Thursday 24th April 2014

Quarries and Mines

Coppermine chimney near Gallantry Bank, on the Sandstone Trail

Coppermine chimney near Gallantry Bank, on the Sandstone Trail

Cheshire’s central sandstone ridge is composed of layers of Triassic sandstone laid down more than 225 million years ago as either wind-blown sand or coarser grains and ‘pebble beds’ deposited by flash floods.

This variety means the quality of the sandstone for building purposes varies wildly, depending on how it was formed, the grain size, and the degree of mineral cementation binding the grains together.

Quarries

The best building stone is pale and hard, and well cemented. The Romans were probably the first people to exploit this harder sandstone, cutting it for their roads and buildings. Roman Watling Street, which crosses the Sandstone Trail at Kelsall, may well have been built with stone quarried from the ridge, possibly at King’s Chair, just to the north of Gresty’s Waste. The same quarry was later used to extract fine sandstone for the building of medieval Vale Royal Abbey, near Northwich.

Chester Castle and the Duke of Westminster’s Eaton Hall are built of sandstone from the ridge too, worked from quarries at Manley Knoll, near Manley, on the Sandstone Trail. The abandoned quarries were later used as a secret venue for illegal cock fighting.

Beeston Castle was built with stone cut from its own moat, while nearby Peckforton Castle was constructed with sandstone dug from its own dedicated ridge-top quarry, now lost among the trees on the Peckforton Hills.

Smaller local quarries cut for building stone for houses, farm buildings and walls occur all along the Trail. Much of their stone is softer and inferior but helps create Cheshire’s distinctive vernacular architecture recognisable by its large sandstone blocks and half-timbered, black and white houses whose timber frames often sit on a sandstone lower half.

Look carefully at the quarry faces, and you can still see the iron chisel marks left by local masons. Notable small quarries along the Sandstone Trail include those at:

  • Overton Hill
  • Alvanley Cliff
  • Manley Knoll
  • Hangingstone Hill
  • above Fisher’s Green
  • Ash Hill, near Tarporley
  • below Rawhead Farm
  • and close to Maiden Castle, on Bickerton Hill

Mines

Although Cheshire’s characteristic sandstone is a sedimentary rock, minerals in solution have percolated through natural faults in the rocks and been deposited as mineral veins. Since prehistoric times, these minerals have been exploited, most notably at Alderley Edge in east Cheshire, where clear evidence of Bronze Age mining has been found.

A vein of copper occurs along the eastern edge of the Bickerton Hills. As yet, there is no evidence of prehistoric mining. But it’s possible that the prehistoric hillforts that dot the sandstone ridge may be linked to early copper mining, smelting and metalworking. Clear evidence of Bronze Age metalworking has been found on Beeston Crag and it’s conceivable that the copper was mined locally.

Copper was mined on and off beneath the Bickerton Hills from the 17th century onwards. A Grade II listed engine house chimney is all that remains of the original mine buildings, which were demolished in the 1930s. Close to Gallantry Bank, the chimney can still be visited today.
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