Cambridge Stone

The City of Cambridge has no building stone of its own, sitting on Gault Mudstone, there is a small amount of chalk to the South East of the county and some Limestone outcropping to a small area in the North Western corner of the county.

Medieval Cambridge was principally built in Timber the exceptions being Ecclesiastical Buildings, Colleges, Large Houses, Bridges and the castle!

The principle early stone came from Barnack near Stamford and situated to the extreme North West of the county.

From early medieval times, Limestone was brought in from Lincolnshire to the North and Northamptonshire to the West via Barges on the River Nene and over various Fenland drains.

Car Stone was occasionally used along with flint which built many churches, but due to their nature most buildings would be either round or would have brick dressings and corner details, Flint would be either whole or knapped.

The South Face of Kings College 1146 was built of Magnesium Limestone from Tadcaster in Yorkshire. Some kings Cliffe Stone (Northants) plus a small amount of Weldon.

Large quantities of chalk were used in construction especially between the 13th and 14th centuries. Evidence of chalk (clunch) can be found in footings including the castle chimneys, boundary walls, etc. Also in the construction of St Johns College, Trinity College and in St Mary’s the Great. Chalk quarries were situated at Bunwell, Swaffham, Cherry Hinton Reach and Isleham. These were connected by canals making transportation relatively simple, the downside was that chalk has a short life for example most of the facing stone at Trinity required replacement after 150 years.

York Flagg Stones were brought in from West/South Yorkshire described as a fine-grained sandstone particularly suitable for pavings, flag stones and sometimes plithns.

A limited amount of Ham Stone (Ham Hill) from the Bridgeport Sand Formation described as a Golden Yellow Brown was used in the Masters Lodge of Trinity Hall and Westcott House at the Theological College during the 19th century.

There is evidence of Clipsham Stone from 1508 used for smaller details and repairs. No building was built or faced with Clipsham Stone.

Carpus Christi College was built from 1583 in oolite Limestone from Kings Cliffe Northants.

A small amount of Doulting stone was imported from Somerset and was used in New Court during 1883 at Pembroke College, Ketton Stone was used in the Western Library at Trinity College. Weldon Stone came into Trinity by barge in 1560. Bath Stone was adopted mainly in the Victorian Era for Church refurbishments as Ashlar, window and door mouldings. Portland stone was used from the 17th century to re face many public places originally built with brickwork. Portland would later become popular for high quality cladding panels and Ashlar (Formal Stone,) it was used in several universities and administrative buildings, e.g. The Cripps Building, St Johns College 1967.

Purbec Stone from Dorset was used in limited quantities and described as a dark grey Shelly Limestone used on the first and second counts St Johns College, Cambridge.

Ketton stone was popular from the early 17th century, and was also used to re-clad many of the public faced earlier brick walls.

Ancaster stone described as a streaky bacon appearance was widely used in the Colleges, Churches and Chapels. It was brought in from the great Limestone belt, part of which runs through Lincolnshire. Ancaster played an important role in the early years of Cambridge and was used in Kings College Chapel in 1480.In the 19th century Ancaster stone found favour once more across Cambridge including the Gothic revival chapel at St Johns College. The buildings of Tree Court at Gonville and Caius College. Following a fire in 1852. Trinity Hall was rebuilt in Ancaster Stone plus the re facing of Peterhouse old court. One later example is the medieval school at the Sedgewick Geology Museum 1901 to 1904 built with Ancaster Ashler stone. Ancaster was such an important stone that it became under Royal control in the 14th century due to the massive building project at Windsor Castle.

Flint came from the Far South West of the county and made up the early cobbled streets.

Roofs were generally thatched until 1619 when it was banned from the town. High status buildings favouring Collyweston slate from Northamptonshire or Swithland slates from nearby Leicestershire. Clare College was roofed in Collyweston during 1638.

From the 1850s Welsh slate became common and cheaply available following the opening of the railways. This caused the demise of the Swithland slate pits.

Kerb stones of Ignious Granite (Neoproterozoic) and Palaerozoic origin were imported from Charnwood Leicestershire and would be used for roads and pavements.

What happened to the Quarries that built Cambridge

Barnack stone could be described as the principle stone which built early Cambridge, unfortunately the quarry got worked out by 1460.

The Kings Cliffe old quarry in Northants and associated quarries were worked during the late medieval to post medieval periods. They have long ceased to exist.

The Weldon stone quarries were situated South and to the SW of the Northamptonshire Village. They covered 25HA, many abandoned quarries and shafts were still evident during the 1970’s in fact a small area was still being worked at the time. All is now abandoned!

Swithland slate. The quarries became uneconomical following the arrival of the railway mid-1800 and particularly due to the impact of cheap Welsh slate flooding the country.

Clipsham stone was originally quarried at 7 locations. Today it is available from two of these locations.

An area in Clipsham Parish close to the original big pits quarry and Hooby Lane Quarry Greetham. (See our report on the Clipsham Stone Quarries). Car stone from Norfolk is still quarried by two companies.

The chalk (clunch) pits became abandoned, some became part of a cement works which is now closed.

Ham Stone is still quarried from two pits on Ham Hill.

Ancaster Stone is quarried at Castle Pits Quarry by Goldholme Stone Ltd.

Castle Pits is the original Ancaster Quarry and is situated within a lost 32-acre Fort built by the ninth Legion in AD 48.

Doulting stone

After a period of closure, it is believed that Doulting stone is available once more.

Ketton stone is now controlled by a cement works. The Limestone blocks are available but have moved a considerable distance from the original quarry location. The stone may have little resemblance to the medieval characteristics of Ketton Stone.

Bath stone is available from two mines, both have moved a considerable distance from the original extraction locations.

Portland stone is still mined by 3 separate companies. Purbec stone is still available.