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.