Building Stones of Natland

These notes and illustrations were prepared by John Fairhurst for a meeting of Natland Monday Club. They give a description of the origins of the stones which were used to build Natland.

John Fairhurst is a chartered civil engineer. During his working life he sourced and tested a large number of the sandstones used in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh. He identified sources of stone used in the construction of historic buildings so that they could be matched from modern sources for restoration. He is a co-author of the ‘Building Stones of Edinburgh’ published by The Edinburgh Geological Society with the support of the New Town Conservation Committee in 1999.

Written records of the sources of stone used for building are rare. Where they do exist they are not always reliable. Early structures reflect the local geology, utilising the nearest available sources. Materials used more recently are commonly a consequence of developments in transport.

1. Local geology - Natland on a fault line!

The underlying rocks are separated by a major fault which approximately follows the line of the A65 where it passes through the parish. To the west Natland sits on limestone and, to the east, on greyish red, folded, sedimentary rocks, which incorporate sandstone and beds of mudstone and siltstone.

Overlying is a layer of compact boulder clay of variable thickness, deposited beneath the ice during the last period of glaciation. This is shaped into low, elongated, hills known as drumlins, which are a feature of the local topography. Glaciers, moving southwards from the high ground of the Lake District, carried boulders and debris on their surface and within the ice. When the ice melted this debris was deposited on the surface of the ground, leaving a supply of potential building stones derived from areas to the north. A relic of glacial melting is a 'trail' of boulders, 'glacial erratics', of Shap granite, which passes through Natland towards Sedgwick. These stones needed to be cleared to improve land for agriculture and were utilised in early buildings and walls.
Erratic on gatepost
Erratic, Hawes Lane
Shap granite is easily identified by numerous pink crystals of feldspar, about 2cm across, set in a tough crystalline matrix. The stone is not easy to work and the boulders were used as found and are commonly seen at or near the base of walls and buildings. This example in Hawes Lane is about 75cm across. Some have been elevated to decorate the tops of gateposts.   
Helm Quarry
The sandstones forming Helm were exposed by glaciation, leaving outcrops that could be quarried easily. The rock has been much folded in geological time, giving many closely spaced fractures which could be exploited to extract for building. It appears to have been the stone of choice for some of the early buildings in preference to digging downwards to quarry the limestone.

2. Hawes Bridge - ancient bridge over the River Kent.

Hawes Bridge from south

The River Kent cuts a gorge through the limestone and this was extensively used in the reconstruction of Hawes Bridge, which was recorded as being in a state of disrepair in 1692 and repaired by 1704. Examination of the underside of the arches shows that the bridge was widened and a second, western arch was either completely replaced or, likely, added. I suspect that the original narrow bridge was approached by a ramp from the west and that this was replaced by an arch to reduce the risk of flood damage.
Eastern arch
Western arch
One parapet is capped with limestone but the other is capped with  Silurian sandstone which had been brought from a distance. Why? Large blocks of limestone could have been extracted from outcrops along the river.

Northern parapet
Southern parapet

The main structure of the bridge is a mix of cut blocks of local limestone and a variety of stones, probably glacially or fluvially deposited. There is little evidence of stone from Helm.

3. Marble Quarry 

Downstream from Hawes Bridge, on the River Kent, can be found the remains of marble quarrying. This is not a true marble in the geological sense but an altered limestone which, when polished, is a decorative 'marble' for building use. It is conjectured that the local limestone would have been buried at a depth of over 600m when hot, saline, iron-rich fluids at over a 100 C permeated fractured rock and partially replaced the calcium carbonate by ferric oxide, giving it a dark red hue. The affected zone, only a few metres wide, outcrops on both sides of the river and was discovered in 1790 on the east bank. In 1800, Francis Webster erected powered machinery at Helsington Mills to cut and polish limestone for sale as architectural 'marble'.

Marble Quarry
The location of the quarry can be identified from the public footpath on the east side of the river where it passes large blocks lifted from the quarry but still awaiting removal for cutting and polishing after two centuries.
'Marble' blocks
A fine example of its use, accessible to the public, is the fireplace in the Stone Parlour at Sizergh Castle. I am indebted to Margaret Reid, National Trust House Manager at Sizergh, and her colleague Barbara Pointon, who kindly took the accompanying digital images specifically for a presentation to the Monday Club and granted permission for their use. The images are not to be used in a publication without the permission of the National Trust.
Stone Parlour Fireplace
Stone Parlour Fireplace detail

4. Early farm buildings.
Cracalt Farm
Natland Hall Farm
High House Farm
Cracalt, Natland Hall and High House farms are good examples of early buildings, possibly dating from the early middle ages but extended and improved since then. Note the exterior angles of the buildings lack the large squared stones of later construction, indicative of the restricted sources of large, easily shaped, blocks of stone. Timber lintels are slate faced, another indication that stone of sufficient strength and span was not easily obtained. The stones used seem to be from a variety of sources, mostly from Helm but including some from further afield, probably from glacial deposits. The remnants of stone flashings around the chimneys are higher than is necessary for the current slate roofs. Is this an indication that the original roofs were of thicker materials, possibly stone flags or thatch? 
High House Farm roof

5.    Canal bridges
Hawes Lane Canal Bridge
The construction of the canal north of Tewitfield from 1813 to 1819 brought about a major improvement in the movement of heavy goods. The section south of Tewitfield had been completed by 1797, using sandstone. All the bridges north of Tewitfield are of limestone, apparently Urswick limestone, which could have been obtained from Kendal Fell (construction of the northern reaches of the canal reputedly started from Kendal) but similar stone could also have been obtained from quarries in north Lancashire near to the route of the canal. In marked contrast to Hawes Bridge, the canal bridges are constructed of large, shaped, blocks of limestone.

6.    The coming of the railway
Helm Lane Railway Bridge
The railway crosses Helm Lane on a bridge of Urswick limestone of  massive construction which dates from about 1840.  It is possible the stone was brought from quarries adjacent to the railway near Carnforth. Although there is no evidence of quarries being connected to the railway, temporary lines may have been in place during the construction. In common with Hincaster canal tunnel brick was used to line the arch.
Railway Bridge brick arch
The railway network grew very rapidly in the nineteenth century and revolutionised the movement of heavy goods. The Lancaster to Carlisle railway was opened in 1846, only 27 years after the canal. The transportation of stone and particularly transhipment has always been a significant part of the cost. Railways provided a more economic means of transport than road or canal, particularly where branch-lines could be extended into a quarry and a construction site was near to a goods yard. The economies of scale favoured the development of large quarries with extensive reserves of easily extracted stone of good quality. 
7.    Natland Parish Church (1910):
The author wishes to thank the custodian of St Mark’s Church records for searching for the following extract from the architect’s specification for the church building and permission for its reproduction here.
The architect’s specification reads as follows:
“The new stone for rubble may be procured from the Helm Quarry or any other approved quarry.
For external facing of walls from approved Lancaster quarry, selected of varied colour and iron marked, for internal facing from Lancaster or Ellel Cragg (not grainstone) for dressings from Darley Dale selected of red brown to white mixed.
The whole selected perfectly free from cracks, rinds, flaws clayholes or other defects and every stone where practicable to be set on its natural or quarry bed.”
It is unusual to find such a clear specification surviving, moreover the builders appear to have followed the specification. Stone from Helm Quarry is not apparent and was presumably intended only for foundations and rubble cores of thick walls and columns. The distinction between Helm Quarry, with a capital, and Lancaster quarry, lower case, is probably deliberate because several quarries worked what became known as Lancaster stone.
Former quarry face
The most productive Lancaster quarry was Lancaster Moor which provided much of the stone for Lancaster prior to 1850.  Thirty years later landscaping had been completed to form Williamson Park. Former quarry faces are features and samples of the stone are scattered throughout the park.
‘Scotch’ and ‘Primrose’ quarries nearby may still have been producing Lancaster stone in 1910 and, situated only about 300 metres from the canal may have provided stone for Natland Parish Church, the stone being brought to Natland by canal.
Lancaster Town Hall - columns of Darley Dale sandstone, walls of 'Lancaster' sandstone
However, the building of Lancaster Town Hall was contemporaneous with the building of St Mark’s. The source of stone for the Town Hall is reliably recorded as Longridge where the outcrops of Pendle Grit sandstone, geologically the same stratum as ‘Lancaster sandstone’, were extensively quarried. The quarries at Longridge were served by a standard gauge railway line, initially worked by horses. The line ran to Preston and dressing sheds where the stone could be cut and, from the middle of the 19th century, stone could be delivered by rail to Oxenholme. This was more economic than using the canal which was a much more expensive means of transport and involved two transhipments.
Natland Parish Church; quoins of Darley Dale and coursed rubble walls of 'Lancaster' sandstone.
In common with Lancaster Town Hall, stone from Darley Dale was specified for the dressings; the external cills, pilasters and ornamentation. This fine-grained, buff freestone could be obtained in sufficiently long, flaw-free, pieces to be used for dressings and was suitable for shaping by hand. It also could be conveniently transported by rail from a quarry near Matlock in Derbyshire to Lancaster and Oxenholme. The third sandstone mentioned, Ellel Cragg, is from near Galgate. It lies in a different stratum (the Hebden Formation) and is geologically younger than ‘Lancaster’ stone but has similar properties and appearance. The quarry, although nearer than Longridge, was not served by a railway and its selection may be attributed to the architects’ recent experience of its satisfactory use by them for Ellel parish church and its similarity to ‘Lancaster’ stone. When demand for stone was high, as it appears to have been in 1910, it was useful to nominate a similar stone from elsewhere to ensure continuity of supply and consistency of appearance.
Mix of smooth ashlar and rock-faced stones in tower
There is another intriguing puzzle about the external stonework of the church. Apart from the dressings of smooth ashlar finish, the stonework is generally coursed, squared rubble, rock faced. This is in keeping with the architects’ specification for the use of stone of varied colour and iron marked which, in conjunction with the rough finish, gives a pleasing vernacular style appropriate for a country church. Why then do blocks of smooth ashlar appear high in the tower? There appears to be neither aesthetic nor structural reason. Where these blocks prepared for another contract and surplus or delivered by mistake?
8.    Limestone from Kendal Fell.
Windy Brow (now Grassgarth and Greengarth)
The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw the construction of houses like the vicarage and Windy Brow in coursed, squared, rubble limestone, probably from the quarries on Kendal Fell, and smooth ashlar dressings of sandstone around windows and porches. In contrast Brough Fold, 1910, is in Arts and Crafts style with a rendered finish. The gate pillars are of the dark red Helm sandstone but are topped by capstones and spheres of medium-grained red sandstone which is also used for the stonework around the door. This appears to be Penrith sandstone, a very durable freestone, which is worked to the present day around Lazonby.