Thursday, 10 October 2013

Investigating the Stone Quarries in Westwood with the Geology Group.

We braved the steep hills above Avoncliff near Bath, to view the rocky outcrops of limestone, the best of which was used to build the wonderful buildings of Bath and many bridges along the Kennet & Avon Canal.  The photos left shows us studying the limestone beds and searching for fossil shells in the fallen stone at Westwood quarry.   

I was lucky enough to find a perfect little shell, but as it was attached to a 1kg piece of rock, and was too heavy to carry home.   The quarries were intensively mined in the 18th and 19th century, and despite not being worked for a long time, retain several clear faces, showing the sequence of beds.  It is designated as a Site of Special Scientific interest.

Locked gates prevent access to the tunnels, although we managed to take photos through the grills and upset several bats, that as protected species, live in the old mine workings.

Fossil hunting under the cliff face.
The stone, which is flecked with rusty patches, is still occasionally extracted when a match is needed for the restoration of a building in Bath.   The old tunnels were put to use for mushroom culture and later, during World War ll, as a Royal Enfield Company factory making gun sights. The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum used the tunnels for storing treasures during the last war.

 Rocky limestone outcrop at Westwood.

The photo clearly shows the rock strata, with the best stone at the bottom, overlaid with stones of softer density.  The rock face is crumbling, so we spent very little time directly underneath the overhang,  for fear of receiving a blow on the head from a falling lump of stone!

Lunching at the "Cross Guns" near Avoncliff Aqueduct.

This lovely pub is one of the oldest buildings in Avoncliff, and the twin gabled central section is believed to date back to the 1490's, with the central inglenook fireplace being in the same style as those found at Hampton Court.   The East wing was built in the 1600's and this tudor residence became know as The Carpenter's Arms.   It provided sustenance for travellers and drovers using the ford across the River Avon.  It was later used by the quarrymen and millworkers from the local stone quarries and woollen mills.  

At the turn of the 18th century, the Kennet & Avon Canal reached Avoncliff, and a western extension was built  to cope with the additional trade.  It is easy to imagine the workers smoking their clay pipes, playing cards, drinking ale and whisky and partaking of snuff!   We did the same, but only drank the ale, although I had a drop of really nice cider!

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