some architectural sources, such as Pevsner and the building’s official listing, barely mention materials at all. Architectural historians are often at sea when it comes to geology.