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Forest of Dean Stone Firms

Stone Working & Quarrying

Forest of Dean Stone Firms
Stone Working & Quarrying

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Scotch Derrick crane


The Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, England, has had its own mining laws since the fourteenth century and these "rights of free miners" were extended to the extraction of stone in 1838.

Bixhead quarry has supplied Pennant sandstone for at least 500 years. Many prominent buildings in Britain have been built with this stone, reputedly including London Bridge. The quarry is now registered as an important geological and archaeological site. Until modernisation in the early 2000s a Scotch Derrick crane was still used to lift stone blocks of up to 10 tonnes, after they had been split from the face with wedges, to the top of the quarry.

Reciprocating stone saw

Beside Cannop ponds, 1km to the east, is the stoneworks of Forest of Dean Stone Firms Ltd. (established in 1902), where the stone is cut and dressed.

Prior to modernisation the works were using belt-driven horizontal saw frames and circular saws (with diamond-tipped blades) to cut the stone slabs to size.

Horizontal saw frames (originally driven by waterwheels) have been around for centuries - the ancient Greeks and the Romans were known to use them to cut the stones used to build their cities. At the Roman city of Jerash in Jordan, archaeologists have reconstructed a water powered stone saw on the site of such a machine where partially sawn stone blocks for pillars were discovered.

Mason dressing stone

Once the stone blocks have been cut to size at the Forest of Dean Stoneworks they are then dressed. The masons do this by hand, but today they mainly use modern power tools, only resorting to the traditional mallet and chisel when necessary.

There is a big demand for traditionally produced stone for the restoration of old buildings - many of which are now showing the ravages of time.

Stone planing machine

Ornamental features such as chamfers or bevels on the edges of lintels etc. can be shaped by stone planing machines.

Since the original recording was made in 1992, the Dean Stone Firms have been modernised, the old stone saws have been removed and replaced by modern wire and disc cutting machines, a flame texturing machine has been installed along with improved dust extraction and health and safety equipment. Operations in the quarry have also been modernised.

A 48 minute 'enhanced' compilation, No.31: "Forest of Dean Stone Firms" shows work at the quarry and all the stone-cutting machines in action in 2018.

The images on this page are taken from Compilation C.31 - "Forest of Dean Stone Firms".

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Copyright © 2018 I.A.Recordings, Last modified: 12 November, 2019