Building in Stone

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire


Local limestone is the normal building material in the area of the Hundred of Bradford on Avon. However, there are several old stone buildings that seem to have begun life as timber-framed, even close to the source of good stone. The sources of stone are around the western and northern edges of the Hundred, so stone building became almost universal in those parts. There are very few buildings of brick before the nineteenth century and they are very rare in Bradford itself.


The finest beds of limestone -freestone, that can be cut freely in every direction, preferably without bedding, faults, fossil shell and calcite veins- are accurately sawn into blocks of uniform dimensions for use in facing buildings and for carved detail. The blocks are designed to fit together tightly with the minimum of mortar, usually lime putty, so that a wall appears to have been made from a single stone. This was usually only a skin on the face of coarser cheaper stone, or formed walls of just six inches thickness.

Rubble stone

This is not always as rough as it sounds. Squared smaller stone blocks are trimmed to uniform size and laid as ‘squared coursed rubble’. Unlike bricks, trimming was not done to standard dimensions, but to make the most economical use of the stone. So, frequently courses can be of different thickness in the same wall, where blocks have been trimmed to different sizes. Where a few large stones were available, they may be used across more than one course and called ‘jumpers’ -because they jump the courses. Less well-worked stone might be laid as ‘coursed rubble’, or very rough untrimmed stones that are not laid in courses as ‘random rubble’.

Dry stone

The usual construction method for making field walls- hardly trimmed flattish stones laid without mortar. This is usually of fairly hard limestone that is rich in calcite and fossil shells. Thinly-bedded stone that splits into flat pieces makes the most impressive walls, but was not always available , so walls had to be made with whatever was immediately to hand.

Decorative stone

The use of decorative stone as a thin veneer for cladding is not common in Bradford, but there is some use of serpentinite and granite in shop fronts. The greatest use of imported decorative stone is to be seen as fireplace surrounds and churchyard monuments.

Flooring, paving and steps

Hard dense stones that can withstand traffic, especially in the days of hobnailed boots. In this area blocks of hard shelly limestone, laid with the bedding arranged vertically, were used as setts in the streets before Pennant and later York Sandstone paviours were imported. Internally, there was some use of Blue Lias (Early Jurassic) slabs that were produced in the area around Street in Somerset, but these large and thick slabs were expensive to transport. Hard Lias limestone from the Keynsham area with large fossil shells and Carboniferous Limestone are to be seen as the risers of steps, as is Pennant Stone, which was also used for kerbstones.

Roofing tilestones

Some stone can be split into thin flat stabs for covering roofs. Local thinly-bedded limestone has been widely used around Bradford on Avon. Read more