Monkton Farleigh Quarry in 1833

Monkton Farleigh, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire


In 1833 the Wiltshire Court of Quarter Sessions was trying to decide whether the underground stone quarries at Monkton Farleigh were liable to pay the Poor Rate like other properties, but the occupiers of the land above the quarries were paying the rate already, so would levying the rate be taxing the same land twice? Quarter Sessions had to refer the question to the higher King’s Bench Court.

As part of the enquiry, a description to clarify the unfamiliar workings was added to the minutes of the Court.

The quarry is not open like a pit but is approached by a wagon way extending from the highway about 300 yards in length and communicating with an inclined plane at the north of the opening. The land, on each side of the wagon way in content about two acres, is applied to the purpose of depositing the rubble and waste materials from the quarry and is covered with them to such an extent as to be incapable of cultivation, the rubbish being nine or ten feet thick. A shaft was formerly sunk into the quarry but was found to be useless and is now filled up and the quarry is entered by a level. The freestone lies in layers about 24 feet thick; above the layer of freestone is a layer of rubble and ragstone and beneath the layer of freestone is coarse hard stone. A layer of freestone when once entered upon is followed out. The ragstone above, which forms the ceiling, being supported by pillars of freestone left for this purpose. One of the excavations pursues the course of the layer 97 yards underground.

The workmen work by candle light only; they are not common labourers but skilled in the business of excavating. It requires three years practice to make what is called a good quarryman and, though a new workman may be useful at the end of six months, it is not safe to trust him – skill and judgment are necessary in excavating the freestone particularly with respect to the pillars which are left to support the superincumbent soil.

The tools used are pick axes, pointed at both ends; wedges to split the stone from the rock; an axe for squaring the stone. Rollers and cranes are used to raise the stone into wagons and sledges to drive the wedges and rollers; saws are also used to cut the stone into ashlars or square shapes.

The first process is ‘picking’ which consists in tracing the layers of freestone; next ‘jadding’i which consists in removing the part of the layer which is loose. The freestone is then split from the rock and then squared.

Waggons are backed into the entrance of the quarry down the level underground to the spot where the stone is brought and raised by the cranes and rollers. Steam engines are not used, nor gunpowder for blasting, nor are there any air passages or funnels or gateheads. The passage is kept open until the stone is exhausted and then another opened.

The quarry is worth £300 to £400 a year. The greater part of the surface of the soil above the quarry is cultivated and occupied by another person who is rated for it.

We will let you know if we discover the outcome!