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The History of Ravenfield Quarries

A presentation by John Waller

The last grinding stone photo courtesy and copyright John Waller
 

Researching into a little of the history behind the Hollings lane quarries that were involved in the polluted tip scandal has proved interesting.

 

Locally, Wickersley was associated with the quarrying of millstones giving rise to pub names like the Masons Arms. However, what were actually quarried were grindstones for use in the Sheffield steel industry. In 1820 5,000 stones per year were carted to Sheffield. The sandstone bed underlaying the area takes its name from here is actually called the Wickersley Sandstone.

 

The traditional Millstone grit associated with Derbyshire was a very coarse stone that was used for roughing out and had limited uses. The expanding industries of Sheffield needed the fine hard Wickersley stones for sharpening and finishing the vast range of produce made there. Evidence also suggests that local grindstones were even exported to Europe through the port of Bawtry.

 

Wickersley Sandstone can be found under Thrybergh and Ravenfield and was also an ideal building stone. It was only a matter of time before the two villages were also quarrying the stone that can be best found between Ravenfield Hollings Lane and the Thrybergh top club areas.

 

A glance at the local genealogy shows a lot of quarry men and quarry owners, giving a clue to the scale of this activity in our rural area. Many of the quarries were small affairs; most local lads will remember the ‘basin’ in Silver Wood because there was usually a rope swing hanging from the trees. This never developed to any size; the stone quality was perhaps poor because it does vary.

 

The scale of quarrying at Hollings Lane was massive but evidence of it’s true scale was never visible because the quarrymen backfilled old excavations with overburden (topsoil etc.) and waste from the dressing process.

The 1850 O.S. map shows the first of the Silverwood Quarries just inside the woods. Over the next 100 years this spread to encompass the whole area and extended both sides of the road. The old tennis courts and later the new houses opposite the Ravenfield Arms were built on this

 

Although the quarries were backfilled by the quarrying activities commercial tipping had already started in the early 50's, while the site was still active. My sister recalls actually bringing food home at times, such as jars of pickled onions and tinned sardines. Anything that had rolled down into the "tar" was stoned until it sank in the ooze. This food was reputed to be bankrupt stock and no one was poisoned.

 

One area was filled with household waste which burned slowly beneath the topsoil to produce gently smoking craters that “were going to spread under Ravenfield ” (we were only kids). On a cold winter day you could always brave the smoke and get warm in the craters. Later this area was given to the Cavalier pub to create a football pitch and machinery was brought in to level a pitch-sized area and fill in the small craters. A lot of effort was then put in, galvanising the locals into raking the area ready for seeding with grass and many of the local kids spent a lot of time helping. Unfortunately there was no soil; only stones and the project fell through.

Arial photographs still reveal the area within the surrounding scrub.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the first companies to use the quarries, as a tip was a local oil recycling company that used two of the quarries to tip the heavy waste extracted from the cleaned oil. One quarry was already part filled so they soon finished the job and the ‘tar’ oozed through the covering layer of soil.

I was told that at one point the company transported the oil from Rotherham in open lorries that often spilled over onto the road leaving the ‘pit hills’ a slippy smelly mess. Local pressure put an end to the practice.

 

The local bakeries would often throw away huge rolls of the greased paper used to wrap bread. These were duly dragged home and many a man had his snap wrapped in paper from the quarries. 20 years later I remember seeing the same rolls of bread wrapping paper only is was now plastic.

 

The part filled one was the largest remaining quarry although on the 1958 O.S. map it is still relatively small. When oil tipping stopped the apex of a large tripod crane was still visible above the ooze. The quarry was taken over by the NCB, who owned the woods, and used to dispose of old conveyor belt trimmings from their belt workshops at Manvers. Larger pieces were used to make a variety of things and most miners will have had belts, battery pouches and tool bags from this source at some time.

Partly worn belting was also trimmed down to narrower widths for re use in the pits. The excess was dumped in the quarry. A fair amount of this was recycled even further to create swings in the adjacent woods.

 

Throughout this period lorries fly tipped during the night. No one knows what they left but it probably was not very nice, we saw some fascinating and unusual things and as kids we usually checked it out. The quarry nearest the road was never used as a commercial dump and was ideal for locals to dispose of the odd car or so.

 

A local company acquired the rights to tip in the quarries and after a period where old tyres were disposed of, they over-tipped by about 3 feet above the surrounding area. This caused the toxic brew in the bottom of the quarries to be forced up to the surface and the company was asked to redress the problem.

 

If my memory serves me correctly the tip was in the name of an elderly family member who was declared unfit to respond to the notices served on her to sort the job out and so the local authority had to step in.

 

In 1977 my uncle, Ken Wallers, was a councillor and he was on the team who went out to look at the situation. Coming out of the follow up meeting he almost fell over – the heel on his shoe had dissolved after he had accidentally stepped in some of the ooze. As a result the whole area was fenced off and an urgent scientific survey carried out.  I do not know if the results were published but the treatment was to excavate the site, take away the over-tipping then treat as much of the waste as possible with limestone dust. The surrounding houses, particularly Birchwood Drive, looked like they were covered in snow for weeks. Initially the residents of Birchwood Drive were evacuated and police sealed off the road. The media was in attendance and my youngest niece got her 15 minutes of fame as she was filmed marching down the road carrying her pet rabbit. Fortunately the evacuation lasted just 2 days before residents were allowed home. I think the scientists wanted to look in the pie when the lid was first taken off just in case the stuff inside was as bad as they suspected. No pickled onions were recovered though.

 

Eventually the whole area was capped with clay to seal in the foul brew resulting in a site for Ravenfield’s first football pitch.

 

Of the quarries only a few small scars remain visible but during the cleanup one lone grindstone was uncovered which now stands at the entrance to the area. 

Most of the quarry underneath the tennis courts was filled in relatively quickly but the back of this site was the last to produce stone. The masonry needed for the restoration of Rotherham All Saints Church about 40 years ago was reputedly sourced from here.

Above text copyright John Waller

1958 map of Ravenfield showing the Quarries

 Many thanks to John Waller for his contribution. All Text above Copyright John Waller

 

 

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