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The Book
The History





and Hopton-Wood Stone

The Quarryman finds comfort in the paradox that, while stone construction may diminish, the desire for stone in building is undeniably on the increase. When the camera became popular there was no lack of jeremiahs to prophesy the death of portrait painting; just as the cinema would oust the stage and radio meant the end of concert-going, so the coming of the girder and the concrete-mixer were jubilantly hailed by the iconoclast as doom to brick and stone. In fact, none of these tragedies occurred, for painting gained fresh impetus, the stage awoke to new life, never before have concerts been so crowded, and concrete's popularity has made stone seem more desirable to the discriminating taste.
It may be an historic fact that stone is no longer the pre-eminent dynamic factor in building-construction, yet it is still the finest architectural medium. The fundamentals of the art are sought in stone, and where it is desirable to preserve an emotional balance with tradition, as in such works as the Bank of England, the architect will choose to design within the limits and conventions stone imposes. The demand for stone in facing and lining has never been so heavy; for interior work, particularly, freed from the domination of wood and stucco, stone is more and more specified by architects, who allow it to express its intrinsic beauty without apology or concealment.
Architectural integrity is preserved, but it is a fresh integrity,
by which stone is not tortured out of its own nature to act as wall-

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paper, or pretend to functions which it is not in fact performing. Here is a new architectural democracy where stone, while looking handsome, must do its share of work, preserve its own quality, yet discreetly integrate with surrounding materials, be these wood, glass, metal, vitrolite the 'gingerbread' of Adam plasterwork, or, hardest of all concessions, other kinds of stone. It must have brilliance of surface and texture allied to strength and durability, and a colour which is in feeling with the mode. It must be a well-mannered stone.
All this is Hopton-Wood. It has the inherent loveliness of marble, but the present reaction from an indiscriminate nineteenth century use of foreign marble and its commercial sour-milk substitute does not reflect at all on Hopton-Wood, for the discreet creamy colour of the Light and the bolder yet honeyed tones of the Dark are thoroughly twentieth century in feeling. Even in its rough sawn state it is a handsome stone, but when it has been brought to a fine polish it is unrivalled in a beauty that appeals to the sophisticated modern taste for subtlety.
Stones are chosen for their characteristics and Hopton-Wood is notable for style. Yet Hopton-Wood is strong as well as beautiful, having nearly three times the crushing resistance of most Freestones ; so it is especially suitable for columns, pilasters, staircases, ashlar, and flooring.
It is a particular characteristic of Hopton-Wood, shared by few other British stones, that while it may be quarried in fairly large sizes it is equally capable of the utmost delicacy; it can be used for massive effects or sawn to 3/4 -in. thickness for wall linings.
A visit to Middleton Quarry demonstrates at once the care and craftsmanship which are devoted to the quarrying and preparation of the stone. Difficulties patiently overcome are visible to the experienced eye in the very overburden -that soil, mountain limestone and toadstone or lower lava -which must be cleared before each stage of quarrying can begin: yet it is proverbial that the 12 greater the overburden the more excellent the stone beneath.

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As it lies, Hopton-Wood is in beds from 3 ft. to 12ft. thick and is jointed naturally, not only by the horizontal 'partings' that separate the layers, but also vertically. Work is not done hastily. A stone is carefully chosen from the layer for 'winning' - the operation of detaching a block from surroundings it has known for half a million years - and the newly fractured surfaces are minutely examined for evidence of flaws. It is then turned over to the instinctively skilled hand of the scappler, who roughly squares up the stone for sawing. Should the decision be to split it, the men concerned will drill a line of shallow holes across the block, which are then gently pegged till the two halves fall apart.
These men, who have passed their lives within a few yards of the quarry, know the virtues and foibles of Hopton-Wood better perhaps than they understand the chemical mysteries of their own bodies: they can tell at a glance good stone from bad and, by a

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sense attained only with experience, diagnose a fault which is invisible to the untrained eye.
The difference between Light and Dark Hopton-Wood is that the former is less densely marked by crystalline figurations, although the character of both stones is the same. In formation the dark measures lie over the light, and though there are gradations of tone the two extremes are so clearly distinguished and so consistent in texture that exact replication of tint can be assured over considerably long runs. If the working of the stone be entrusted to our own masons and craftsmen we can guarantee that colourings and markings will match over the whole of a commission. In bedding and backing, efflorescence and even staining may result from indiscriminate use of unsuitable materials; but we have made careful research into this subject and it is advisable to follow our considered recommendations.
A stone may have strength and beauty, yet be unpopular with architects and builders for two reasons: its cost and its unneighbourliness. Hopton-Wood is not a cheap material, but when one considers that it has as much hardness and reliability as Carrara Marble and will take and retain a brilliant polish equal to that of any marble in the world, that it may with perfect assurance be specified for work requiring the utmost delicacy and intricacy as well as for positions demanding bulk and strength, then one cannot call it expensive.
As for architectural good manners, Hopton-Wood is well bred and will harmonise with anything but the shoddy and meretricious. One effect it will not give is pretentious vulgarity; but for dignity, charm, restraint, and that enrichment which is the opposite of ostentation, Hopton-Wood is without equal. In the Sheffield City Hall engraved venetian-glass mirrors are let into Hopton-Wood walls. In Derby Police Court metal balustrades and fittings go perfectly with Hopton-Wood wall linings. At the New York World's Fair in 1939, a dedicatory panel of Hopton-Wood was mounted on the fluted-plaster walls of the British

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Pavilion; Hopton-Wood columns, arches, and ashlar are cornbined with glazed brick in the Prudential Assurance buildings at Furnival's Inn; Shoreditch Public Library, bombed in the war,had a painted frieze and wrought-iron grilles with walls and stairs of Hopton-Wood; the Imperial Institute has Hopton-Wood piers, arches, pilasters, and cornice with plaster work above wood panelling. Tile and mosaic are introduced with piers and linings of Hopton-Wood in the Catholic Church, Spanish Place; in the County Hall at Northallerton, pillars, stairs, ashlar, and balustrades are of Hopton-Wood, while the floors are chequered in black and white marbles, and caps and copings are of Black Frosterley Marble. Hopton-Wood undoubtedly looks finest in restrained surroundings, to which it imparts a delicate warmth and texture, yet in the entrance to Sheffield City Hall it integrates triumphantly with a lavish and colourful scheme of marble, brightly decorated plaster vaulting, wrought-iron grilles, bronze gates, and stained glass. In the nicety of transition from stone pillar and wall-lining to a plaster ceiling Hopton-Wood shows a pleasing graciousness.
The pictures of the Bank of England demonstrate how subtly the transition has been managed by the use of Hopton-Wood, whose colour flatters and brings out the quality of the plasterwork.


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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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