Tuesday 9 August 2011

Upper Kennet News Landscape - The Stone Masons

Upper Kennet News Landscape - The Stone Masons: "In the mid 19th century stonemasons working in the High Wycombe area heard of the plentiful supply of sarsens in our valleys, and moved to Fyfield. Unlike the stones near High Wycombe, which had to be dug up from the clay, ours lay conveniently on the surface. From then until the 1930s sarsen became an industrial product. Its hardness made it ideal for kerbstones and tramsetts and huge quantities were bought by Swindon Corporation for the expanding town. One mason, employing six men, produced over 300 tons of cut blocks in a year. Their work was hard and their lives were short but their skill produced standardised blocks fine enough for West Overton Church (c 1850) and Marlborough College Chapel (1886). In 1939 one of the last orders was for four waggonloads of sarsen blocks to repair the walls of Windsor Castle; the original stone had come from High Wycombe."

Wherever the masons worked, the stones they rejected lie about where they were left, marked with indentations made by the pecker and cracked where chisels were inserted. The site at Totterdown above The Delling was the last to be quarried, from 1925 to 1939. It looks as though
the workmen had only just downed tools. It is the only place left where you could still go upon the stones all the way.

Each of our sarsen valleys has a different landscape quality. Lockeridge Dene is a favourite walk - our parish in miniature with a little of everything, valley, old grassland, and woodland trees. It may have supplied the Stonehenge sarsens. Piggledene is less accessible; a place to be alone in. Both are more enclosed than the Valley of Stones which has a remote, timeless quality. In Hursley Bottom the sarsens were blown up with explosives in the 1920s and crushed for road building. The craters remain and so does the concrete base of the stone crusher. A few survivors lie scattered among the trees along the ancient floodpath towards Clatford Bottom.

Source: N. E. King. The Kennet Valley Sarsen Industry. Wiltshire Archeology and Natural History Magazine
vol 65. 1970.

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