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





Bowl me over!

Bowl me over!

IMG_4694 Well this was a new one for me. On one edge of the village green at Wick in South Gloucestershire. The remains of the first open-air skittle alley l have ever seen!IMG_4695

I would not think play was possible now but you can still make out the ‘ball run’ at the side of the ‘alley floor’ for returning the skittle balls to the next player after someone has had a go at knocking pins down.

IMG_4698Love to find out more about its origins and indeed – if there are other open air sports facilities like this around our region.

Sad to see nearby mature horse chestnuts affected by the Chestnut Leaf Blotch.

Another unwanted ‘import’ from overseas. Guignardia aesculi was introduced accidentally from North America last century – according to the Royal Horticultural Society‘s website

IMG_4697It is very unsightly and on these beautiful old trees has affected production of normal looking conkers and produced ‘sticky bud’ shoots for next year way ahead of their time? It is unfortunately most common in the South West of England.IMG_4696

I was told by people – gathering in the nearby village hall for a charity ‘table sale’ – that the village was seriously considering felling the trees until being reassured  that they were not endangered by the infection.

Maybe it will be worth sweeping up and burning the leaves – as the fungus seems to spend the winter in them.

I was on my way to tackle the Golden Valley Nature Reserve walk with friends. It follows a route around the old ochre quarry extraction and factory site and is very well laid out.IMG_4712

There are a couple of spectacular water-filled quarries in which l hear people do swim. Someone told me one quarry was used by the Georgians!?IMG_4709

There are warning signs about using the waters. So you do so at your own risk.

IMG_4702The site is owned by Cemex and managed in partnership with South Gloucestershire Council. See