Quarry Faces community heritage project has told the story of quarrying in the Mendips, and created an archive of oral history recordings and over 1,000 historic images.
Quarrying has for more than a century been the single most important industry in the Mendips, affecting the lives of those who live and work in the area. Many million tonnes of stone have been extracted from the Mendip Hills and it is still one the largest production areas in the country.
Yet despite its economic importance, the industry has been little studied and its history is not well understood. Unfortunately, the business records of many quarries have not survived, and so the memories of former quarry workers and the photographs collected by members of the local community are of great importance. In December 2011 the Quarry Faces project was set up by the Somerset Earth Science Centre to tell the story of quarrying in the Mendips. The project has been made possible by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Mendip Quarry Producers (Aggregate Industries, Hanson, Morris & Perry, Lafarge Tarmac, and Wainwright), and the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Launch event at the Somerset Earth Science Centre in February 2012
The project was officially launched in February 2012 and since then coordinators Ruth Worsley and Robin Thornes, together with a team of volunteers, have worked with local schools and community groups across the Mendips to compile archives of digital images and oral history interviews, and to share the results of this work through workshops held at local schools.
Quarry Faces held workshops at 13 schools, bringing together pupils, former quarry workers, and other older members of the community, who wish to share their memories. These have been tailor-made to meet each individual school’s requirements, and usually included a talk on the history of quarrying, a heritage walk around a local disused quarry, devising questions, learning to use recording equipment, and recording interviews. Follow-up workshops have included sessions on art, poetry, and video-making workshops.
Pupils intertview retired quarrymen at Quarry Faces workshop
In addition, over the past three years the project has given more than 60 talks to local societies, professionally bodies, clubs and community groups. It has also put on a number of events for the annual Mendip Rocks festival, including guided walks through disused quarries to bring alive the history of quarrying and the geology of the area.
A key part of the Quarry Faces strategy for encouraging community participation in the project has been its very popular “Talking Tea Shops”. These events comprised a talk on quarry history, followed by an afternoon tea and the chance to chat with members of the team. Those participating were encouraged to share their memories and bring along photographs and other memorabilia connected with local quarries. These events have proved very successful in bringing to light much important information, and many interesting historic photographs. Talking Tea Shops were held at Axbridge, Coleford, Frome, Mells, Stoke St Michael, and Wells.
Contribitors to Quarry Faces at the project's "Story so Far event at Somerset Earth Science Centre in Agust 2014.
As the project entered its final phase in August 2014, over 70 local people came to the the Somerset Earth Science Centre for the project’s “Story so Far” community event. Many of those present had already contributed photographs, memories and sometimes artefacts to the project. They were invited to attend this event to hear an update on progress, and to help piece together missing information still needed for some of the many quarries that have been recorded.
Quarry Faces exhibition at Frome Museum in 2014.
In addition to these events, Exhibitions on quarrying history have been held at the Wells and Mendip Museum (November 2012 to March 2013), Axbridge Museum (May and June 2013) and Frome Museum (April and May 2014). A number of schools visited the Frome and Wells exhibitions, and at Frome the team also ran a “Stories and Stones” day which offered a variety of activities, including a fossil workshop and a chance to talk to Aggregate Industries’ geologist Eddie Bailey.
Left: Eddie Bailey at "Stories and Stones. Left: Quarry Faces volunteer Steve Thomas
The response of the local community to Quarry Faces has been wonderful, a large number of people coming forward with information and photographs. Over 1,000 images have digitised and will be added to the Quarry Faces archive at the Somerset Heritage Centre. These span over 150 years, and document every aspect of the development of the industry.
Quarry Faces volunteers. Left: Tony Ford. Right: Liz O'Sullivan
The success of the project has been largely due to the dedication of its volunteers. Special mention must be made of Tony Ford for his tireless work in editing the oral history interviews; Liz O’Sullivan for helping to organise community events; Steve Thomas for help with events and research; and Pennyanne Windsor for her work in running school workshops.