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Bargate Stone in the Guildford Area

23rd October 2017
Bargate stone is a highly durable form of sandstone. Its attractive honey colouring is due to its high iron oxide content. Since the 12th century, Bargate stone has been quarried in the Greensand Ridge where it is widest in southwest Surrey. Bargate stone occurred near the surface, particularly in the hillsides surrounding Godalming. Medieval quarries are still visible in Godalming, at the foot of Holloway Hill. The stone was widely used in the Godalming, Hascombe and Guildford areas. Over the centuries, Bargate stone was used in many buildings in Surrey, more than 200 of which are listed. Since it is a local stone and very little is left to quarry, it is necessary to rely on reclaimed stone that in current times is predominantly used for repair of Bargate stone garden and perimeter walls. Before the introduction of quick setting Portland cement in the early 19th century which was patented in 1824, lime had been universally used as a binder in mortars, plasters and lime wash. Increasingly throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, it was observed that in some applications the hardness of the cement mortars caused problems of damp by trapping moisture and causing cracks in stonework to form. In recent years, the use of the softer lime mortar has seen a revival, particularly for the repair of historic buildings and walls. Although replacing damaged lime mortar with hard cement mortar still occurs, there are local contractors and stockists of reclaimed Bargate stone, and there are local craftsmen as well as architects who are knowledgeable in specifying the correct mortar to use. With such an attractive and strong stone quarried locally, Bargate was the preferred stone for the main structures of many important buildings. Such buildings include The Keep at Guildford Castle constructed in the early 12th century. It was a credit to the strength of Bargate that it was chosen for the main structure that stands on top of the natural chalk and Bargate stone bedrock. Bargate was also the preferred stone for use in local medieval churches including Godalming Parish Church, a Grade I listed building with Saxon features, as well as The Church of St. Mary and All Saints, Dunsfold, a 13th century church in the diocese of Guildford that was cited by William Morris as “The most beautiful country church in all England”. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bargate became a preferred stone for use by architects and garden designers who were advocates of the Arts and Crafts movement. In particular, the architect, Edwin Lutyens, and garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, who both worked locally became central figures in this movement and made use of Bargate stone in both houses and garden features they designed including work at Munstead Wood in Godalming and Orchards in Bramley. In Guildford, there are many Bargate Stone buildings, including the Caleb Lovejoy Almshouses (1839), in Bury Street. Thackery Turner built the Wycliffe Building (1894), on the corner of the Portsmouth Road and Bury Street and the Mead Cottages (1895) in Bury Fields. The approach to Guildford along the Portsmouth Road, is characterized by numerous Bargate Stone buildings and long stretches of Bargate Stone Walls, much of which is now in a poor state of repair. There are many more excellent examples of the use of Bargate stone in both buildings and walls in Southwest Surrey ranging from Medieval to Modern times. For those who are interested in delving into this topic there are excellent reference books such as “Practical Building Conservation: English Heritage Technical Handbook”, Authors: John and Nicola Ashurst and The Heritage Directory that covers many aspects of the built environment including Architectural History, Interiors, Exteriors, Gardens, and Preventative and Remedial Solutions. The Guildford Society has noted that Bargate stone perimeter and garden walls often dating from the 19th century have been inappropriately repaired using hard cement mortars rather than lime mortar and infill stones that do not match the original Bargate stone. The Society has a particular interest in ensuring that walls constructed with this attractive honey coloured stone that is unique to Southwest Surrey continue to enhance our town.
Posted by: Merilyn Spear