The Stones that Built Grantham


Grantham lies in the southwest of Lincolnshire, straddling the London to Edinburgh Eastern main line railway. The River Witham flows through the town, which is bordered to the west by the A1 trunk road. With an estimated population of 44,500, Grantham’s architecture utilizes various stones, including:


– Architectural stone for wall construction and fine detailing

– Roofing materials

– Cobble stones

– Formal granite sets

– Paving slabs


The primary walling stone comes from the Ancaster group of quarries, located 7 miles northeast of Grantham. Ancaster sits on the River Slea, which once allowed barge navigation. Flowing east through Sleaford to South Kyme, the Slea meets the River Witham at a place called Kyme Eau. Navigable upstream, the Witham enabled direct access into Grantham.


Since Roman times, boats have navigated these rivers. Medieval barges, typically pulled by one horse or mule, could easily carry 30 tonnes of stone. Other propulsion methods included pushing by poles or rowing. In comparison, wooden carts drawn by four oxen carried just 0.65 tonnes at a similar speed of 2 miles per hour.


Notable architecture in Grantham includes St. Wulfram’s Church, built in stages from the 12th century, and the King’s School from the 15th century, which counts Sir Isaac Newton and William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, among its alumni. The George Hotel (18th century) appears in a Charles Dickens novel. Stately homes like Belton House, Stoke Rochford Hall, and Belvoir Castle were constructed using Ancaster stone and other local materials.




Early stone roofs likely used Collyweston from Rutland. Swithland slate, available from the 12th century until 1887, came from three quarries west of Swithland in Leicestershire. Grantham probably received some Swithland slate, but the arrival of the railway in 1850 facilitated the import of superior Welsh slate from North Wales at lower costs.


The canal, arriving in Grantham in 1797 from the west and linking with the River Trent, provided a good supply of river cobbles for paving streets and sand and gravel for lime concrete. Swithland slate remained popular for gravestones until 1887.




Local lime burning occurred in several places, including Ancaster, Dembleby, and Castle Bytham, producing quick lime for builders’ mortar.




The railway connection in 1850 brought granite setts (cobbles) from Yorkshire and other landscaping products like York flagstones. These replaced the basic cobbles previously transported by boat from the Trent Valley along the Grantham Canal and earlier by medieval barge along the River Witham and the Fossdyke Navigation, created by the Romans in 120 AD to link the Witham to the River Trent.


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