Building Materials of Northamptonshire: Ironstone

For the casual observer it’s easy to accuse Northamptonshire and her main towns such as Northampton, Kettering, Wellingborough and Daventry as giving very little to the world of architecture and construction.

There’s two reasons you might think this: most interactions with the county consist of travelling at high speed along the M1 or A14, and with their high grass banks flanking each side it’s easy to simply miss us as you go about your day. The second reason is that the majority of the towns consist of post-war residential developments, which aren’t exactly the stuff of dreams. Yet, dig a little deeper and you’ll soon uncover some absolute gems, not only in the old centres, but also in the villages that are hidden amongst the green, rolling hills. In fact, the villages of Northamptonshire are some of the most picturesque in the country and feature a remarkable variety of incredible architecture and craftsmanship.

If there is one underlying trait to all the variety that we have it’s the quality and abundance of the local stone that builders have taken advantage of. Take this view of John Morton writing in The Natural History of Northamptonshire, 1712:

“And no County in England affording a greater Variety of Quarry-Stone than this, or exceeding this in the Goodness and Plenty of it, upon that account it deserves a more particular consideration.”

To be honest I was startled to find out that there are almost 40 different variations of stone in the county from the relatively unknown Desborough Stone to the more famous Collyweston Slate. As an interesting side note, the Collyweston slate mine was brought back into action at the end of January after a 40-year hiatus. This particular stone has been used in the construction of prestigious buildings such as Guildhall in London and Nuffield College, Oxford.

The Northampton Sand Formation is primarily concentrated in the central part of the county and it is responsible for producing three types of stone: Ironstone, Brown Sandstones and ‘Pendle’ Limestones and Dustin ‘slates’. My personal favourite are the Ironstones.