60: Barnack stone, one of the earliest stones to be shipped to London

Barnack stone at the John Watson collection in Cambridge

Barnack stone, as mentioned in the previous Building London post, on London’s Roman wall,  has been used in England since Roman times. It is a limestone from in and around the village of Barnack, now in Cambridgeshire, but historically in Northamptonshire. [1]  

Barnack stone generally refers to a rock from around 170 million years ago in the Middle Jurassic and categorised as of the “Inferior Oolite Group. Upper Lincolnshire Limestone Formation…A coarse textured, hard, shelly, oolitic limestone cemented with sparry calcite. The rock contains alternating layers of ooliths of varying sizes and of shells (commonly up to 5mm in size) so it appears banded on weathered surfaces. It is poorly sorted with a rough feel (Parsons 1990: 22).” [2]

Barnack stone at the John Watson collection. You can see it’s very rough and shelly.

Jennifer Alexander, in her work on East Midlands building stone, refers to 3 differentypes of Barnack stone, that last one the most seen and used. “The Barnack stone was in three deposits, a hard walling stone, a limited amount of fine textured oolite and the famous ragstone that was in use throughout the quarries’ working period as building stone. This was a ragstone that could be faced and used as ashlar. The rag was a coarsely bedded and coarse grained freestone mostly composed of rounded or concretionary coated shells or fragments bonded by carbonate of lime” [3]

Barnack stone at the John Watson collection

Dr Oliver Rackham, more famous for his brilliant work on the history of woodlands, [4]  notes two types, Rag and Freestone, in his work on Corpus Christi college in Cambridge. “The facing stone of the Old Court is a golden-yellow limestone, full of fossil shells and split into slabs which are laid in the characteristic ‘ragstone’ manner… It covers the outer walls, but its wonderful colour can be appreciated only in spots where the sooty filth has been washed off by leaks from gutters. … This stone, much used by the builders of St Bene’t’s Church 300–400 years before, came from Barnack in Northamptonshire … 68 miles away by the Fenland waterways… The other and much more famous Barnack stone is one of the two chief medieval building-stones all over East Anglia and the east Midlands. It is also a shelly limestone, but a freestone – it can be cut in any direction. In Corpus, this magnificently durable stone is used sparingly in exposed places, such as quoins and offsets…” [5]

Middle Jurassic  Upper  Lincolnshire Limestone Formation

The Cambridgeshire Building Stones Atlas however suggest that Barnack may refer to something wider “… we are employing the name Barnack Stone in a very broad sense and even when applied to stone used in buildings in Barnack village (and presumably sourced from local Barnack quarries), it encompasses a continuum of limestone lithologies that elsewhere might be (erroneously) named Ketton Stone, Kings Cliffe Stone or Weldon Stone, for example.” [6]

Barnack stone was not just used as a building stone but also used significantly for monumental and religious work for the Romans and into the medieval period  “The high-quality stone from the quarry gave rise to the Barnack sculpture workshop, which produced a distinctive range of medieval cross slabs which were exported across eastern England, often characterised by the use of a ‘double-omega’ symbol” [7]

The Hedda Stone, of Barnack stone, at Peterborough Cathedral. Whilst having a 870 date carved onto it and said to commemorate the slaughter of Hedda by the Vikings, the stone has more recently been dated to Roman times. https://peterboroughcathedral.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/tales-from-tour-guides-24/
Barnack stone from the Hills and Holes

Woodcock and Furness in their study of historic Cambridge building stone think that the Watson samples are not as shelly as typical seen in walls and thought, even taking into consideration weathering, that maybe this was quarry owners supplying their best stone! [67]
The stone, in the photo above, is more typical!

Where Barnack stone was quarried

Barnack stone was quarried around Barnack, and while the main and oldest quarrying areas were around Barnack village, there were other sites at Walcot, Southorpe and Stamford, all within a mile or so.

1) The main Barnack site was the Hills and Holes, just to the south west of Barnack village, on Wittering Road [8] but there was also a smaller sites in, to the south and, north-west of the village, off Stamford Road.

16thC map of Barnack showing quarrying in what is now the village. https://www.barnackparishcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Barnack-Neighbourhood-Plan-referendum-version-April-2021.pdf

2) Walcot: South of Hills and Holes and now in the grounds of Walcot Hall, [9] was another site as noted by Alexander [3]. A quarry and a quarried area, marked the same as Hills and Holes is marked in 1885. [10]

OS 1824 Map [ out of copyroght] https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-231924520/view

3) In Southorpe parish, and just over Ermine Street from Barnack, was another similar quarry, now the Southorpe Roughs nature reserve, that is show on a map of 1824. [11] [12] “Southorpe Roughs is a 9.8-hectare (24-acre) Site of Special Scientific Interest west of Southorpe in Cambridgeshire… This is a disused quarry which has grassland on Jurassic limestone. The main grasses are tor-grass and sheep’s fescue, and there are the nationally rare plants spotted cat’s ear and pasque flower…The site is private land with no public access.” [13]

Southorpe Roughs is the Old Quarries just west of where Erimine Street is marked. Copyright National Library of Scotland Re-use: CC-BY (NLS)

4) Stamford. Alexander also notes a “A quarry site at TF 036069 that was opened before 1796 was worked as a pit that was later found to be 10 m deep. This site, SE. of Stamford, is close to Burghley Park and presumably produced the same Barnack-type limestone” This site on the banks of the Welland would have been ideal for transportation. [3]

It’s not clear though why the Romans chose Barnack for quarrying. It’s siting is good for transporting stone, but were their outcrops of stone that initially were very easy to quarry, and that have now long gone?

When Barnack stone was quarried

The stone appears to have been first quarried in Roman times. Stone does not appear to have been used in England prior to the Romans, though neolithic stone buildings have found in the islands to the north of Scotland. Already accomplished in building in stone the Romans quickly opened quarries, for domestic and defensive structures.

Watson states“The Barnack Stone, which occurs at the base of these limestones in Northamptonshire, claims precedence, as regards antiquity, for building purposes. No doubt quarries in this formation were among the earliest worked” [14] while Francis G. Dimes states “It was one of the earliest of the stones worked from [ the Lincolnshire Limestone ] formation, which was known to have been quarried from at least the Roman period until the fifteenth century, when it seems to have been worked out.” [15]

The early 12thC front of Peterborough Cathedral, mainly Barnack stone.

J.M. Steane in 1967 stated “Barnack rag is a coarse textured and very shelly limestone well suited to the robust character of Saxon and Norman building. Its enduring nature can be seen in the fabric of Ely Cathedral, at Peterborough, in St. Benet’s and St. Sepulchre’s Churches at Cambridge. The quarries were the prized possession of Peterborough Abbey and the monks gave licence for other monastic houses such as Ramsey, St. Edmunds Bury, Sawtry and Crowland to win stone … The supply may have begun to run out as early as the mid 14th century which is not surprising when one considers the number of Fenland abbeys and parish churches with easy access by water but Peterborough is recorded digging stone there as late as 1453-4.”  [16]

The ruins of Crowland Abbey

We know that Barnack stone was used in the 8thC when Guthlac of Crowland Abbey forced the demons who had been tormenting him at his hermitage to quarry Barnack stone for his abode! [17]

Guthlac forces the demons to quarry Barnack stone for his hermitage. Centre drawing.

Frances M. Page, in a  ‘Paper read to the members of the Northamptonshire Natural History Society on the occasion of their visit to Crowland, July 18th, 1929.’ explains! “The coming of Guthlac, the patron saint, to Crowland in the eighth century, is one of the most picturesque incidents of early history, for there is an austerity and mystery in this first hermit of the fen country, seeking a place for meditation and self-discipline in the swamps which were shunned with terror by ordinary men.

“Then,” says a chronicler, “he came to a great marsh, situated upon the eastern shore of the Mercians; and diligently enquired the nature of the place. A certain man told him that in this vast swamp there was a remote island, which many had tried to inhabit but had failed on account of the terrible ghosts there. This island was called ‘Cruland,’ and none heretofore had dared to live there because of the demons and spectres that haunted it. In the island there was a grassy mound, with a cave in the side of it, and here the servant of God began to make his habitation”(1).

The middle section [ of the quatrefoil ] shows Guthlac’s dealings with the demons who came to torment him. Triumphant through the power of the Spirit, he chastised them with whips and forced them to cut stone at Barnack to build his cell. From these symbols arose the Crowland arms, three knives and three whips, quarterly.” [18] 

St Bartholomew helping Guthlac deal with his demons

The demons do sound pretty awful! “They were ferocious in appearance, terrible in shape with great heads, long necks, thin faces, yellow complexions, filthy beards, shaggy ears, wild foreheads, fierce eyes, foul mouths, horses’ teeth, throats vomiting flames, twisted jaws, thick lips, strident voices, singed hair, fat cheeks, pigeons breasts, scabby thighs, knotty knees, crooked legs, swollen ankles, splay feet, spreading mouths, raucous cries. For they grew so terrible to hear with their mighty shriekings that they filled almost the whole intervening space between earth and heaven with their discordant bellowings.” [19] 

Guthlac being tormented again!

And a late Anglo-Saxon documentbetween the abbots of Peterborough and Ramsey, “ … conferred on the later the right to obtain wercstan from Barnack .. The Latin version of the agreement makes it clear that the Old English [ word wercstan refers ] to dressed freestone” [20]

The ‘Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the Town of Stamford’ notes “The stone produced was a hard shelly limestone from the upper part of the Upper Lincolnshire Limestone. It was generally used as rectangular blocks, but sometimes large blocks and slabs were made into coffins, coffin-slabs and architectural features such as tympana (Butler, Arch. J. (1964), 111f). Shelly limestone of Barnack type was widely used in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, not only in Stamford but over much of eastern England whither it was carried by water.” but that“By the 18th century it was used only for inferior purposes; in 1825 hard Barnack stone was used to surface the Great North Road (Mercury, 10 June).” [21]

Alexander also notes quarries being worked in the 18thC and that some were used for quarrying for road stone in the 19thC. [3]  These were probably the other quarries, not Hills and Holes.

It’s also worth noting the large scale re-use of Barnack from Ramsey and Thorney Abbeys in the 16thC, as after the dissolution of the monasteries these buildings were knocked down and the stones sold.

Carvings on the west front of Crowland Abbey.

How Barnack stone was quarryed

Looking at the Hills and Holes it can be seem that the ‘quarries’ were, unlike many quarries, very shallow affairs. ‘An inventory of the Historical monuments of Stamford’ notes “The medieval quarries at Barnack were worked, as at Stamford, by means of pits, excavating downwards rather than horizontally.” [21] And J.M Steane notes aerial photography “ …  illustrates well the small scale and rather wasteful methods of the medieval quarrymen. Children play in the “hills and holes” where once the shouts and chipping of the masons echoed.” [16]

The Hills and Holes showing the somewhat chaotic quarrying

Where Barnack stone was used

Building London is essentially about what was used to build London and Barnack in fact only plays a fleeting role. But it was used very early so has an importance. We know it was used in the Roman defensive wall, London Wall – see previous post – so was one of the first stones brought into London and later appears in St Thomas’s Tower aka The Traitors Gate at the Tower of London. Some

Quite a lot of Barnack stone has though been found in London, but mostly used for monumental masonry, not as building stone. Barker, Hayward and Combe found a small amount of Barnack in London Wall, described in their ‘Londinium’s Landward Wall: Material Acquisition, Supply and Construction’ but it’s unclear at when that was used. [22]

Barnack stone in the 2ndC Roman London Wall at the Tower of London

Hayward and Roberts did find Barnack in the original late 2ndC wall at Tower Hill. “A quarter of the large blocks are from the Lincolnshire Limestone outcrop and include some late Roman Barnack stone” Later, for the 4thC riverside wall they again found Barnack, though apparently re-used from a local cemetary “…blocks of monumental masonry…” [23]

The small section of the Roman Wall and the remains of the Wardrobe Tower
It’s worth quoting this at length as they suggest this stone was “.. being used earlier than thought..” and shows that the stone had building stone, not just monumental usage from the 2nd to the 4thC.

“ … Three of the purpose-made chamfered blocks were in two varieties of cream-yellow freestone from the Lincolnshire Limestone Formation and alternate with the Carstone (Fig 9). The first, a sparry, very hard, shelly oolitic grainstone (Dunham 1962) is identical to Barnack stone from the Middle Jurassic (Bajocian) of Cambridgeshire. The second, an open textured yellow-brown oolitic grainstone, is lithologically comparable to Weldon stone from the Middle Jurassic (Bajocian) of Northamptonshire.

Both rock types are associated with Roman funerary and monumental projects in the provincial capital (ad 250—400) that postdate the construction of the Roman city wall. They are widely used in 3rd- or 4th-century Roman sarcophagi and in the frieze of the 3rd-century monumental arch originally sited in the Temple Precinct in the southwestern corner of the city (Blagg 1980; Dimes 1980; Hayward 2009; 2015). Their subsequent reuse has been observed in the late 4th-century riverside wall near Baynards Castle and as rubble in the riverside wall at Sugar Quay (Fig 1; Hayward, pers obs). They are also visible in the riverside wall between the Lanthorn and Wakefield Towers at the Tower of London. [ visible in excavations, not now ] This is an indication of their widespread availability as a construction material for late Roman building projects.

The incorporation of a late 3rd- or 4thcentury Roman limestone-type as purpose made plinth elements in this south-east corner of the 3km long Roman city wall (Parnell 1982, 92) suggests that either this stone type was being imported into Londinium during the late 2nd or early 3rd century ad or these blocks were inserted into this stretch of the city wall subsequently as a repair. However, study of the mortar (opus caementatum) around these blocks showed no evidence for repairs, therefore this stone type was presumably being used in Londinium earlier than was previously realised.”

And Hayward again states “Two examples of this sparry, very hard shelly oolitic grainstone (Dunham 1962) were identified in the plinth at the base of the east elevation of the Roman City Wall (Figure 16) . This was comparable to Barnack Stone of Middle Jurassic (Bajocian) of Cambridgeshire. These hard limestones are usually associated with late Roman sarcophagi and monumental fragments in London, an example being its presence in frieze elements … for the Roman monumental arch as well as the Screen of Gods in the temple precinct in the south-west corner of Roman London only to be subsequently incorporated into the 4 th century Roman Riverside Wall (Hill et al. 1980). This is the first time that it has been found in a plinth” [24]

The external walls of the St Thomas Tower, or Traitor Gate. The Barnack stone is said to be in the internal walls which are not visible. What is visible seems to be Kentish Ragstone, above, and Portland stone, below.

And later Barnack was again apparently being used at the Tower, at “St. Thomas’s Tower (Plate 135), also called the Traitors’ Gate, is the principal water-gate of the Tower. It was originally built by Henry III, c. 1240–45, but was largely re-built c. 1300. The base of the internal wall is in Barnack stone and belongs to the early work; the great arch, added c. 1300, is built against the earlier walls” [25]  

Tim Tatton-Brown though, in his seminal  work ‘Medieval building stone at the Tower of London’, does not mention Barnack stone at all. [26]

Barnack stone was mostly though used in East Anglia, near to where it was quarried and that’s worth touching on as much can still be seen in the existing and ruined cathedrals at Peterborough, Ely and Ramsey.

Barnack stone at Peterborough Cathedral

Peterborough Cathedral “… was largely built  [ in the 12thC ] of Barnack limestone from quarries on its own land, and it was paid annually for access to these quarries by the builders of Ely Cathedral and Ramsey Abbey in thousands of eels (e.g. 4,000 each year by Ramsey)… Cathedral historians believe that part of the placing of the church in the location it is in is due to the easy ability to transfer quarried stones by river and then to the existing site allowing it to grow without being relocated.” [27]

Ramsey Abbey was similarly built in the 12thC [28] and again the stone was paid for in eels! “… the right to Ramsey Abbey to dig stone both ‘squared and broken’ at the quarries of Barnack.  For this privilege the Abbey  had to give the Monks of Peterborough ‘four thousand eels yearly in Lent’” [29]

And the same for Ely Cathedral .. “The Cathedral is built from stone quarried from Barnack in Northamptonshire purchased for 8000 eels a year and transported along the river.” [30]

And it made it’s way around the coast too to Norwich for the cathedral there, though it is one of the lesser used stone “…Purchases of stone from Caen and Barnack, Lincolnshire, are attested by surviving rolls of the cathedral’s communar and pitancer… Of the Lincolnshire limestones identified at Norwich Cathedral, Barnack was widely used for building from the late Saxon period onwards, but newly quarried stone was unavailable from after the 15th century.” [31]  

Much Barnack stone was used too for early building in Cambridge, church and college: “The Lincolnshire Limestone quarries of Northamptonshire, Rutland and Lincolnshire supplied stone …  from the early medieval period. During the Middle Ages, Barnack and Weldon stones were frequently used. After the Dissolution, Barnack rubble and ashlar were brought to Cambridge from the former Ramsey Abbey and Thorney Abbey sites for reuse.” [32]

What could well be Barnack stone, in the walls of Trinity College in Trinity Lane

Barnack, after the original quarries were said to have run out in the 14th or 15thC, had a 2nd wind in Cambridge after the dissolution of the monasteries, when lots of Barnack stone was robbed from Ramsey and other abbeys, monasteries and priories. [33]

Nigel Woodcock in his ‘Building Stones of Cambridge: A walking tour around the historic city centre’ notes  “… the gable ends of Caius Court (1565-9) of Gonville and Caius College … are mostly of squared blocks of the hard, shelly Barnack oolite, the earliest used and most prized Jurassic stone. The Barnack quarry was worked out by about 1460, but after the dissolution of the monasteries (1537), supplies became available from demolition of the Fenland monasteries. The Caius Court stone came from Barnwell Priory in east Cambridge and mainly from Ramsay Abbey in north Cambridgeshire. Re-used blocks like these can be identified by their chipped edges and corners, and by the wider mortar courses necessary to accommodate their variable sizes.” [34]

Woodcock also notes it’s use in the Holy Sepulchre or Round Church of which ” … The round nave (12th century but much restored) is mainly of Barnack limestone roofed with Stonesfield limestones.” [34]

Credit Bryan… CC Licence https://flickr.com/photos/91049143@N00/27329497778

The stones were used in 3 colleges “Gonville & Caius (founded 1348) Dr Caius paid £254 19s 8d for Ramsey Stone and Purbeck marble for foundations and walls … King’s (founded 1441) for the repair or rebuilding of the Great Hall in 1560-1, costing £121 13s 10d … Trinity (founded 1546) for its first chapel, built from 1555. A record of the prices paid for the stone from diverse parts of the abbey, ‘casting’ down, carriage to the water side and carriage of the loads on to Cambridge are recorded in ‘The Demise of Ramsey Abbey’ by David Cozens, 1981.” [35]

The southside of the Trinity Great Court with undoubtedly some Barnack in the rubble mix. While this terrace is regarded as being built in 1597 there is evidence that it incorporates earlier stone work.

And while the Barnack stone at Crowland hermitage now appears to be buried [36], Barnack stone was also used in the abbey and is in open view very close at the extraordinary 14thC Trinity or Holy Trinity or Croyland Bridge, a bridge totally unique in England, being 3 sided and while built originally as a river bridge, over the River Welland, which also ran up the main street, like canals do in Smsterdam today, it is now waterless as the river, was diverted so it is now waterless, and so we can walk both over and under the bridge! [37]

And the Barnack stone which it is built of would have come very simply down the River Welland, the very river it once stood over!

Croyland Trinity Bridge in the early 19thC https://crowlandabbey.org.uk/history/


Barnack had a number of excellent transport options and that may be why it was exploited so early. The quarries were just south of the river Welland, to the east of Stamford, very close to the Roman Ermine Street and not too far north of the River Nene, and near to Roman town of Durobrivae [38] [39] where Ermine St [40] crossed the Nene.  

And so “Blocks of stone were transported on sleds to the river Welland and loaded onto barges on which they were taken down the River Nene and the Fenland waterways.” [41] and “The River Nene has been used as a transport corridor for thousands of years. Large quantities of building stone from quarries upstream in Northamptonshire and from Barnack have been transported by this route since Roman times” [6]

Crowland, and the River Welland in 1724 had Barnack stone shipped through
Croyland bridge, 1726. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_Ee-6-86

The Welland was actually diverted into Crowland, and then up the ‘high street’. “At the medieval triangular bridge in Crowland [the Welland ] it formerly joined two other watercourses. One of these was simply a continuation of the Welland to the south-west. The other was a channel which ran south-east…this re-routing of the Welland would appear not to be of Roman but Late Saxon date, for Crowland seems to be of relatively minor importance during the earlier period. In contrast, the Abbey was the centre of a large, highly productive and market-orientated agricultural unit, for which direct water transport would have been a valuable and indispensable asset. Early building work on the Abbey itself would have benefited greatly from the canalised course onto the island and the Barnack Stone said to have been used in its construction could have been ferried directly along the Welland virtually to the doorstep” [66]

Crowland in the Late Saxon-Medieval period, showing the Welland diverted into the village, and splitting under the Trinity Bridge P.P. Hayes and T.W. Lane https://eaareports.org.uk/assets/uploads/repository/EAA_Report_55.pdf

Jennifer Alexander notes Barnack stone being shipped from Gunwade Ferry at Castor on the Nene and it was better than the Welland as it connected with the Great Ouse.- “The river Nene was used to transport stone from the Northamptonshire quarries. Stone intended for Bury St Edmunds abbey was moved by road from Barnack to the river at Castor where a rood of land had been granted to provide access to the waterside. The gram was confirmed in 1222-26 by Abbot Alexander of Peterborough and recorded in the lost Precentor’s Register.” [3]

The Nene was also significantly bigger than the Welland and while further than the Welland, from Barnack, seems to have been more used. It seems likely in Roman times there would have been a wharf where Ermine Street crosses the river, at Durobrivae, and later there was a wharf at Gunwade, now called Ferry Bridge.

The section of the Nene were ferrying to London and East Anglia took place. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-231924520/view

There is some debate over the precise location of the wharf. “An area to the east of Ferry Bridge which has been suggested by Chisolm (2011) and Upex (2017) to be the site of the wharfs used to load Barnack stone onto barges for transport down river for building works. The traditional wharfage site was considered to be some 400m to the west and to the west of Ferry Bridge but Chisholm (2011. 174) suggested that this area would serve better the needs of the medieval stone hauliers to off-load their stone from carts and sleds onto barges for river transport...The hauling of stone from Barnack ceased around the early 16th century and this wharf area presumably was abandoned soon after this time.” [42] Two old standing stones, Robin Hood and Little John, of Barnack stone, may mark the site of the wharf. [42a]

To get Barnack stone to London either the Welland or Nene routes would have worked, and at the coast transferred onto ships to take them to Londinium, around the coast and up the Thames.

There are also a number of sites where Barnack stone has been recovered from sunken barges, or fallen off carts on the way to their destinations! Two blocks at Southorpe are said to have fallen off a cart during transporting, presumably from quarries at Walcot, [43]

And “Seventeen Barnack stone blocks, some weighing a ton each, were found – some with the remains of a wooden punt-like boat, when Whittlesea Mere was drained in 1851. Five of the blocks are displayed at Engine Farm. Carved into them are the mason’s marks identifying who was responsible for their extraction from the quarry and which was the weathered side, to assist the builders to cut and lay them on site” These blocks were presumably on route from Barnack to Ramsey Abbey via the Nene which flowed into Whittlesea Mere. [35] [44]

And further north blocks were found in Car Dyke where it is said “Medieval use of part of the Lincolnshire section for transport is attested by the discovery of a Slone barge carrying Barnack stone in the bed of the Car Dyke at Morton by Bourne.” [3]


Some of the abandonned quarries have become important sites of nature conservation. Barnack’s Hills and Holes has been long studied for it’s increasingly rare, alkaline, limestone ecology. It’s hills and holes made it unusable for agriculture and it’s ecological and historical value was recognised early enough to stop it being filled in and reduced to poor grade agricultural land, the fate of so many quarries.

A major study of the plant species was carried out by Ian Hepburn in 1942, and amongst other things he noted was that the sward was managed by burning, presumably to encourage fresh growth for the sheep who would have grazed it, and noted that it was a fantastic playground for kids, and had been used for tank training at the start of WW2, with less negative consequences than expected! [45]

Hepburn found that the site, as well as typical limestone grasses, had significant numbers of Pasque Flower, which flowers at Easter, hence it’s name, [46] and after, a variety of orchids, Pyramid, Man, Early Purple and Bee orchid, which continue to thrive to this day.

Pasque flower, at Therfield Heath, Royston, May 2022

More recent studies have found “Over 300 kinds of wild plants … on the Hills and Holes. One of the rarest plants found here is the pasqueflower, which blooms in April and May, alongside more familiar flowers such as violets and cowslip. The best time to see the flora is in June and July, when large areas are covered in pink, blue, white and yellow flowers. Eight species of orchids occur alongside other lime-loving plants including rockrose, wild thyme, quaking grass, and ox-eye daisy. Later in the year further species such as clustered bellflower and autumn gentian may be seen. You may also notice the tall brown spikes of knapweed broomrape, a parasitic plant which takes its food from the roots of greater knapweed … Barnack’s rich flora supports a wide variety of wildlife, especially insects. Several uncommon butterflies are found including marbled white, chalkhill blue, brown argus and green hairstreak. At night you might see the strange green lights of the glow-worm, which occurs in large numbers on warm summer nights.” Depressingly,  English Nature note of the 22 hectare site that “ This type of meadow is now all too rare: half of the surviving limestone grassland in Cambridgeshire is found at the Hills and Holes.” [47] [48]


And Barnack stone has a poem written for it by artist and poet Nina Steane, [49] whose husband studied the building stones of the region.


We have rolled in Barnack’s hills and holes, have hidden and found in the once fecund ground that bore Peterborough, Ramsey and Crowland.

We have touched the overgrown scars of the great caesareans that gave birth to Spalding, Sawtry, Ely and Barnack Church.

We have seen the stipple on the landscape stitched over with grass, dappled in shadow, a loose spread of blades covering the torn rag.

Here the quarry master sweated,  scappling the blocks as they rose to be shaped by the banker masons and laid in place by the walling masons far from here, over Car Dyke, across Whittlesey Mere.

Though the quarry has gone we have touched the stone, crisp and full of shells even when it is old and grey, in those quarries of the future, our present ancient monuments.” [16]


In London the only place to see Barnack, though it has to be assumed there is much stone in undiscovered Roman walls in the City of London, and maybe in other foundations of churches, is fleetingly at the Tower of London, the few blocks in the remains of the Roman London Wall by the Wardrobe Tower in the Tower of London. Though there are others stones in the Tower of London Building London was not able to locate the stones at Traitors Gate. The Tower of London is sadly very expensive to visit, unless you live locally, but it is a building stone heaven so worth taking the trip, and add in a London Wall walk! [50] Building London has other posts lined up on the Tower and it’s varied building stone.

Apart from a sandstone block at bottom right, these blocks appear to be Barnack, on the right and Welden on the left.

A trip to Barnack is recommended though and there’s a host of options:

Firstly see Barnack village itself, “one of England’s finest stone villages” built of Barnack Rag,  [51] as is Barnack’s highly rated church. “Barnack is one of those few churches where just about everything within and without is either unique or exceptionally fine. Is there any other country in the world that can offer architectural treasures like this in such profusion and with largely unfettered access? This site avoids giving star ratings to churches, but whatever scoring system one used, Barnack would be at the top end of the continuum.” [52] [53]

Barnack church F.L. Griggs etching 1914

You could visit Barnack as part of a tour of the Northants Lincolnshire Limestone quarry area, including the the beautiful stone built towns and villages like Duddington and Collyweston and Stamford etc and quarries at Collyweston and Ketton.

Or include a visit to Peterborough Cathedral, and even Ely Cathedrals, built of Barnack Stone, and you could add Cambridge in too as many of the older colleges have some Barnack Stone in them. [54] [55]

Or include Stamford and the incredible 16thC Burghley House, [56] not built of Barnack though but mainly of the slightly different King’s Cliffe stone. Burghley House was built for William Cecil, the Chief Advisor to Queen Elizabeth 1st in 1555-1587 and described as “The greatest Elizabethan house in England.” [57] “ … distinguished by its warm golden colour. It consists of cross-bedded oolite containing some laminae richer in shell fragments and a little cement, providing a high porosity.” … which actually sounds very like Barnack! [58] [59] [60]

Stamford is a stone built paradise [61] reputed to be “reputed to be England’s finest stone town is set in the lovely valley of the river Welland. Possibly the first conservation town in England.” [62]

And the Crowland Abbey and it’s Trinity bridge of Barnack Stone is not far, to the east, of Barnack, only an hour’s cycle ride! [63] The Barnack stone hermitage is buried but the abbey is still an amazing place to visit [64] and the unique bridge is open to walk over and under and touch.

And visit the Great Fen, [65] a remnant of the once vast marshes, lakes and fens and the stones found in the them at Engine Farm. [35]

Getting there from London

Heading soley for Barnack, and Stamford or Peterborough, it’s relatively easy to get to by public transport or car from London. It’s a great area to cycle as never that hilly! And once you’re down on the Fens, it’s flat!

By public transport, head to Kings Cross and take a train to Peterborough, which are very fast and take only 1 hour!

From Peterborough to Hills and Holes it is c3 hours walk but only a 1 hour cycle. Buses go to Barnack from Peterborough every hour.

Better, change onto a train to Stamford from Peterborough, a 15 minute journey, then it’s only an hour and 1/2 hour walk to Barnack, along Ermine Street and through Burghley Park. These trains are only hourly though.

For information about the Hills and Holes nature reserve see
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cambridgeshires-national-nature-reserves/cambridgeshires-national-nature-reserves and https://langdyke.org.uk/welcome-to-langdyke-countyside-trust/lct-es/barnack-hills-and-holes/ 
and https://web.archive.org/web/20070722131909/http://www.english-nature.org.uk/special/nnr/nnr_details.asp?nnr_name=&C=5&Habitat=0&natural_area=&local_team=0&spotlight_reserve=0&X=&NNR_ID=12


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnack_stone   
[2] https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/stones_ahrb_2005/cfm/Public/details/RockDetails.cfm?RockCode=BARNKR
[3] Building Stone from the East Midlands Quarries: Sources, Transportation and Usage’ Jennifer Alexanderhttps://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-769-1/dissemination/pdf/vol39/39_107_135.pdf
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Rackham
[5] https://www.corpus.cam.ac.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/the_courts_of_corpus_christi.pdf
[6] https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/download/EHCountyAtlases/CambridgeshireBuildingStoneAtlas.pdf
[7] https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/129547/1/Torpel_biog_PASSEDr.pdf
[8] https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/stones_ahrb_2005/cfm/Public/details/QuarryDetails.cfm?QuarryCode=HLHL
[9] https://www.parksandgardens.org/places/walcot-hall-barnack
[10] https://maps.nls.uk/view/114476078  
[11] https://designatedsites.naturalengland.org.uk/PDFsForWeb/Citation/1002252.pdf
[12] https://democracy.peterborough.gov.uk/documents/s31780/Southorpe%20Conservation%20Area%20Appraisal%204.7.2017.pdf
[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southorpe_Roughs
[14] WATSON!!!
[15] Francis G. Dimes ‘Sedimentary rocks’ inConservation of Building and Decorative Stone’  John Ashurst & Francis G Dimes Butterworth-Heinemann 1990
[16] ‘Building Materials Used In Northamptonshire And The Area Around’ by J.M. Steane 1967 http://www.northamptonshirerecordsociety.org.uk/eNpp/NppNo20_b.pdf
[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guthlac_of_Crowland
[18] In the Journal of the Northamptonshire Natural History Society and Field Club, Volume XXV September 1939 No.199 https://www.queens.cam.ac.uk/files/downloads/crowland_abbey_by_frances_mary_page_1929.pdf[19] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guthlac_of_Crowland
[20] David Parson ‘Review and Prospect: The Stone Industry in Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England’ in ‘Stone Quarrying and Building in England AD 43- 1525’ Parsons Phillmore 1990
[21] Sectional Preface: Building Materials and Construction’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the Town of Stamford (London, 1977), pp. lxiv-lxix. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/stamford/lxiv-lxix
[22] Barker, Hayward and Combe ‘Londinium’s Landward Wall: Material Acquisition, Supply and Construction’ https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/britannia/article/abs/londiniums-landward-wall-material-acquisition-supply-and-construction/7C12270731C5F30FA1C4BD5D89C0A104
[23] Hayward and Roberts  Transactions of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society . 2019, Vol. 70, p105-128.
[24] Assessment Report On The Historic Building Recording Of The Wardrobe Tower, Hm Tower Of London, Kevin Hayward for Pre-Construct Archaeology Limited November 2017 [ quoted with permission march 23 ]
[25] ‘Stepney’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 5, East London (London, 1930), pp. 69-101. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/london/vol5/pp69-101 https://www.british-
[26] Medieval building stone at the Tower of London Tim Tatton-Brown
[27] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peterborough_Cathedral
[28] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramsey_Abbey
[29] https://web.archive.org/web/20070310225412/http://www.ramseyabbey.co.uk/abbots.html#Alfwin%20Fifth%20Abbot%201043-1080
[30] https://www.elycathedral.org/about/history-heritage/the-story-of-ely
[31] https://www.academia.edu/11336345/Norwich_Cathedral_a_biography_of_the_north_transept
[32] https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/download/EHCountyAtlases/CambridgeshireBuildingStoneAtlas.pdf
[33] https://ougs.org/london/event-reports/543/the-sedgwick-museum-and-building-stones-walk-cambridge/
[34] https://web.archive.org/web/20140115221640/http://www.esc.cam.ac.uk/teaching/geological-sciences/building-stones-of-cambridge
[35] https://ramseyabbeyresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Pilgrims-Trail.pdf
[36] https://heritage-explorer.lincolnshire.gov.uk/Monument/MLI20551
[37] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_Bridge,_Crowland
[38] https://peterborougharchaeology.org/peterborough-archaeological-sites/durobrivae/
[39] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durobrivae_(Water_Newton)
[40] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ermine_Street
[41] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnack
[42] https://buildinglondondotblog.files.wordpress.com/2023/03/2767c-2018neneparktrustheritageauditpart2small.pdf
[42a] https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/robin-hood-little-john/
[43] https://democracy.peterborough.gov.uk/documents/s31780/Southorpe%20Conservation%20Area%20Appraisal%204.7.2017.pdf
[44] https://www.greatfen.org.uk/sites/default/files/2019-10/Last%20of%20the%20Meres%20and%20Northern%20Loop%20Trail%20Guide.pdf
[45] ‘The Vegetation of the Barnack Stone Quarries: A Study of the Vegetation of the Northamptonshire Jurassic Limestone Ian Hepburn Journal of Ecology, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Feb., 1942), pp. 57-64’ https://www.jstor.org/stable/2256689 https://doi.org/10.2307/2256689
[46] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulsatilla_vulgaris
[47] https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ukgwa/20140711133551/http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/barnack-leaflet_tcm6-36336.pdf
[48] https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ukgwa/20140712232502/

[49] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/213467060/nina-steane
[50] https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/visit/#gs.sq3nsr
[51] https://democracy.peterborough.gov.uk/Data/Planning%20and%20Environmental%20Protection%20Committee/20080304/Agenda/Barnack%20Con%20Area%20draft27%2011%202007.pdf   
[52] http://greatenglishchurches.co.uk/html/barnack.html
[53] https://www.peterboroughchurches.com/barnack
[54] https://www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk/history.aspx
[55] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peterborough_Cathedral
[56] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burghley_House
[57] https://www.historichouses.org/house/burghley-house/visit/
[58] https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000359?section=official-list-entry
[59] https://burghley.co.uk/plan-your-visit/the-house
[60] https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/download/EHCountyAtlases/Northamptonshire_Building_Stone_Atlas.pdf
[61] https://northamptonshirewalks.co.uk/walks-outside-northamptonshire/walk-145-stamford-town-trail-circular-walk-worth-a-weekend-away/
[62] http://www.rainbowglen.co.uk/stamford/tourism/index.htm
[63] https://www.heritagesouthholland.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/AOS-D-0151-Crowland-Abbey-Visitor-Guide.pdf
[64] https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1012410?section=official-list-entry
[65] https://www.greatfen.org.uk/explore
[66] The Fenland Project Number 5: Lincolnshire Survey, The South-West Fens by P.P. Hayes and T.W. Lane
East Anglian Archaeology, Report No. 55, 1992, Fenland Project Committee, Heritage Lincolnshire https://eaareports.org.uk/assets/uploads/repository/EAA_Report_55.pdf
[67] Woodcock, N.H. and Furness, E.N. 2021. Quantifying the history of building stone use in a heritage city; Cambridge, UK, 1040-2020. Geoheritage, 13, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12371-021-00536-0

2 responses to “60: Barnack stone, one of the earliest stones to be shipped to London”

  1. I feel you are being a little unfair to the demons – I’m sure some good health and social care could have helped them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Think you need to have words with St Bartholomew then! He gave Guthlac a ‘scourge’ to whip the demons!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: