Archaeologists Preserve And Record Ancient Bath Stone Mines

By Johnny Wilson | 18 December 2006
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a photograph of a stone mine chamber with large stone pillars supporting the roof

The series of stone mines underneath Bath are currently being excavated, recorded and preserved by Oxford Archaeology. © Oxford Archaeology

Combe Down Stone Mines near Bath are being stabilised and recorded as part of a long running programme by Oxford Archaeology.

The mines, situated about two kilometres south of the city of Bath, were extensively quarried for the highly sought after Bath limestone between 1730 and 1860 and did not cease operations until the early years of the 20th century. The high quality stone was used not only for buildings in Bath but also in the construction of prestigious buildings such as Buckingham Palace.

Working in tandem with Hydrock, the structural engineering company who are stabilising the site, Oxford Archaeology hope to assess the significance of the deposits and provide advice upon their preservation and recording.

Ianto Wain, Project Manager of the site says, “We have to be reactive so we have a permanent archaeologist who goes down with the engineers to record the deposits they encounter."

a photograph of writing on a stone wall which says J Dowling 1886

Graffiti left by former miners has been carefully recorded and preserved. © Oxford Archaeology

The mine offers a fascinating insight into the life of the mine with tramways, cart roads and crane bases still visible. As a result of the engineers laying down supported roadways, large scale plans and photographs have been taken of the accessible areas with 20 per cent of the site recorded using video photography and laser scanning.

The data will be released in written and digital form to allow both the public and specialists to view what has been recorded, which includes evidence of the 300-year evolution of the stone extraction process clearly visible in the walls, showing both early pick marks and the later more efficient stone saws.

Graffiti in charcoal provides a fascinating insight into the lives of the miners, throwing light on such matters as the price of beer in 19th century pubs and the miner’s often uncomplimentary attitude to their employers. A special process of lifting an impression of these doodles and transferring them onto a resin base was developed especially for the site.

Oxford Archaeology, founded in 1973, is one of the largest independent archaeological practices in Europe with over 250 specialist staff and permanent offices in Oxford and Lancaster.