to other regions in England, the quarrying industry on Mendip was
rather late in developing. Until 1890, most quarries were small supplying
almost entirely local needs for lime, building stone and road repairs.
The only quarry which got a regular mention was Doulting, a building
stone source since medieval times. By 1900, the only established
'industrial' operations were at Vobster, Vallis Vale and Waterlip
Quarries, and the production of building stone from the Jurassic
oolitic limestones around Doulting. It was not until the interwar
period when production really began to take off on a large scale,
particularly in eastern Mendip.
So why did the early development of limestone quarrying on Mendip
differ from many other areas?
Throughout most of England and Wales, even the smallest limestone
outcrops often attracted major lime-burning industries. Around Mendip
however, the extensive outcrops of Jurassic limestones and Chalk
to the east meant there was no need for a lime-burning industry
on Mendip to serve the surrounding districts. Lime-burning was therefore
small scale, but extremely widespread.
Secondly, access to key neighbouring markets was poor
or came late, canal-building enterprises failed and a reasonable network
of railways and tramways did not really fully emerge until after 1870.
For example there were two attempts to build canals in north Somerset,
one serving the coalfield around Radstock and one through the Nettlebridge
Valley. The latter, although sporting an innovative balance lock
(boat lift) device at Mells, was extremely short lived. Although
the Somerset Coal Canal did eventually link the coalfield to the
Kennet and Avon Canal, it was too far north to serve the Mendip rock
Thirdly, there were no local industries requiring significant quantities
of limestone or lime. Although there were relatively important industrial
markets such as glass making in Nailsea and Bristol, tanning in Glastonbury
and Street, sugar refining and chemicals in Bristol, in each instance,
there were nearer sources of supply of limestone/lime. The local
Mendip iron and steel industry was very largely based on recycled
scrap. That industry grew on account of the abundance
of water power and a significant agricultural demand; whereas some
iron and even a little manganese was mined, only very small amounts
of limestone would have been needed for flux.
Early transport. A scene from the 1890s at Waterlip Quarry.
Until the coming of the railways, Mendip supplied almost entirely
local needs. Bristol and Bath, the main towns which would otherwise
have tapped these resources, had ready access to more local materials.