HISTORY — WEST MENDIP QUARRIES
The railway line along the southern foot of the Mendip Hills extended
from Shepton Mallet to Wells in 1862. It was taken into the Great
Western Railway system in 1874; the previous year, GWR took a lease
from CC Tudway of Wells to open up a quarry to provide ballast.
Serious quarrying apparently began here in about 1890. By the turn
of the century, Dulcote Hill supported two quarries — Dulcote Hill
to the west and GWR's Dulcote Quarry to the east. Between lay another
small quarry by this time, abandoned. As well as ballast, GWR were
also supplying to the general market at large during World War
In 1923 Foster Yeoman signed a lease from Charles Clement Tudway
for the land just to the west of GWR quarry. Next year he came
to an agreement with the railway to create a new siding and shortly
after he purchased 150 rail wagons. In addition to bituminous tarred
limestone and macadam, the company also produced lump stone and
decorative spar (calcite). By 1926–7, output had increased
to over 75 000 tonnes; in the 1930s annual rail dispatches were
30–80 000 tonnes. Production having increased to supply military
defences and particularly airfields in the War, fell back dramatically
to 33,000 tonnes in 1948–9, the period in which, following
Foster's death, his 21 year old son John took over the apparently
failing business. One of his first acts was to move over to road
transport (selling the wagon fleet in 1949). A major investment
programme followed at the quarry with new plant being introduced
from 1954. This replaced the previous practice of hand breaking
and hand loading of tubs in the quarry.
By 1959, the whole plant had been upgraded and attention was turned
to developing Merehead, acquired by Yeomans the previous year.
Rail deliveries were resumed at Dulcote in 1969 at a significant
level in the run up to the opening of the extensive new rail loading
facilities at Merehead inaugurated in 1970. Dulcote continues to
produce mainly to serve local needs (or as back up to Merehead)
with annual output running at around 75 000 tonnes.
The Tudways also owned other small quarries at the east of Wells,
notably Tor Hill Quarry. In 1899 that quarry was the subject of
a disagreement with Wells Borough Council which was then being
supplied from the site by a Mr Plenty, a lessee. Alarmed at the
change of lease and a possible price increase, the Council threatened
to take over the quarry. In the event John Wainwright acquired
the lease and continued to work it for about a decade.
Westbury-Sub-Mendip (Broadmead Quarry).
Westbury Quarry began as a parish quarry in the 19th century and
was worked manually and intermittently mainly for building stone
until 1949. Lime-burning here had ceased by then. Westbury Quarries
Ltd. based in Yeovil operated the unit in the 1950s and until 1966,
when the company was purchased by William Griffith & Co., a
hard rock quarry concern from Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Trading
as Mixconcrete Holdings Ltd., they set about introducing new crushing,
screening and asphalt plant. Most of the output was used for roadstone,
half in coated form. These companies were acquired by the Australian
based group, Pioneer Aggregates (UK) Ltd. which was in turn purchased
by Hanson in 1999/2000. The site has closed very recently.
Batts Coombe, Cheddar
Quarrying operations at Batts Coombe, Cheddar probably began about
1890 with open lime kilns, although there was probably small scale
quarrying and lime burning for many years prior to this.
The present operations can be traced back to around 1924 or 1926
when two local men, Charles Bernard Butcher and Frederick Ford
formed the Batts Coombe Quarry Co. Butcher, a local entrepreneur
had previously worked a quarry at Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire.
The company was not involved in the major rationalisation of the
industry in 1934 but was purchased the following year by Thomas
Roberts. The quarry was re-equipped in the 1950s to supply an increasing
demand for road and concrete aggregate. In 1959, Batts Coombe Quarry
was incorporated into Roads Reconstruction (1934) Ltd. when owner,
John Roberts took over the company.
Following the merger of Roads Reconstruction and Amy Roadstone
Corporation in 1967, their quarry operations were reappraised.
The stone at Batts Coombe, mostly the Burrington Oolite,
had long been recognised for its high purity (approaching 99% calcium
carbonate) with reserves amounting to 50 million tonnes. This enabled
the company to successfully bid for a contract to supply high purity
limestone to British Steel in South Wales to be used as a flux
in the steel industry.
In 1974, the Krauss Maffei rotary lime kiln was commissioned.
This was capable of producing 180 000 tonnes of lime per year,
then one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The kiln, fired
by liquid butane (a 'clean gas') heats the limestone
up to 1500ºC, converting it from calcium carbonate to lime
(calcium oxide) and carbon dioxide. Full production started in
1976 when the Llanwern steel plant came on stream.
Current production from the quarry is about 1 million tonnes annually,
of which a third is destined for lime-making, and the remainder
for aggregates. In order to reduce waste, quarried material is
now washed to remove fine particles and improve quality. In addition
to lime making, this is also one of the few sites processing material
for 'industrial' uses such as agriculture, animal feeds and industrial
fillers. Large blocks are also used for sea and river defences.
Chelms Combe Quarry, Cheddar
Meanwhile George and Frederick Ford having relinquished Batts
Coombe took up working at Chelmscombe Quarry in the 1930s just opposite
Batts Coombe. This worked the less pure but harder parts of the
Clifton Down Limestone Formation, particularly favoured for use
as roadstone. It is understood that the quarry ceased working in
the 1950s. By the mid 1960s the site had a new lease of life as
a Tower Testing Station operated by the operated by the Central
Electricity Generating Board and employing 100 or so people. In
the 1980s the site was converted to test the strength of canisters
to contain radioactive materials, but this also closed in about
As in the case of both Batts Coombe and Callow Hill, the Fords
had a siding for loading material at Cheddar Station, but alas
the line closed before quarry traffic increased significantly.
Landslip Quarry and Black Rock Quarry, Cheddar Gorge.
A small quarry, informally known as Landslip quarry was operated
in Cheddar Gorge, opposite High Rock. John Wainwright & Co.
was working limestone here in 1902. However, the newly formed National
Trust was flexing its muscles, lobbying local authorities to press
for the closure of these activities, in 1904 writing to Somerset
County Council – 'for some years past the beauty of the cliffs
had been marred by quarrying and that it was possible that the
extent of the injury which would ensue if the present operations
were allowed to continue'...'the spot where the work is carried
on is at the finest part of the pass where the cliffs are, or were
until the recent quarrying, precipitous on each side'.
Early quarrying probably comprised the removal of the scree slopes,
but already there were objections to traffic and noise dust and
nuisance from stone crushing machinery. By 1907 steam drilling
machines were working the bedrock. The County Council acknowledged
the damage and resolved to urge the land owners to close the operations;
the Trust's cause was also backed by most local Councils in the
At Cheddar it was strongly argued that the Gorge was particularly
iconic, being cited 'as one of the greatest ornaments in
the west of England' and secondly there were very many alternative
sources of stone locally in less sensitive areas. So environmental
awareness is not a new phenomenon. The issues became even more
pronounced when in February 1906, a major landslip occurred largely
blocking the gorge. The claims that this event was triggered by
quarrying appear to be borne out by earlier minor slippages from
day to day as quarrying progressed. In 1909, the National Society
for the Preservation of Places of Interest (National Trust) announced
the purchase of a part of the Gorge from the Marquis of Bath and
obtained assurances from the other landowners that they would not
permit further quarrying on their land. The arrangement concluded
in 1910 enabled Wainwright's to continue to meet contractual obligations
but only from loose material lying fallen in the quarry; no further
blasting was to take place. The contracts were to expire in March
1912. The Trust's statement indicated that 'the cliffs have
been secured from all danger of further spoilation'.
However, quarrying also took place at Black Rock quarry where the
Burrington Oolite was extracted. Very little is known of this working.
Local accounts suggest that a small plant with a crusher and barrel
screen (sieve) were operating here until about 1930. Black powder
was used to break off large blocks which were then barred, wedged
and dragged out. There was a limekiln but possibly not still operational
at that stage. In about 1950 it appears to have come under the
control of Batts Coombe Quarry Co. but had not resumed working.
It should not be confused with the Black Rock Quarry Co. which
was based at another Black Rock Quarry, near Portishead.
Callow Rock Quarry, and Shipham Gorge Quarries
The largest quarry in Shipham Gorge is Callow Rock, which is still
operating. The Callow Rock Lime Co. Ltd. was incorporated in 1919
to manufacture high purity white lime and mainly exploited the
Burrington Oolite. It was established by Herman (aka Henry) and
Francis C. Tiarks, a well-known London banking family. Their aim
was to create employment for troops returning from World War I.
In the very early days the quarry and a small vertical kiln were
both worked and loaded by hand. A small tramway carried stone to
the kilntop. The company rapidly gained a good reputation for high
grade lime, especially for the chemical industry, agriculture and
building mortar (the latter sold under the name 'Calime').
Two further large kilns were added in 1922 and a larger, replacement plant
to make hydrated lime. By 1926 it was selling 500 tonnes of lime
a week. The kilns were fired by gas made on site from coal. A further
more efficient kiln was erected in 1936. In the 1930s the lime
was delivered to Cheddar Station sidings or the customer in Robey
or Sentinel steam powered lorries, one (from 1933) of which is
still in good working order and shown at steam rallies.
In 1946 the company branched out to produce lime-based coloured
textured wall rendering material under the brand name 'Stonite' and
by 1951, 110,000 tons of limestone was being extracted annually.
In addition to the markets already mentioned, these were expanded
to include water treatment and gas purification, sand-lime brick-making
and even included exports to places as far apart as the East and
West Indies. Lime from here was supplied as plaster for the Royal
Festival Hall (1951). In 1961 Callow Rock was taken over by ECC
Quarries, who increased aggregate production using new plant. By
1969, declining reserves of high purity stone, coupled with the
ageing kilns led to the cessation of lime-burning.
The lower part of the quarry now accommodates a large concrete
product plant developed particularly from the late 1980s onwards
and which consumes much of the quarry output which has a capacity
of just under a million tonnes a year. Since then, following a
series of name changes, the company has become part of Aggregate
Industries, now a member of the Swiss-based Holcim Group.
At least three quarries were present on the east side of Shipham
Gorge in the 1880s. Two of these developed further, immediately
opposite the present Callow Rock Quarry. This was operated by L
W Bryant Quarries Ltd. in the 1930s to supply road base fill for
major improvements to the nearby A38. However, the material produced
was generally of poor quality and the quarry was assigned by Crow
Catchpole Ltd. in lieu of a debt. In the early 1950s, with output
at about 80 000 tons per year, it was one of the larger operations
in the area. Catchpole Ltd. were taken over by Tarmac in 1959 at
about which time the quarry closed. The site is now held in conjunction
with Callow Rock Quarry.
To the south, Shipham Hill Quarry was acquired by the County Council
in the late 1920s. Certainly it was one of 18 quarries owned by
Somerset County Council in 1931 and was one of the four most important
to them, continuing until it closed in 1976. The plant was removed
and has been partly landfilled by waste material from Callow Rock
This quarry occupies a prominent site at the western end of the
pronounced limestone ridge running eastwards to Burrington and
beyond and is also located midway between Sandford and Winscombe
villages. Like Callow Hill and Batts Coombe, it exploited the very
pure Burrington Oolite.
Commercial quarrying began on Sandford Hill in the mid 19th century,
and was given a particular boost when the branch line to the mainline
at Yatton reached here in 1869. Sandford stone was reputed to have
been used in the construction of Avonmouth Docks opened in 1877
and in the expansion of Temple Meads Station, Bristol, in the same
period (although the main walling stone was from Draycott near
Cheddar). However, even in 1885, the quarry appears to have had no
direct rail connection to the branch line, only 300m away. At least
two banks of lime kilns were then located here. Although those
along Quarry Lane are the most evident, they were only some of
many in the parish. By 1895, Alfred Weeks was running Sandford
Hill Quarry with five men.
In 1910, the Winscombe Stone and Lime Co. Ltd. was registered
as a private company with a capital of £2 000 to carry on
the quarry businesses of A G Weeks at Winscombe and Sandford Hill
quarries as 'quarry master', stone and lime merchant
haulier. By 1920 the company had been reformed as Sandford and
Conygar Quarries Co., taking in Conygar sandstone quarry near Portishead.
In 1922 there was a debate over the boundary between this quarry
holding and that known as the 'Award land', owned by
the ecclesiastical parish, where from 1798, parishioners had a
right to obtain stone to meet their duty to repair local roads.
The matter was resolved by the company agreeing to pay £8
a year for the privilege of working the site. A steam driven processing
plant was introduced.
Soon after it became one of the first Somerset quarries to be
absorbed by Roads Reconstruction Ltd. During World War II, Italian
prisoners of war worked in the quarries and kilns with local men,
with production rising to 50 000 tonnes in 1951. By the time the
rail link closed in 1964, the working area had extended eastward
creating 'a hollow tooth' feature. In the 1970s a medium
sized aggregates plant served an asphalt unit and a concrete works,
the latter consuming about half the output, roadstone making up
about 25%. In 1972, like Batts Coombe and Callow Rock, the site
fell within the area designated nationally as an Area of Outstanding
Natural Beauty and the next year it also came within the newly
created County of Avon (now North Somerset).
In 1993 Sandford Hill Quarry ceased working on the parish land,
and in the mid 1990s, the quarry closed as part of an arrangement
to extend Whatley Quarry. The 'award land' reverted to
the parish and was converted to a nature reserve. Parts of the
site are now used by the local activity centre 'The Action
Centre' for training in climbing and abseiling.