The building stones of Bath

The city’s Museum of Bath Stone has appointed a new curator and he’s no stranger to this area of expertise and the building which celebrates the colossal efforts of those who carved out this city from the natural landscape below.

He’s Neville Redvers-Higgins who was the archaeologist leading excavations underground during the Combe Down Stone Mines Stabilisation Project.

Neville Redvers-Higgins

With his appointment comes an ambitious new business plan to support the introduction of this new part-time role and the museum trust’s vision for growth and expansion.

The Museum of Bath Stone, formerly a modest interpretation centre under the guise of ‘Ralph Allen Cornerstone’ is undergoing major transformative works to realise the potential for a museum commemorating the city’s relationship with stone, from 168 million years ago to the present day.

Often overlooked, is the underground industrial heritage in Bath essential to the golden, neoclassical, Georgian architecture defining this UNESCO World Heritage Site today. Underground quarrying in Georgian Combe Down changed the local landscape forever and, the cityscape created during this period remains fiercely protected for its “Outstanding Universal Value”.

The Museum of Bath Stone celebrates the colossal efforts of those who carved out this city from the natural landscape below, and the astounding engineering project that took place beneath the surface in the 21st century, to save a village at risk of collapse.

Light is once again shining onto the voids beneath the village of Combe Down, and the records collected by expert geologists, archaeologists, engineers, and ecologists during the major stabilisation project are resurfacing. For the first time in history, their value will be shared and accessible to us all.

Leading the task of selecting and interpretating highlights from the museum’s collections, to represent this integral aspect of the city’s history in the new museum is experienced archaeologist, Neville Redvers-Higgins. Working under the direction of Oxford Archaeology, Neville amassed years of underground experience piecing together this story spanning several centuries.

Reflecting on his time below the surface and looking ahead to the future, Neville shares his thoughts, “I am inspired to be back again working in the historic quarrying village of Combe Down, and excited to be part of the Museum of Bath Stone team. I first worked on the Combe Down Stone Mines project in 2001 for Oxford Archaeology, who were commissioned by the local council. My main job was to archaeologically monitor and survey the quarrying landscape. On my first morning, I got kitted up with my hard hat, miners’ lamp and safety set and went underground with historic mining consultant Lynn Willies. My first experience was like being lost in a cave, and we walked and scrambled underground with measuring tapes, a flashgun and camera for what seemed like days! Fortunately, we soon learned our way around!

The stabilisation project grew beyond most people’s expectations. The initial eight week recording programme, working with the 20 skilled Welsh miners, gradually extended to eight years underground and up to 150 miners towards the end of the programme. Our small archaeology team also grew, and we undertook video photography and laser scanning recording – new and leading technology helping us to understand how the mines worked.

The stabilisation scheme and the ongoing dedication and passion of many people have placed this small and important village on the map – after all, it is the village that built a city. I look forward to being part of this new Museum which celebrates the story of Combe Down.”

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