Val Lyon's perseverance finally paid off and she got the funding from the World Heritage Enhancement Fund and B&NES Community Empowerment Fund to create the bench! Along with crowd funding, the money to create the bench is now in place, being widely supported by Combe Down Stone Legacy Trust and community group Friends of Firs Field, plus local business, including Wessex Water. It will be a really good place to show off Combe Down's heritage. As our local councillor, Cllr Cherry Beath, says:
‘I have been pleased to encourage this project from the start, and happy to put funds towards it. The Stabilisation of the Stone Mines was a huge endeavour, so this is a lovely tribute to the history of Combe Down, and the importance of the Stone Mines in the building of Classic Bath. Thanks to all who have worked so hard to get this going.’
Work is now almost complete, with the section of the original wall we found uncovered and restored by Erwood and Morris. Using Bath's famous stone donated by Bath Stone Group, the
wall has been raised and coping stones added. On them is text about the site carved by students from Bath College. Local artist Jeni Wood set to work creating a stone marker to join the other newer bricks that will form the bench.
Thank you to the team who've worked to get this piece of our local history given its proper status. As well as its global historical importance, it's a local landmark we are proud of! Especially thanks to Val Lyon. It's been great to be a small part of this project. As Professor Barry Gilbertson, Chairman of The City of Bath UNESCO World Heritage Site, explains:
‘Many people think that World Heritage in Bath only applies to the Roman and Georgian history in the city centre. Not true. It is the entire city (within the old boundary of the City Corporation in 1987, the year of our World heritage Inscription) which includes both the magnificent countryside setting and important industrial heritage such as the stone mines in Combe Down, established by the 18th Century entrepreneur, Ralph Allen. Accordingly, this innovative project is one that our World Heritage Enhancement Fund is delighted to support, as it ticks many boxes of our criteria. We hope that the seat will be well used, and the heritage appreciated, by villagers and visitors alike.’
We found some random things as we dug, like glass bottle tops, a nail and part of a fence.
Tom Flemons from Cliveden Conservation, came to look at the site as well as David Odgers, from Odgers Conservation. They will work from our pictures and get back to us with recommendations on the next stage - protecting what we have uncovered and building on it to create a curved memorial seat. Once we know the costings, we can apply to the B&NES planning office for permission to do the work.
After all of that digging, measuring and inspection, we then had to cover it all up again!
I then drew this sketched map on the computer and estimated the most likely circles of the wall from our measurements. Our map is very like the illustration above.
On a fairly sunny day with the Combe Down Heritage Society and Val Lyon (from Ralph Allen Cornerstone), and George the dog (who helped...) we began a new survey of the site of the Firs Field Mine Shaft. The survey was to measure where any visible stones from the original wall are in relation to the very large tree that has since grown close to the site.
We needed: Metal spikes (to prod the ground for possible stones and then mark their location); a compass (to measure the degrees to later plot the bearings of the circle wall); a tape measure (to measure the distance of the stones from the tree); a notepad and pencil to record the results...
First of all, we prodded the ground for anything hard that may be a stone from the original wall that surrounded the mine shaft. Some of the stones were still actually visible so they were easy to mark. Where we were sure, we poked the metal spike in to indicate where it was.
Next, we measured the tree and worked out with the compass where North was. The tree helped us to get our bearings. We had a struggle using the compass on the mobile phone so went back to using an old-fashioned compass!
Then we measured the distance from the tree to one of the metal spike markers and its bearings (degrees from North). And noted those results down very carefully!
Now we have all the measurements, the next step is to draw a map. The map is important to show where excavation will be possible and to get permission to do it.
I'm Bert and I am starting my Duke of Edinburgh bronze award. As part of it, I'm helping with a project local to me to try to conserve the last surviving mine shaft on public land (the Firs Field) in Combe Down, Bath. I think it's important to have a site visitors and locals can visit to see how mining for stone shaped our village and also shaped the world famous architecture in Bath and the surrounding area. The project is led by Val Lyon from Ralph Allen Cornerstone and overseen by the Combe Down Heritage Society.
So why is some old mine shaft buried under grass important? Well, it's a bit of a long story - so here's a brief explanation.... The Great Oolite stone, know as Bath stone, was formed over 146 million years ago, when the Combe Down area was beneath a deep tropical sea. It was first quarried in Roman times and they built important buildings with it, like the Roman Baths down the hill in the city.
Combe Down’s stone mines became really important in the 18th and 19th centuries when Ralph Allen elevated the golden stone using the latest cutting technologies. His skill and ambition gave architects fantastic stone which allowed them to build the curves seen on the famous sweeps of buildings of The Circus and The Royal Crescent.
However, when the railways came along, Combe Down's position on a hill made getting the stone to the trains more difficult compared with other mines in Box and Limpley Stoke and a gradual decline of the Combe Down mines began.
Following their closure, they were used for other things, like a mushroom farm and air-raid shelters during World War Two. They also became home to bats and now part of the mine is a Site of Special Scientific Interest housing populations of endangered Greater and Lesser Horseshoe bats.
In 1989, whist excavating a trench, a contractor unexpectedly broke through into part of the mines! Bath City Council commissioned a survey of the mines that discovered there were some voids up to 8m high that had less than 2m cover. So if you stood in one of these voids, you could hear people talking at the bus stop above you! To stop the roads and houses collapsing, the empty caverns were filled with foamed concrete.
Today there is only one active quarry in Combe Down. After such a long history of stone quarrying, it's a pity that there's virtually nothing visible to the public. Which is why this project is important, to remind future generations of our little village's incredible role in the making of Bath and the surrounding area.