Building London – a ‘What is London made from and where did it/that come from’ blog!

Hi! My name is Glyn Harries and this last couple of years I’ve developed a keen interest in what London is, and was, made from, the bricks, the stones, the wood, the concrete and artificial stone, the metal and all the rest, and more so, where it, or they, all came from. So the brickpits and works, the quarries, the iron foundries and factories and the woodlands. Of course much of those quarries and factories are long gone but much is still to be seen and this is the journey I am on and want to take you on.

And so I will be both featuring the materials in their London homes AND their previous homes and the factories that crafted them. There will be not particular order to the posts, but I will introduce an index at some point.

My interest, while wide in terms of materials, is time restricted, from the Roman times, there is nothing before, to the early 20thC. And is again limited to the basic building blocks rather than for example more decorative stones which there were increasingly used from far away sources throughout the 20thC. This means I can trace most of the materials I am interested in to their sources in Great Britain. I am currently up to or so stones used in London and I will be tracing their paths back to their sources.

In terms of stone, London only really has one or two building rocks and they are clay [or brickearth] and chalk so while most of built London has over the millenia used the former, almost all building stone has had to be imported and it’s fascinating where they have all come from. The stones that I am currently working on, in terms of sites people can see them in London, AND where they are from these are the ones I have so far.
Aislaby, Ancaster, Anston, Bardon Hill, Bargate, Barnack, Bath Stone, Beer Stone, Bramley Fall, Caen, Carstone, Chalk, Chert/Flint, Chilmark, Clipsham, Clunch, Collyweston, Craigkeith, Darley Dale, Elland, Ferricrete, Furnace slag, Ham Hill, Hassock, Hopton Wood, Huddlestone, Kentish Rag, Ketton, Oland, Purbeck, Portland, Puddingstone, Quarr, Red Mansfield, Reigate, Septaria, Taynton, Totternhoe, Tuffeau, Weldon, Whinstone, York Stone [ itself from a number of sources] , Zig Zag AND the Granites Cairngall, Dancing Cairn, Dalbettie, Cheesewring, Foggintor, Guernsey, Haytor, Kit Hill, Kenmay, Lamorna, Luxulyan, Merrivale, Peterhead, Rubislaw, Mont Sorrell Grandiorite, Penmaenmawr, Trefor and many others!

And these materials are not just static building blocks. They are history encapsulated, not just geological history from deep time but social and economic history that within them tell stories of when and how London was built, of why the materials were chosen and who quarried, baked, smelted and transported and constructed with them. They all have stories to tell!

Lockdown and semi-retirement after 35 years as a gardener and horticultural lecturer meant I have had a lot of time on my hands and the last 18 months has been a flurry of research and lockdown London photography and I now have a vast collection of information about, and photographs of, interesting and important historical building blocks of London and information on where they came from.

While I have plenty of original research, in pdfs of Victorian construction books and numerous public research papers and historical and trade websites, I have dug out over the last 18 months I have also used a lot of information from the following outstanding sources and I would recommend anyone with any interest in London to follow them!
I will be certain to credit them if I use any original material from them and will probably often link to them for interest.

Vic Keegan and his amazing Lost London – https://www.onlondon.co.uk/author/vkeegan/
The formidable IanVisits – https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/
The always fascinating Diamond Geezer – https://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/
The encyclopedic Ediths Streets – http://edithsstreets.blogspot.com/
The Londonist which is always full of interesting stuff https://londonist.com/category/features/history
And above all Ruth Siddal and the UCL Pavement Geology team http://londonpavementgeology.co.uk and an example of her work here https://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucfbrxs/Homepage/walks/Embankment.pdf

N.b. One last thing to say. I am not an expert in any of the fields of geology or brickmaking or any other disciplines relevant to recognising rocks, or bricks, or metals etc!  [ My background is horticulture and I have a deep knowledge of natural history, especially urban, plants. ] BUT I am driven by an enormous enthusiasm and fascination with this new project and while I will not be dealing significantly with the science of these materials, and do not believe this project needs that, I will be most happy to be informed of mistakes and blogs will be edited with credit given! My interest is essentially geographical.

Nearly 100 years ago J. Vincent Elsdon and J. Allen Howe published their brilliant Stones of London, ” a brief guide to the various kinds of stones that have been used in this great city” with the proviso that I wish to ‘borrow’.
“The work is neither a geological text book nor an architectural treatise. It is merely a modest attempt to describe in popular language the nature and origin of the materials out of which this wonderful city has been fashioned”.

Also. Photographs are mostly my own, and those are copyrighted under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 – attribute and non-commercial use. For other photos and drawings I’ve made every effort to use CC and credit sources but if there are any objections I will remove.