Conservation United Kingdom

Database helps building restorers find perfect stone

English Heritage and the British Geological Survey create resource for the restoration of historic buildings

A database has been created by English Heritage and the British Geological Survey to help source stone for the restoration of historic buildings, from cottages to cathedrals, in England.

Until recently, there was no simple way of determining which quarries could provide stone for repairs and additions that would match the material used in a specific building. As well being as a visual match, the stone needs to be similar in composition, porosity and colour, so that it weathers in the same way.

Before the database was created, identifying and searching for appropriate stone was complicated. For instance, when major restoration work was carried out on London’s 19th-century St Pancras railway station in the past few years, red dolomitic sandstone was needed to replace eroded decorative stonework. The original stone came from quarries in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, which had been exhausted in the 1930s. After much searching, an alternative sandstone was found at the other end of the country.

With the database, the search is normally much simpler. Identifying the stone is easier, because the stone used in other buildings in the area can be found on a map and the same material is usually widely used. A search can then be made for quarries within a specified distance. The database covers working and closed quarries (the latter can sometimes be reopened for important projects).

So far, the survey covers 32 of the 44 English counties. The database needs upgrading to make it more user-friendly, but funding is now uncertain because of cuts to English Heritage’s government grant. The organisation suffered a 32% drop for the period from 2011 to 2015.

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