A Survey of the Use of Traditional Building Stones in West and South Somerset

By G. J.  Dawson and P. Wright

Volunteers, Garry Dawson and Peter Wright, have embarked on a remarkable research project to investigate the use of traditional building stones in Somerset. The character and appearance of our historic settlement are assumed to be shaped by local material. This research (which began in 2015) is demonstrating the tight correlation between the rich variety of building stones in Somerset and the bed rock below.

The extent of the survey by August 2019 (click to enlarge the map)

About the Volunteers 

Garry graduated in Geology from the University of Leeds in 1975. After two years working offshore in North Sea oil exploration, he joined the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office in Taunton where his work covered navigational charts, satellite remote sensing and oceanographic data collection/databases. In retirement he has spent his time pursing geological interests and volunteering in the Quantock Hills.

Peter, having graduated with a degree in physical geography and a PhD in coastal geomorphology, worked for 35 years at the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office in a variety of technical and managerial roles. He retired in 2014 to pursue interests in geology, local history, cartography, photography and cycling.

Garry Dawson and Peter Wright surveying the buildings stones at Taunton Castle

About the Project

Since retiring Garry and Peter have committed over 1,550 hours surveying 146 historic settlements containing 5,432 buildings, 148 churches and 1,407 boundary walls (figures up to May 2019).

Their skills and commitment have produced a research resource that is in-depth, reliable, and tailored to the needs of building conservation and place making. Their findings provide:

  • an overview of the relationship between geology, transport and local building materials;
  • an assessment of the key building stones and materials for each settlement; and
  • a detailed record of roof coverings, boundary walls, dressings, church walls, church dressing, and prominent buildings.

To date the research has covered the Borough of Taunton Deane, the Quantock Hills and surrounding settlements, and the western half of the District of South Somerset up to the River Parrett. Further surveys are underway in west and south Somerset.

Survey areas (click to enlarge the map)

Report Findings 

The findings from the research in Taunton Deane and the Quantock Hills are presented in a report to the South West Heritage Trust.

The report contains the following elements:

  • Explanatory paper on the methodology and findings.
  • Appendix A.  Table and map of the rock types used as building stones in Taunton Deane.
  • Appendix B.  Maps showing the use of stone and other building materials in Taunton Deane.
  • Appendix C.  Table listing by place-name the use of building stones in Taunton Deane.
  • Appendix D.  Table and map of the rock types used as building stones on and around the Quantock Hills.
  • Appendix E.  Maps showing the use of stone and other building materials on and around the Quantock Hills.
  • Appendix F.  Table listing by place-name the use of building stones on and around the Quantock Hills.

You can download the report here.

Detailed Survey Data

The survey findings for the settlements were collected in Excel data sheets. These provide a detailed percentage and numerical breakdown of the building stones, building materials and roof materials for each settlement.

You can download the data here.

Other Research

The following research publications are also significant and complement the Dawson and Wright report: