25: Kentish Rag Pt2 – Fox’s Quarry and the Loose Valley near Maidstone.

25: Kentish Rag Pt2 – Fox’s Quarry and the Loose Valley near Maidstone.
Quarry face in Fox’s Quarry, Loose. Note the Ragstone sticking out where the sandy Hassock layers have been washed away.

In the previous post I, hopefully, have showed how important Kentish Ragstone is to building London, and, as part of the objective of this blog is to trace London’s building materials to their source, a few months ago I visited a number of abandoned quarries near Maidstone, and I have more visits planned.   

The quarries in and around Maidstone have 4 rough periods of work. The Roman period documented exceptionally by Simon Elliott, the mediaeval period of which it’s use for London churches dominates, the Victorian period, again for mainly church building and the later 20thC when most of the extraction is sadly just for roadstone.

While Simon Elliott has shown where the Romans quarried there is little physical evidence of quarry faces as there has been 100s more years quarrying at the sites they quarried. There is though evidence on a much bigger scale! [ See below] [1] [2]

There is though much more evidence of later quarrying, medieval to an extent but more significantly of 19th and early 20thC quarrying and so I went searching.

Quarry face at Fox’s Quarry, Loose.

I visited the Loose Valley to the south of Maidstone and a village called The Quarries in the Boughton Monchelsea area and was able to see a lot of evidence of quarrying, and almost certainly for stone to be used in building London as that was the main market.

“There is evidence that in the wider area, Boughton as a whole was part of a major Romano-British estate with the ragstone quarries being first worked at this time. Ragstone was used in Roman times, as later, not only locally but also in London where the Roman city walls were built of it.” [3]

“Boughton Monchelsea was an agricultural settlement with several ragstone quarries which had been worked since Roman times, making use of the river Medway to keep London supplied with building stone. Maidstone architect, John Whichcord, regarded them as “the best ragstone quarries in Kent”. By the 1720s farming had come to predominate in the area as hops, fruit and corn were grown for sale locally and in London. Although the decline of quarrying in the area can be traced to this time, with larger quarries opening elsewhere, the extraction of ragstone from these quarries continued until the 1930s.” [4]

View north exiting Quarry Wood into The Quarries. See centre, back, an old quarry face. Most of the houses have quarry faces at their rear.

Simon Elliott investigated Roman settlements in the Loose valley and their connection with the London Ragstone quarrying in “When the Romans Occupied the Loose Valley” [5]

The main quarry I was able to get into was, the one local historian Anne Creasey has identified as Fox’s Quarry, worked in the 19thC up the 1920s, but she notes that the wood it is in has been called Quarry Wood for 100s of years so it’s likely that quarrying took place here much earlier.  Maps confirm it was quarried in the early 20thC. [6]

This is the work of Anne Creasey in https://www.looseareahistorysociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Loose-Threads-No.2.pdf

She also references that 41 churches in London were built of Kentish Rag between 1841 and 1858!  [7]

At the back of Fox’s Quarry

The stone from the 19thC quarrying in the Loose valley may have been mainly produced for the Loose Valley Viaduct “…fine ashlar masonry is to be seen in the piers of Thomas Telford’s (1829) Loose Viaduct, which carries the Maidstone-Cranbrook road over the Loose valley.” [8] but I’m sure some of will have ended up in London!

Showing again how the tough, hard ragstone stands out as the sandy Hassock has been eroded, washed away.

The quarry is of great importance for geologists “ … as one of the last remaining quarries located in the type area of the ‘Boughton Group’ of the Ragstone … a classic example of Kentish ‘Ragstone and Hassock’ lithologies that also shows features associated with cambering of strata towards Loose Valley, for example jointing, faulting and ‘gulls’…The abandoned quarry retains a number of features characteristic of Ragstone quarrying, such as a central over-burden roadway, overburden and spoil dumps.” [9]

The wider area in the 1934s showing Fox’s Quarry pushing down towards Filmer’s Farm. It appears to have been abandoned about that time or earlier.

Other quarry faces that are visible in the area are at Dean Street, Spot Lane, Mote Park, where there are also locked entrances to underground workings, at The Beams and I think in Senacre Woods, while dozens of houses in Chapman Avenue have quarry faces at the end of their back gardens. [10]

Simon Elliott is without question the expert on the Roman use of, and trade of,  Kentish Ragstone and has played a major role in identifying the Roman quarries. His research can be seen either in his opus on the subject “Ragstone to Riches: Imperial Estates, metalla and the Roman military in the south east of Britain during the occupation”  [11] but much of Elliot’s amazing research is also in the public domain in his Phd Thesis “Change and continuity in the exploitation of natural resources (such as stone, iron, clay and wood) in the principal areas of industrial activity in Kent (namely the Weald, Folkestone region and upper Medway Valley) during the Roman occupation.” [12]

One of the most exciting things for me is his ‘rediscovery’ of the enormous 2.6km long quarry that reaches all the way from Tovil, where there were recent workings, to Dean Street. While it was known locally and even called “the Roman Quarry” by some, Elliot has estimated that “The Dean Street site is bigger (at least in length), and in terms of human endeavour it can perhaps be spoken of in the same terms as Hadrian’s Wall” and one of the most important industrial sites in the Roman Empire.

There are numerous other old quarries to be found in the Maidstone area and there is one large modern quarry, Hermitage, operated by Gallagher Group, mainly to produce road stone but also significant quantities of building stone and I have a visit planned so watch this space! [13] [14] [15]

Finally The Quarries is also famous for the so-called “Battle of Boughton Quarry”, part of the Captain Swing riots, a rural movement against mechanisation or at least the unemployment that followed. Sadly it was not much of a battle and the landowners won, again. “In October 1830, following crop failures and political unrest, a mob of 500-600 men gathered in the quarries with the intention of marching on Maidstone. They were met by a small military force led by five magistrates and the mayor of Maidstone. The magistrates demanded their dispersal and the ringleaders were seized. When the cavalry appeared, the crowd quickly disappeared. Disturbances continued for the next two years with sporadic incidents of arson and machine breaking.” [16]

The Swing Riots were “a widespread uprising in protest of the mechanization of agriculture and other harsh conditions. ” in 1830 of agricultural workers in southern and eastern England “With respect to mechanization, threshing machines, which had been increasingly introduced since the end of the 18th century, had gradually disemployed a very large number of agricultural workers, since before mechanization the labor-intensive threshing process had employed 25% of all agricultural workers.” [17]

“It began with their destruction of threshing machines in the Eltham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830, and by early December had spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia. The first threshing machine was destroyed on Saturday night, 28 August 1830 and, by the third week of October, more than 100 threshing machines had been destroyed in East Kent. As well as attacking the popularly hated threshing machines, which displaced workers, the protesters rioted over low wages and required tithes, destroying workhouses and tithe barns associated with their oppression. They also burned ricks and maimed cows…. The rioters directed their anger at the three targets identified as causing their misery: the tithe system, requiring payments to support the established Anglican Church; the Poor Law guardians, who were thought to abuse their power over the poor; and the rich tenant farmers who had been progressively lowering workers’ wages while introducing agricultural machinery” [18] [19]

The Loose Valley and Quarry Woods is a lovely area to walk in and it’s exciting to know that you are in what was once a bustling industrial landscape, now returned to nature. The Quarries is unique in that the whole village has been built in what was once a quarry!  

Look out for Telford’s viaduct as mentioned above, and at the lower end of Loose Valley the various old mills, like Hayle Mill, and industrial workings e.g. at Crisbrook Meadows aka Little Switzerland! There is a public footpath most of the way from Langley Heath down the Loose Valley into Tovil. [20] [21]

Getting There:
Maidstone can be reached in an hour by public transport from either St Pancras International, via Stratford and changing at Strood, or direct from London Victoria.

References
[1] https://www.kentonline.co.uk/kent/news/what-did-the-romans-do-for-us-188634/  
[2] https://kar.kent.ac.uk/61960/1/186Simon%20Elliott%20PhD%20Thesis.pdf
[3] https://web.archive.org/web/20111002105428/http://www.maidstone.gov.uk/pdf/Boughton%20Monchelsea%20Quarries%20CAA%20Main%20text%20PDF%20APPROVED.pdf#
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kentish_ragstone#Boughton_Monchelsea_Quarries
[5] http://www.looseareahistorysociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Loose-Threads-No-13.pdf
[6] http://www.looseareahistorysociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Loose-Threads-No.2.pdf    
[7] http://www.looseareahistorysociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Loose-Threads-No.1.pdf
[8] https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/sites/default/files/archcant/1993%20112%20Kentish%20Rag%20and%20Other%20Kent%20Building%20Stones%20Worssam.pdf
[9] https://www.geoconservationkent.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=27&Itemid=21
[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spot_Lane_Quarry
[11] https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9781407316529
[12] https://kar.kent.ac.uk/61960/1/186Simon%20Elliott%20PhD%20Thesis.pdf
[13] https://www.gallagher-group.co.uk/kentish-ragstone-geology
[14] https://www.stonespecialist.com/news/stones-quarries/stone-sources-gallagher-kentish-ragstone
[15] https://ougs.org/london/event-reports/670/field-trip-kentish-ragstone-in-hermitage-quarry-and-maidstone-buildings/
[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kentish_ragstone#Boughton_Monchelsea_Quarries
[17] https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/ageofrevolution/riots/the-swing-riots/
[18] https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=4655
[19] https://heritagehunter.co.uk/researching-the-swing-rioters/
[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loose_Stream
[21] http://www.valleyconservation.org.uk/

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