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The use of blue slate for roofing in medieval England

  • E. M. Jope and G. C. Dunning


Documentary sources and excavated evidence have both shown that blue slate, occurring naturally in the older rock formations of the more westerly parts of Britain, was used to a considerable extent for roofing during the middle ages in a wide area of southern England. The evidence as at present known is summarized in the map, fig. i. Although new evidence occurs from time to time in documents, particularly as building accounts are more fully explored, the main opportunity of obtaining a fuller picture of this medieval trade in slates lies in the preservation of examples found in excavated medieval levels, so that they can be subjected to appropriate petrological examination. It is evident that these slates can expand our knowledge of medieval trade, and this account is presented in order to draw attention to their importance among excavated material.



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page 209 note 1 Survey of Cornwall (1602) (1749 ed.), 6d. He also says slates were shipped beyond the seas to Brittany and the Netherlands.

page 209 note 2 Williams, D. T., in Hist. Geog. England (ed. Darby, H. C., 1936), 278–82.

page 210 note 1 Salzman, L. F., Building in England (1952), 233.

page 210 note 2 Eng. Place Name Soc, Devon (2 vols., 1931-1932), 223 . ‘Martinestowe’ of this account is the early form of Maristow in Tamerton Foliot (ibid. 242). ‘Hassel’ cannot be certainly identified, but could be either Hartshole, 2½ miles SW. of Tavistock (Eng. Place Name Soc. Devon, 221) or, if the H is a misreading for P, Parswell, 1 mile SW. of Tavistock (Pashull) (1244); Passell (1551), Eng. Place Name Soc. Devon, 219).

page 210 note 3 Salzman, , Building in England, 233.

page 211 note 1 Leland, J., Itinerary (ed. Smith, L. T., 1907) i, 316 ; Carew, R., Survey of Cornwall (1602) (1749 ed.), 6d. ; Norden, J., Speculi Britanniae Pars (1584) (printed 1728) . Leland's reference is to the north coast of Cornwall, between Stratton and Padstow. Samuel Colepress, in Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc, iv (1669 old style), 1009 (abridged, vol. i (1705), 676).

Borlase, William (Nat. Hist. Cornwall (1758), 93 ) describes the industry in the eighteenth century, mentioning the area between Liskeard and the Tamar, the north coast round Padstow, and especially Delabole (near Camelford), which quarries, already then 240 ft. deep, he discusses in some detail. He quotes Delabole slates as ‘perhaps the finest in the world … for lightness and enduring the weather is generally preferred to any slat in Britain'.

page 204 note 1 William Worcester's account of Bristol, 1473, printed in Dallaway, J., Antiquities of Bristol (1834), iii : see also Carus-Wilson, E. M. in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century (ed. Power, and Postan, , 1933), 187–90 , and Williams, D. T. in Hist. Geog. England (ed. Darby, H. C., 1936), 282 ff.

page 212 note 2 Lewis, E. A., Welsh Port Books, 1350-1603 (Cymmrodorion Rec. Ser. xii (1927)), 218.

page 212 note 3 For Bristol's medieval trade with its hinterland see E. M. Carus-Wilson in Eng. Trade in the Fifteenth Century, 188.

page 212 note 4 North, F. J., The Slates of Wales (3rd ed. 1946), 8892 . We are indebted to Mr. A. J. Taylor, F.S.A., for informing us of further instances, temp. Henry VIII.

page 212 note 5 Hewitt, J., Medieval Cheshire (Chetham Soc. lxxxviii (1929)), 89, 94, 100, 140 . But ‘from Anglesey’ might merely refer to Beaumaris as a port for shipment of Caernarvonshire slates.

page 214 note 1 Lewis, E. A., Welsh Port Books, 1550-1603, 251, 254–5, 257, 260, 262, 271.

page 215 note 2 Ulster J. Archaeol. xiii, 1950, 63 : the slate was omitted from the account of building materials in that report. It is worth noting that the slates from Inch Abbey, Co. Down, and from Bonamargy Friary (founded 1500) are also of the same elongated shape as the English ones, with the long sides expanding out a little towards the end away from the hole.

page 215 note 3 North, F. J., The Slates of Wales, 91 ; Lewis, E. A., Welsh Port Books, 84, 257, 260.

page 215 note 4 North, F. J., The Slates of Wales.

page 215 note 5 Cal. Inq., 1271/2, p. 266; 1273/4, p. 49 (Kirby in Kendal), p. 434 (Alston, ); Cal. Inq. Misc. iii, 1348–77 , p. 129 (Sleddale, Westmorland).

page 215 note 6 Herbert, A., in Leics. Archaeol. Soc. Trans. xxii (1946), pt. 3 ; Hoskins, W. G., Midland England (1949), 97.

page 215 note 7 Salzman, , Building in England, 223.

page 215 note 8 Oxoniensia, xiv (1949), 94.

page 215 note 9 Salzman, , Building in England, 223–9.

page 215 note 10 Cal. Liberate R., 1226-40, 414; 1240-5, 35, 304.

The use of blue slate for roofing in medieval England

  • E. M. Jope and G. C. Dunning


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