Portrait of a Parish - Page 29

Mines and Quarries

Until 1967 Monkton Combe and Combe Down were one parish and much of the background of the quarries and mines relates to both areas. Many of the smaller stone producing sites were closed in 1900 and as some of the larger ones found their tunnels converging, they joined forces to become The Bath Stone Firms, later The Bath & Portland Stone Firms. Taking an overall view of mining and quarrying around Bath there were 60 miles of underground workings and three million cubic feet of stone were mined each year, much of it going for export.

The Romans were probably the first to make good use of the Oolitic Limestone and without this honey coloured stone it is true that Bath may not have been designated as a World Heritage City. It was used in the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey, and during Medieval times in the Henry V11 Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

But it was Ralph Allen in the 18th century who saw the true potential of the stone and he bought up local land, exploiting it to quarry stone which was used in most of Georgian Bath as well as Windsor, Buckingham Palace, Brighton Pavilion and in building abroad, especially the Commonwealth. Today the Royal Crescent Hotel is using it in the extension to its mews.

Throughout the centuries extraction was by hand, using picks, saws of various sizes, wedges and chains for pulling. When the quarries were fully working in the first half of this century, rats were a problem, attracted no doubt by the food taken in by the miners. One elderly Combe Down resident remembers seeing a "huge army" of rats running along one of the drungs. Quarrying and mining continued during the First World War, large stocks built up, prices fell and some quarries were sold for building sites. Greater mechanisation was introduced to cut stone after the Second World War and it is perhaps that, together with the war time bombing and the very heavy traffic using the roads built over the mines, which contributed to problems of collapsing roofs on houses in Combe Down. During storms in 1987 a tree fell through the ground into the mines below and since then there has been much discussion and surveys have been carried out to try and decide how best to stabilise the area. Today the most numerous inhabitants of the mines are greater and lesser horseshoe bats.

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