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Contemporaneous account

INTRODUCTORY & HISTORICAL

The name Hopton-Wood is derived from the fact that this stone was first discovered and quarried in a wood on the Hopton Estate in that far-famed Derbyshire beauty spot, the Via Gellia, which itself owes its Latin name to the Gell family whose association with Hopton dates back to the days of Cromwell.
It is over 100 years since the stone was first quarried, the original outcrop in the wood being soon abandoned for more extensive workings on the opposite side of the valley. Until 1905 these quarries , now known as the Hopton group, were exploited by the Hopton-Wood Stone Company, whilst the rival Firm of Killer Brothers opened and developed the same formation from the Eastern side of the hill on their property in the village of Middleton. In1905 the two undertakings mere amalgamated and the present Company formed. New Works were constructed containing the then most up-to-date stone sawing and dressing machinery, but although the stone had established a reputation for itself amongst architects and was extensively specified for high class work the Company never succeeded in making much headway until after the War. Since then the productive capacity of the Quarries has been steadily increased and the Works completely re-organised and enlarged, with the result, that the output of Hopton-Wood Stone in blocks or sawn has been raised from something like 8,000 cube feet per annum in 1919 to approximately 25,000 cube feet at the present time. In the past six years 120,000 cube feet (nearly 10,000 tons) of Hopton-Wood Stone have been utilised solely for the production of War Graves headstones apart from the normal demands of architecture arid the Building and Monumental Trades. During that period such important works as the paving of Liverpool Cathedral, the Winchester College War cloisters and many

TOPOGRAPHICAL AND GEOLOGICAL

The Hopton group of quarries are situated about 51/2 miles to the South West of Matlock, while the Middleton Quarry lies about a mile due East of the former group and at an elevation of about 1,000 feet above sea level.
They are separated by the crown of the hill which runs North and South and rises in a flattened mound to some considerable height above them, and are themselves cut out of the West and Last faces of the same hill.
This hill consists of Carboniferous Limestone with a layer of Igneous rock interstratified similar to a damp proof course in a thick wall.
The layer of igneous rock is well exposed in she faces of the eastern and western quarries and is known to the quarrymen as the "Great Clay'' 
This interesting feature of the "Great Clay" which we shall allude to as the "Sill" divides the hill into two parts, with very different characteristics.
The rock above the "Sill" is the ordinary "Mountain Limestone" of Derbyshire, while the underlying limestone rock has undergone a complete alteration or metamorphism. When we examine the altered rock we find it has been converted into a Marble of considerable value for architectural and monumental building purposes.
Prom the completely altered or metamorphosed top layer with its curious mottling through the various layers below it we find many gradations of colour ranging from the "dark Hopton-Wood stone" to the "light Hopton Wood stone" while the symmetrical remains of "Sea-lilies" contained in it lend added beauty to the stone when polished.
Perhaps it may not be out of place to enquire into the reason for this great, difference in the character of the limestone above and below the "Sill"
The Sill is really a dolerite which may be regarded simply as a basalt of coarser crystallisation which has undergone a process of decomposition.
Where it is exposed to the air it weathers in a remarkable manner, assuming spherical shaped forms, the outer coatings of which exfoliate into concentric onion-like coats. Whenever this happens the broken-off pieces disintegrate and tend to hold up the water which has found a passage along the joints. A chemical action then takes place adding a further stage in the process of "weathering" until the rock has got so rotten as to entirely lose its original basaltic character, and becomes in many places so soft as to De capable of being dug out with a spade. If we break open a piece that has undergone only a partial change we find the rock of a sombre brown colour or yellowish hue speckled all over with whitish or yellowish markings, the whole being suggestive of the skin of a toad. Hence the name "Toadstone" which is often given to this particular form of Dolerite.
We have already stated that the limestone rock above the Sill is the ordinary Mountain limestone of Derbyshire and shows no signs of Marmorisation. From this we can safely conclude that the Sill was not intrusive, but was poured out as a lava flow over the sea floor in Carboniferous Limestone times and lay in a heated and slowly cooling mass upon the rocks beneath it. It was not until the lava had thoroughly cooled down that the Mountain Limestone was deposited upon it. As lava is a bad conductor of heat its lower layers would in all probability remain in a red hot condition for a very considerable period. The underlying rocks Would be subjected to intense heat, which could only escape downwards slowly through their substance. Limestone under these conditions would be converted into marble, while the marmorisation would slowly diminish downwards as the distance from the plane of baking increased. Thus we find the dark Hopton-Wood Stone nearest the Sill and the light Hopton-Wood stone furthest from the Sill.
We are afraid we may perhaps have appeared somewhat lengthy in the above remarks, but it is important if we would understand the conditions under which Hopton-Wood stone from below the Toadstone has been produced.


THE HOPTON QUARRIES

These consist of a series of faces at various levels down the Western side of the hill overlooking the picturesque Via Gellia. They are served by an inclined railway, of standard
gauge worked by a steam haulage engine of colliery type.

They produce a variety of products from hard blue mountain limestone only suitable for road and concrete work to creamy white Hopton-Wood which lends itself equally to rich architectural treatment or to utilitarian purposes such as setts, kerbs and the "white line" . The Hopton-Wood measures not only produce blocks of a durable and decorative building material, but furnish a crystalline limestone of exceptional chemical purity. It analyses 99.29% Carbonate of 'Lime with only 0.25% of Silica and less than .05% of iron oxide. It is much in demand where a high degree of purity is essential for manufacturing or chemical processes.
The mountain limestone overlying the Sill of Toadstone is dark In colour, and of a texture and toughness eminently suitable for roadstone or concrete aggregate. Its removal is necessary in order to uncover the beds of Hopton-Wood stone which lie beneath. To utilise it to the best advantage a modern roadstone and tarmacadam 'Plant have recently been installed and all sizes of roadstone and chippings either dry or tarred can now be supplied at competitive prices. A short description of these plants may be of interest to some of our readers.
The mountain limestone is quarried on the top level and thrown down an inclined chute to the primary crusher at the lower quarry level. The stone is broken in this crusher to about the size of a fist and is then conveyed by a new type of shaker conveyor a distance of some 200 feet to the Secondary crusher, elevator, screen and storage bins. Any size of graded stone in the bins can be drawn off on to a belt conveyor and fed to the crushing rolls for reduction to chippings. The capacity of the plant is 500 tons per week. It is all electrically driven from power applied by the Derbys. & Notts. Electric Power Co.

The tarring plant is mounted on reinforced concrete columns and lies alongside the roadstone bins so that any particular size or a run of mixed sizes can be fed to the elevator, dryer and mixer. It is a thoroughly modern plant and is capable of turning out 10 tons of tarmacadam per hour.
Both plants are so situated than they can load direct either into main-line wagons or lorries.
In addition to the above there is a large plant for grinding the Hopton-Wood stone to various degrees of fineness for the use of certain industries which require a ground limestone of high quality and purity. This plant has many special features, the description of which would involve too many technicalities but briefly the lump stone after careful selection is fed to a primary crusher whence it travels to a granulator and a combination of screens and separators which grade it from almost impalpable blown bust to pieces the size of small marbles. Some of these sizes are used as "granitos" for the manufacture of artificial stone - generally in imitation of the real Hopton-Wood Stone. This plant is driven by two semi-diesel oil engines of 75 B.H.P. each, and has now been running very successfully for nearly 4 years. Its output is in the neighbourhood of 300 tons per week, but can be speeded up to 500.
The Hopton Quarries have a total length of face of about 500 yards, the height varying from 200 feet to 60 feet.
In two of them sinking operations by steam travelling and derrick cranes are being carried out in order to work the beds an additional 20 to 30 feet below the quarry floor.
These lower beds yield first class sett and kerb stone and some of the finest light Hopton-Wood Stone in blocks of moderate size.

 

Send mail to jeremy@jeremyhewitt.co.uk with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright 2001 Jeremy Hewitt
Last modified: May 14, 2002

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