Kentish Ragstone is an important natural resource and is one of the most widespread building stones used throughout the South East of England. This ‘ragged’, grey stone gives Kent buildings their own unique character, and can been seen across the county and London in castles, houses, churches and walls. Kentish Ragstone has a fascinating history dating back to Roman Times when Kent quarries played a crucial part in the construction of Roman London.
It has been long believed that much of Roman London was built from Ragstone quarried in the upper Medway Valley, but until recently there was little detail on this activity. Recent research has been published specifically identifying the Ragstone quarries used in the Roman period, the chronology of their use, how the stone was transported to London and where it was used.
During the Roman period there were five major, industrial scale quarries extracting high quality ragstone for use as a building material in London and the South East. These were at Allington, Boughton Monchelsea, West Farleigh, Teston and the largest at Dean Street. Each of the workings had an associated network of supporting activity including settlements (such as villas), other industry (like iron working) and a highly integrated transport network.
The River Medway was the principle transport route by which the stone was shipped by merchant to the Thames Estuary, and then on to London. In the pre-modern era this was a very long journey of nearly 127km for a one-way trip with an overnight stop. A Roman ship discovered at Blackfriars in 1962 had a cargo of Kentish Ragstone, probably from Maidstone, on board. It is possible that the first settlement in the Maidstone area in the Roman times may have been as a result of the quarrying of Kentish Ragstone. Two Roman villas found in the area, one at The Mount just to the north of the Maidstone East railway line, and another south east of the Conservation Area on the eastern side of Upper Stone Street in Maidstone, have links with quarrying and a settlement could have arisen for those working in the quarrying and shipping industries.
The Ragstone quarrying here in the upper Medway Valley flourished from very early in the Roman occupation until the middle of the 3rd century AD, when it seems to have suddenly stopped, given there is no new built infrastructure from that point using the fine quality Ragstone.
The newly revealed scale of the stone quarried by the Romans was astounding. As well as many of the private dwellings of Roman London, other public buildings which were built from Ragstone included the Basilica Courts and Forum Market Place, at least three public baths, the Governor’s palatial residence beneath modern-day Cannon Street, as well as the second phase of the Amphitheatre in the north west corner of city (its Ragstone walls now revealed beneath the modern Guildhall Gallery).
After this enormous industry disappeared some regional Ragstone quarrying did continue but on a much smaller scale, with the immediate post Roman activity seeing the origins of a new local phenomenon in the upper Medway Valley with the appearance of ‘stone pits’ known locally in more recent times as ‘petts’ which catered for local demand. These can still be seen today along the sloping banks of the river, their output historically used in local housing.
Post-Roman quarrying is also evident at the huge Dean Street quarry, with a 19th and early 20th century phase which was much more localised in scale, and then a modern phase in the 1930s which was industrial in scale. Finally, Quarry Wood at West Farleigh also appears to have been reused occasionally from the 17th century onwards, with local traditions identifying it as a source of building material for both Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The use of the stone continued in the Norman period and Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the White Tower in London, and Leeds and Rochester Castles in Kent were all constructed using Kentish Ragstone. During the construction of Westminster Abbey, vast quantities of Kentish Ragstone were required so a royal command decreed that "no Kentish Ragstone shall be carted to London for any other purpose until the Abbey is built". Kentish Ragstone was also used to make cannon balls: in 1419 King Henry V ordered 7000 of these from Maidstone quarries.
Examples of historical buildings in Kent that were constructed with Kentish Ragstone include the Archbishop's Palace in Maidstone, Westgate in Canterbury, the keep at Dover Castle, Knole House, Ightham Mote and Maidstone Prison. Most of Kent's medieval parish churches were also built of Kentish Ragstone. It is the most utilised hard rock within Kent and is commonly seen throughout the county, particularly in houses, walls and churches.
Gallagher continues this tradition by supplying stone that can be given an ‘historic aged’ appearance for the restoration and repair of historical buildings, thus ensuring that the repairs blend in with traditional Kentish Ragstone.
Head Office address:
Gallagher Group, Leitrim House, Little Preston
Aylesford, Kent ME20 7NS
Gallagher Aggregates Ltd., Hermitage Quarry
Hermitage Lane, Maidstone, Kent ME16 9NT