Set in stone.

Set in stone.

Almost a year ago l paid my first-ever visit to the Ralph Allen Cornerstone Interpretation Centre – the place that tells the story of the Combe Down stone quarries which basically supplied the material to build the World Heritage city of Bath.



The Ralph Allen Cornerstone Interpretation Centre


This modest museum – on Rock Hall Lane – is named after the man who owned the underground mines and used his own product to build Prior Park – a house that doubled as an advertising billboard as it very publicly showed off what you could do with Bath stone.



There’s more evidence of this industry in the museum than out on the landscape but the Centre has been involved in a project to mark the industry with a modest but rather special memorial.

All the shafts have been filled in as part of a massive operation – which cost £155 million pounds – to stabilise the old workings. There was a real danger the houses above might fall into the voids!

Not much to show for something that provided employment for many and helped build a city. However, last year the museum organised the uncovering of what remains of the top of one of the old shafts on former mining land now known as Firs Field.


The idea was to conserve what is left of the surrounding wall and construct a low bench as a memorial to ‘the mines, those who worked them, the community of Combe Down and the wider City of Bath.’

A survey of the site and an excavation of part of the wall remains was carried out by a team of local young people during the summer of 2017 aided by members of Combe Down Heritage Society, Combe Down Stone Legacy Trust and Friends of Firs Field together with experienced Archaeologists from Cliveden Conservation Workshop.  



Last year’s excavation


Then last month a team from local builders Erwood & Morris got down to conserving the old remains. 


Artist Jeni Wood’s special insert has arrived ready for fixing.

Using stone donated by Bath Stone Group, the wall was raised and soon coping stones – bearing text about the site – will be carved by students from Bath College to complete the memorial structure. 


The specially-carved World Heritage logo.

It also bears a special insert. A World Heritage site logo cut into a piece of Bath stone by local artist Jeni Wood.


The memorial just needs its coping stones to complete the project.

As well as bringing closure for the community of Combe Down – which many feel is still needed – the aim pof the project is also to encourage interest in this aspect of the heritage of Bath, with Ralph Allen’s stone quarrying centre lying so close as it does to Ralph Allen’s‘show house’ (now Prior Park College), its attached parkland, now National Trust Prior Park Landscape Garden, the Bath Skyline Walk (also National Trust) and close to the route of the open top bus tour of the City.  

It will also serve to draw visitors to Museum of Bath Stone in Combe Road where much more of the local heritage and other items of interest are available to view.

Firs Field has unrestricted public access and is well used by the whole community, from toddlers to teenagers and dog-walkers.

The memorial scheme was initiated by the local Heritage Society a decade ago following the £155 million restoration project, to in-fill the underground voids with foamed concrete, completed in 2010. 

The village, although now secure, has lost virtually all the physical evidence of its stone-quarrying heritage. There is no longer any public access to the mines.  And Bath lost an important part of its Heritage.

Importantly, in addition to substantial financial backing from the World Heritage Enhancement Fund, B&NES Community Empowerment Fund and local Councillors, Bob Goodman and Cherry Beath, there has been a strong local community support with crowdfunding to raise the money to conserve and augment this structure.

It is now widely supported by Combe Down Stone Legacy Trust and community group Friends of Firs Field, plus local business, including Wessex Water.





Bath’s ‘Stone Age’ attraction.

Bath’s ‘Stone Age’ attraction.

We get something like four and a half million visitors a year in Bath but how many of them will see anything other than Roman remains and Georgian terraces and crescents.

There has been a lot of talk recently about trying to spread the load a bit and persuade our visitors – a very important part of local commerce – to expand their horizons to some of the attractions further out of the centre.

kennet and avon canal

The canal towpath through Bath’s Sydney Gardens.

Everything from Beckford’s Tower to Prior Park Gardens with other areas of interest including things like the Kennet and Avon Canal, the American Museum and Museum of Bath at Work.

One rather modest museum that tells a major story you can find half way around the number 2 First Bus route which climbs the hill to Combe Down.


The CornerStone museum at Combe Down.

The Ralph Allen CornerStone Interpretation Centre –  on Rock Hall Lane – opened in 2014 and is described as a community history centre.

Combe Down is the main site of Ralph Allen’s stone quarries – the stone that built the World Heritage City of Bath.


The abandoned workings were in-filled with an innovative £155 million restoration project, completed in 2010. 

The village, now secure, has lost much of the physical evidence of its stone-quarrying heritage. Hence the need for a museum that tells the story of its industrial past and the men who worked underground.


Interior of the stone museum

But – outside its doors – there are now plans to uncover and preserve what remains of the top of one of the shafts through which stone would have been brought to the surface and transported on Ralph Allen’s tram system down the hill to the river.

It’s on former mining land – and now a public space known as Firs Field. A group of young local people have also got involved in preparatory  survey and excavation work to see exactly what is left just below the surface of the ground.


Preliminary dig in Firs Field

The idea will be to conserve what is left of the wall and construct a low bench as a memorial to ‘the mines, those who worked them, the community of Combe Down and the wider City of Bath.’

I had a chance to speak to Val Lyon who is the Director of the Firs Field Project. I asked her to tell me first about the Ralph Allen CornerStone museum.

Three of the youngsters   – involved in the project –  have contributed to a blog (led by Bert Nash) which tells what they have been doing and its importance to Bath’s World Heritage status.

Bert’s blog can be viewed at:

Check out the Ralph Allen CornerStone Museum at





Living legacy to mark WW 1 Centenary

Living legacy to mark WW 1 Centenary

Firs Field at the heart of Combe Down is to be protected forever by Bath & North East Somerset Council as a Centenary Field.  Run by national charity Fields in Trust, in partnership with The Royal British Legion, the Centenary Fields initiative aims to protect war memorial playing fields, parks and green spaces in memory of those who lost their lives during World War 1.

Firs Field at Combe Down

Firs Field at Combe Down.

The Firs Field is the only Centenary Field in Bath and North East Somerset, and this now gives it the added full protection against any development, so that it will remain a green space for enjoyment by residents in perpetuity.

Local group the Friends of Firs Field have organised a community event to dedicate a special Centenary Field plaque on Saturday 17 September at 3.00pm, which will include the reading of names on the Combe Down war memorial 

Councillor Martin Veal (Conservative, Lansdown), Cabinet Member for Community Sercices, said:  “I’d encourage all local residents to come to this significant celebration of the Firs Field.  It’s a unique way to commemorate the centenary of World War 1 and to mark Combe Down’s long association with Harry Patch, ‘the last surviving Tommy’ who died aged 111 in 2009. 

People may not know that Firs Field was bought by public subscription, inspired by a group of returning WW1 soldiers.”  

Councillor Cherry Beath (Lib Dem, Combe Down), who started this process in 2014  and paid for the plaque from her Ward Councillor Initiative grant allocation, said: “I’m delighted Firs Field now has Centenary Field status and am pleased to have been able to support the Centenary Field bronze plaque.

Firs Field is an extremely important green space, highly valued by the local community.The Friends of Firs Field group should be congratulated for their hard work in overseeing the field and for choosing the plaque.”

Fields in Trust

•           ‘Centenary Fields’ is the new programme from Fields in Trust in partnership with The Royal British Legion from 2014-2018

•           Landowners across the UK can nominate outdoor recreational spaces with a relevant connection to WWI. For example the parks, playing fields, memorial gardens or village halls with grounds could contain a war memorial or have some other significance to WWI.

•           All sites secured through the Centenary Fields programme will receive a commemorative plaque

•           Fields in Trust is a national charity founded in 1925 to improve the protection, provision and quality of outdoor recreational spaces for all communities in the UK

•           HM The Queen has been Patron of Fields in Trust for 60 years; HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was President for 64 years and succeeded by HRH The Duke of Cambridge in 2013. The Duke of Cambridge has also been the Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Fields Challenge

A little bit of Bath goes a long way!

A little bit of Bath goes a long way!

Hidden from the roadside in the bowels of an old stone quarry in Combe Down is an engineering business that has quietly but confidently – over the past 70 years –  ensured that Bath stays firmly on the industrial map.


IMG_5922 (1)

There is an original wooden stone lifting crane preserved beside the factory’s block of offices at the top of the old quarry.


Not only that but its workforce has helped make history. Manufacturing engineering parts for everything from Battle of Britain Spitfires to supersonic Concorde and today’s commercial  Airbus aircraft.


The top of the Cross Manufacturing site on Midford Road in Bath’s Combe Down district.

Cross Manufacturing is named after Roland Cross – the Company’s founder. Born in Bath and – after an engineering apprenticeship – he joined Bristol Aeroplane Co Ltd at Filton in 1915 and became part of the design team on the Bristol Fighter.


Roland Cross – the founder of the company.

In 1922 he set himself up as an independent engineer and took on contracts for experimental work and acted as a consultant engineering.

He used the money he earned to spend on experimental work of his own – designing the Cross rotary valve engine in the 1930s. High-performance piston rings created for these engines were the cornerstone of subsequent product and technological developments.

Roland’s original workshop has been turned into the Company’s private museum.

The three motorcycles on display are examples of the types of motorbikes he used for testing his engines and pistons.



Some of the bikes fitted with Cross valve engines.


Though there was much interest – and a separate department was set up in the 50’s to deal with motorcycle and automobile development – things took a different turn in the 1970’s when the company decided to focus on the production of seals and rings.

They are now world leaders in the field – providing components for everything from commercial and military aircraft to generator turbines.

The Virtual Museum was invited to join other local enthusiasts on a tour of the factory and museum.

With commercial and defence contracts obviously photography in the factory is not allowed but it’s the museum that is so fascinating.


The interior of the company museum – housed in what was Roland Cross’s workshop. Before that, this was where pioneer aeronaut Patrick Alexander constructed his balloons.

I was there with Dan Brown from Bath in Time,  local historian Johnny Branston and  postcard collector Paul De’Ath.

Our guide was Cyril James – a man who joined the company from school – as a trainee production engineer – at the age of fifteen. Cyril spent his time – during his early years – test riding many of Roland Cross’s motorcycle ‘adaptations’ and has fond memories.


L to R. Paul De’Ath, Dan Brown, Cyril James and Johnny Branston.

Almost sixty years later – and a career that took him to Head of Production – he is still only ‘semi-retired’ and able to tell me more about those early days when engineering life was all about motorbikes and cars.


Breaking off from our tour, Cyril took the Vincent HRD outside of the museum to bring a little bit of Bath history to noisy life!

Cyril’s short trip was up and down an alleyway at the factory!


Cross Manufacturing also has a factory at Devizes in Wiltshire – providing employment across two counties.

The company is a world-leading manufacturer of aerospace seals, aircraft piston rings and custom seal rings for aircraft engines, steam turbines, vehicle turbochargers, control valves and many other industrial environments.

Contact via


Bath remembers…….

Bath remembers…….

The Mayor of Bath’s Office has issued details for the City of Bath Remembrance Sunday Parade and Service on 8 November  starting with a wreath laying ceremony and parade inspection at the War Memorial in Royal Victoria Park. That’s at 11 am.

The annual temporary war memorial erected outside Bath Abbey for people to plant poppy crosses.

The annual temporary war memorial erected outside Bath Abbey for people to plant poppy crosses.

At 2.30 there will be a Royal British Legion Remembrance Sunday parade and march past the Guildhall steps. That salute will be taken by Air Marshal Sir Peter Norriss KBE CB AFC NA FRAeS MCIPS RAF (Rtd).

A civil procession will leave the Guildhall at 2.50 for the Royal British Legion Remembrance Sunday service at Bath Abbey which lasts for an hour and starts at 3 pm.

Milsom Street, New Bond Street and Northgate Street will be closed from 1.00 pm. The Parade route is Milsom Street, New Bond Street, Northgate Street, High Street, Cheap Street, Farrs Passage, Abbey Churchyard. Orange Grove and Manvers Street will be closed from approximately 2.20 pm ready for the March past the Saluting Base in the High Street at 2.30 pm.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s secretary Ms Elizabeth Mence has written to Charter Trustees and Honorary Aldermen to give them details of Armistice Day arrangements for November 11th.

On that day maroons will be fired from the Parade Gardens to mark the start and finish of the two-minute silence to remember those who died in the service of their country.

The two-minute silence will be incorporated into a short service being held outside the West Door of Bath Abbey. Standard bearers from the Royal British Legion will be located there. The Abbey Church Yard is generally the area where people gather to join in this act of remembrance. The immediate part mayor – Cllr Cherry Beath – will be present.

The West Door at Bath Abbey.

The West Door at Bath Abbey.

Bath and North East Somerset Council’s Bereavement Services will be holding a Remembrance Service at the Cross of Remembrance at Haycombe Cemetery at 10.45am. Past mayor Honorary Alderman Malcolm Lees will attend.

A service will be held at Hold Trinity Church, Combe Down at 10.00am. The Bath United Services Association will be holding a wreath laying ceremony at 11a, at the War Memorial in Firs Field.

The immediate past mayor Cllr Cherry Beath will be present.

A wreath laying ceremony will be held at the War memorial at Twerton which is on the north side of St Michael and All Angel’s Church at 11 am.

This will be attended by St Michael’s Junior School and past mayors Cllr Tim Ball and Honorary Alderman Mrs Sharon Ball.

At your convenience?

At your convenience?

The closure of public toilets in Weston, Larkhall, Combe Down, Twerton and Peasedown St John are to be brought forward to this August, according to an announcement from Bath and North East Somerset Council.

The news has sparked anger from Conservative councillors, who have accused the Liberal Democrat-run authority of going back on a promise to keep the toilets open until next year whilst alternative provision is sought.

Not everyone is too happy about this closure notice outside the Larkhall loos!

Not everyone is too happy about this closure notice outside the Larkhall loos!

The Council has notified local councillors that notices will be put up on the toilets B&NES plans to close thirteen of its public toilets in total.  However, the closures were not expected to begin until 2014, which is when the savings anticipated from the closures were programmed to materialise in the Council budget.

Larkhall's  public conveniences

Larkhall’s public conveniences

Whatever the justification behind the closures, l find the whole business rather ironic – coming as it does from an Authority destined to see a rise in the number of people who might be said to benefit most from such public provision.

The Office for National Statistics forecasts a 37 per cent rise in the number of over-65s from 31,600 to 43,200 by the end of the next decade. While a 67 per cent hike in the number of over-85s – from 4,900 to 8,200 – is expected during the same period.

Lord Filkin, chairman of the House of Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change was quoted as saying: ‘As a country we are not ready for the rapid ageing of our population.”

Meanwhile, a government spokesman was also quoted as saying: ‘ It is essential that we reform our public services so they can cater for changing demand and are sustainable in the longer term.’

Try telling that to an elderly person searching for a loo! Our Victorian forefathers were so proud of their municipal services including such ‘mod cons’ as public toilets. We squander our heritage for short-term convenience.

One of Larkhall's local cafes.

One of Larkhall’s local cafes.

P>S> I suppose Larkhall’s cafes will benefit from the closure of the local loos. Tea and pee l think they call it?!

P>P>S>  Ironic that the district has just got a library. That which the Lord giveth…. etc, etc.IMG_3573

Open door on history.

Open door on history.

People can explore some fascinating historical artefacts at open days being organised by Bath & North East Somerset Council as part of Adult Learners’ Week.

The Roman Baths.

The Roman Baths.

On 21 and 25 May, the Council is opening the doors to the St. John’s Museum Store, Bath, and Pixash Archaeology Store, Keynsham, respectively. Entry is free to visitors of all ages to inspire people to discover how learning can change their lives.

At the St. John’s Store on Tuesday 21 May, visitors can discover how Victorians bathed by examining the bathing equipment and visitor books which provide an insight to spa culture in Bath. The store also features furniture made by local craftsmen.

On Saturday 25 May, at the Pixash Store, you can see some of the stonework from the Medieval Abbey that was located in Keynsham, as well as the Roman Mosaics from a villa discovered on Durley Hill. Also on display are archaeological finds from the Combe Down Stone Mines which include: tools, blocks of stone, and graffiti drawn by the miners many years ago.

Some of the Keynsham mosaics in store!

Some of the Keynsham mosaics in store!

Councillor Paul Crossley (Lib-Dem, Southdown), Leader of Council, said: “Visitors have enjoyed exploring their heritage during our previous open days – making tours of the stores locations very popular. Bath & North East Somerset Council has joined in partnership with Adult Learner’s Week 2013 to continue to encourage our visitors and residents to discover more about their heritage and explore it even further.”

St. John’s Store will be open on Tuesday 21 May from 11am-3pm and is located on the corner of Locksbrook Road and Upper Bristol Road next door to the Volkswagen dealership. Pixash Store will be open Saturday 25 May from 11am-3pm and is located next to the Recycling Centre on Pixash Lane. There is no need to book ahead for either event.

Adult Learners’ Week 2013, which runs from 18-24 May, is organised by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education to inspire people to discover how learning can change their lives. For full details of Adult Learner’s Week 2013 visit