Huddersfield's Johnsons Wellfield Quarries stone restores the best of British landmarks

PUBLISHED: 19:06 26 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:35 20 February 2013

Landmark planters in the centre of Sheffield

Landmark planters in the centre of Sheffield

Some of the finest buildings in the country have been restored with stone hewn from the moors just outside Huddersfield. Terry Fletcher reports

When Yorkshires Victorian textile barons set about creating their vast mills and landmark civic buildings they needed to look no further than their own back yard for the ideal material.

The green slopes and moors of the Pennines clothed rich deposits of hard-wearing millstone grit, laid down hundreds of millions of years ago. It proved the ideal material for their huge temples of industry and imposing town halls, libraries and museums.

For decades much of their beauty was hidden beneath layers of soot and grime but in more recent times legislation introducing smokeless zones backed up by a widespread cleaning programme has allowed their original warm golden colour to re-emerge.

These days the looms may be largely silent and the mills often converted to impressive flats and shopping complexes, but the demand for top quality Yorkstone carries on unabated. It is still being used to build, decorate and restore some of our finest buildings, not just across Yorkshire but throughout the country and Johnsons Wellfield Quarries Crosland Hill Hard Yorkstone, hewn from the moors just outside Huddersfield, is as good as it gets.

It has been utilised to reflag Londons historic Westminster Hall, and the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as on projects at the National Maritime Museum and the South Bank complex. Closer to home it has been used to renovate the cathedrals in Leeds and Sheffield as well as around Leeds Millennium Square, Clarence Dock and the regeneration of St Georges Square in Huddersfield.

Michael Gorman, the quarrys sales manager, said: This stone is a big part of the heritage of Yorkshire. You only have to look at the industrial and civic architecture of the towns and cities around Huddersfield to see that. It is everywhere. It has a very consistent buff colour which helps with matching in restoration projects. At the Great Hall at Westminster our stone was found to have an identical match.

But in fact you would not want it to be too perfect otherwise it can look synthetic. Our stone has just the right amount of difference in tone and shade to be instantly recognisable as a completely natural material. Its a very fine balance. There has been a quarry on this site for more than 200 years which gives us a great pedigree and puts our stone in the premier league of natural stone.

Its reputation means that Yorkstone is in great demand for prestigious projects. One of those that stands out was the National Maritime Museum, which was a historic building that demanded very sympathetic detailing and a stringent selection of stone to ensure everything looked just right.
In Sheffield Crosland Hill Yorkstone was chosen as the foundation for the Gold Route, a pedestrian tour which weaves through the heart of the city and has become symbol of its cultural and economic renaissance.

Snaking its way from Sheffield station to Barkers Pool, it knits together squares and public spaces, providing an unobstructed pathway past some of the citys finest buildings. All the paving and walling is in Crosland Hill stone while in Sheaf Square a stunning water feature of more than 400 cascades was created by Johnsons Wellfield craftsmen.

Close by in Tudor Square outside the Crucible Theatre Johnsons Wellfield was responsible for providing the landmark giant planters that form a crucial part of the development. Michael Gorman said:

These were a real challenge. I am a craftsman-trained stone mason and it was clear from the outset that they were a special project and would require a new way of thinking because of a combination of their size, complexity and an onerous production schedule that meant traditional masonry skills could not be relied on solely to produce the smooth organic shape that was required. The planters are made up of 23 separate components some of which weighed up to six tonnes in their blank form and had to fit together like an intricate Chinese puzzle.

To solve the problem Johnsons Wellfield created what is believed to be the countrys biggest robotic workshop marrying the latest computer technology with traditional masonry skills to create more than 170 individual components carved to millimetre-perfect tolerances

Traditional skills alone just could not have achieved it, he said. But we are still using those traditional skills and the decades of experience our craftsmen have. The tools may have changed but the need to understand the stone still remains.

Not that you need a multi-million pound project to enjoy the beauty of Crosland Hill stone. The quarry traces its history back to at least 1854 and takes great pride in serving the local community as a family-owned business. It was acquired by Johnsons in 1928 and then in 1979 was taken over by the Myers family, who were already very successful in the construction industry. Michael said: If someone just wants a fine stone fire place or even a rockery we are here to help them.

The family run Myers Group also includes Readymix, Mini Mix, Conveyormix, Mobile Concrete Pumps, Naylor Myers Building Supplies, Boards Timber Merchants, Myers Build & DIY and HSH Skip Hire.

The print version of this article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Yorkshire Life

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