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.


Jenny Woolf said...

How interesting. I am afraid I cannot help though. I particularly like looking at walls which have been created using a mixture of materials. There is a really lovely one in Kelsale, Suffolk, not in a church, just a boundary wall.

Christopher Rigg said...

The red sandstone probably came from the ancient quarry on the north side of Mill Street Packington. Christopher Rigg, Bennekom, Netherlands

Anonymous said...

The red sandstone probably came from the ancient quarry uphill of the water-mill in Mill Street Packington. Christopher Riff, Bennekom, Netherlands

Anonymous said...

Clearly there are tiles. The key test for whether a rock is limestone is to apply a mild acid and see if there is effervescence. The acid test, you might say :)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you all for these interesting comments. I didn't know about the quarry in Packington, as I don't know the area around Ashby very well, so particular thanks to Christopher for that.

Stephen Hodges said...

Tile inserts into masonry is a standard method of repair (19th and 20th C)as recommended by SPAB (Soc. for the Protection of Ancient Buildings)
See e.g. their book by A.R.Powys 'Repair of Ancient Buildings' pp77 - 81, in my 1981 edition.
And other publications of theirs.
The tiles in your photo. look modern rather than Roman, which tend to be a lot thicker.

Stephen Hodges

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen Hodges: Thank you very much. That's much appreciated. As not everyone looks at these comments, I'll add a note to the post.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

In the Deerhurst book The Discovery of an Anglo-Saxon Painted Figure & 86ff there is a very interesting analysis of the "petrology" of the church east wall. To my surprise, some of these stones came from a distance e.g. Arden Sandstone, Pennant Sandstone. Also, lots of MIXED materials in the c.680 wall at Brixworth, Northants - AND NOT the local orange limestone! The tiles at Ashby-d-l-Z look like Midlands roofing tiles of the modern period. The red sandstone is a lousy building material and needs a lot of restoration over the centuries cf. several churches in Warwickshire.