Medieval quarry re-opens to supply Cathedral stonemasons

Medieval quarry re-opens to supply Cathedral stonemasons

26th October 2016

A Devon quarry that originally supplied stone to build Exeter Cathedral over 800 years ago has now re-opened, thanks to a partnership between the site’s current operator and the Cathedral’s works department.

Materials were last extracted from the Dunscombe Manor site in the 1980s but recent acceleration of the major works programme has depleted the Cathedral’s stockpile of Salcombe stone which is used to replace original, decayed material on a like for like basis.  This type of work is essential as the Cathedral commences the latest phase of its restoration, due to last for at least 10 years.

In 2013 an approach was made to Craig Morgan, who manages the land as a caravan park and holiday cottage business on behalf of the National Trust, to begin the process of securing permissions to re-open the site. He said:

"I was very excited at the prospect of re-opening the quarry as being associated with the restoration of such an important and beautiful building is a great honour. I remember the last extractions ending in 1986 as if it were yesterday and always wondered if the next quarrying phase would be commenced in my lifetime. So, to be consulted and asked to assist in the project was a fabulous opportunity which I am more than happy to agree to."

Under the terms of the latest agreement (which also includes a formal permission from Devon County Council) up to 5 cubic metres of stone will be removed each year to provide materials for upcoming restoration projects. Extraction began last week under the supervision of Chris Sampson, the Cathedral’s Clerk of Works, who said:

“We’re extremely grateful to Craig and to Devon County Council for working with us to re-open this historically significant site. Gaining a sustainable supply of Salcombe stone of this quality is important in providing our masons with the best materials as we continue to progress our current programme of major works which will ensure that the Cathedral is passed on to future generations in a cared-for condition.”

Salcombe stone was used to build the majority of the Cathedral, including the Norman towers and parts of West Front. It was extracted at several sites around the village of Salcombe Regis (near Sidmouth) from which it takes its name. Records show that it was transported by sea to Topsham and then into Exeter by barge. 

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