"Local Geology & It's Influence on Building"

February 2005 Meeting Report

Guest Speaker - Dr Graham Lott


The February 2005 meeting of the Keyworth & District Local History Society was held in The Centenary Lounge, Keyworth on 7th February 2005. Our guest speaker for the evening was Dr Graham Lott who gave the Society a talk on “Local Geology & It’s Influence on Building”. The meeting was exceptionally well attended, there being no spare seats remaining when the meeting commenced at 7.30pm. The presentation was in the form of a talk accompanied with a slide show.

The thread of the presentation was basically which materials have been used throughout Great Britain since man began to construct buildings from stone rather than mud and wood.  Today there are approximately 400 quarries throughout the country to supply the demands of the building industry. Until the advent of the modern brick and concrete industries there were a great many more quarries, at their peak there were probably as many as 10,000 individual quarries supplying local building requirements. Before the advent of an integrated transport system it was very difficult and expensive to move heavy materials for anything but relatively short distances. The exception to this was where a quarry was situated adjacent to the sea or a navigable river. York is a good example of such a centre for the distribution of locally quarried stone. With the coming of canals stone could be economically delivered to anywhere on the canal network. By the advent of the railway age quarries were in decline due to the mass production of brick making as a material for house building. Prior to the industrial revolution virtually all building was made from locally available building materials. Thus various localities had their own very distinct types of buildings.

When viewed on a geological basis the British Isles have a distinct pattern of rocks. The oldest rocks are to be found in the north and as you travel south the rocks become younger. Thus the oldest rocks, and consequently the hardest, are to be found in Scotland. These rocks were laid down in the Pre-Cambrian period and are exceptionally hard. The famous Scottish granite is an example of this material. These rocks were laid down around 500 million years ago and whilst making a very durable building material they are extremely hard to cut and work. The nearest thing locally to this material is the famous Swithland slate. The slate was used extensively locally for roofing but is probably more famous for it’s use in graveyards as headstones. Polishing the fronts of the stones was a very laborious exercise, so much so that virtually all the headstones were left rough on the reverse side, (a good indicator of Swithland slate).

Travelling south we go through belts of sandstone laid down around 360 to 300 million years ago. One of the most famous examples of sandstone can be found, surprisingly, at Stonehenge. The sandstone there is very, very hard. Next travelling south a belt of magnesium limestone is encountered. This was laid down around 300 to 250 million years ago. Nottingham’s Bulwell stone is an example of this. There are a great many colour variations in this stone, all of which are dependant on the amount of iron in the ground. The Houses of Parliament are a classic example of building in magnesium limestone. The construction took from 1835 to 1852 during which time quarries in Mansfield and Bolsover were working at full capacity to meet the demands of the project.

The next stone to be encountered in our journey south is sandstone. Much of Nottingham is built on this rock. The rocks were laid down around 250 to 200 million years ago and are relatively soft. The tower of Keyworth Parish Church is build from sandstone laid down Triassic period. Sherwood sandstone is a famous example of this rock. Parts of Nottingham are also built on Lias Limestone. Limestone is the next type of rock to be encountered travelling south. This was mined extensively in the Vale of Belvoir particularly around Holwell. Some of the buildings in and around Holwell look particularly handsome in the local stone.

There are always exceptions to every rule and Norfolk is the exception here. The rocks in Norfolk are flint, old and very hard indeed. Their extensive use as a building material gives East Anglia a very distinct style. Some of the flints have been “knapped”, i.e. shaped, and very attractive they look too. Chalk is the next type of rock to be encountered in the journey south. The chalk beds were laid down in the Cretaceous period between 145 and 65 million years ago. They are amongst the newest and softest rocks to be found in Great Britain. The world famous White Cliffs of Dover and the South Downs are classic examples of this rock.

All of the rocks mentioned have been used as building materials and have shaped the individual style of the locality to which they belong. In many ways it is very sad that this individuality has all but disappeared. The advent of mass production brick making has made for a uniform building medium virtually throughout the land. Gone are the days when you could tell where you were by the materials that buildings were constructed from. All in all Dr Lott’s talk was highly informative and very enjoyable, not to say very educational as well.