Collyweston Stone Slate

A Brief History Of Collyweston Stone Slate

 

Collyweston stone slate is a fissile limestone from the Jurassic period (140-190 million years ago) and is not a true slate. It can be split along natural cleavage lines, however, which is the similarity between Collyweston and true slates. It is named after the village of Collyweston, in Northampton, which lies in the centre of the area in which the slate is quarried (see figure 1), and has been used as a roofing material since Roman times. From the middle ages until the 19th century it was used on almost all buildings within ten miles of the quarries and on prestigious buildings further afield. The advent of the railways meant that imported Welsh slate became cheap, and its impermeability meant that it was suitable for use on the fashionably lower pitched roofs. From the late 19th century Collyweston stone slating fell into decline - by the 1970's the craft was dying out. Fortunately, the durability of the slate and its attractive appearance, coupled with the protection of buildings with Collyweston roofs, has meant that building owners continue to demand the material and the craft has therefore survived.

Today, there are three main threats facing Collyweston stone slate. Firstly, it is under threat from the variety of alternative roofing materials available, many of which are cheaper to lay in the short term but not as durable in the longer term. Secondly, some roofing companies offer a free roof in a cheaper material in return for the Collyweston stone slate in order to obtain a second-hand supply of the material, and thirdly, the roofs of many unprotected buildings are stripped to provide salvage slate for use on roofs elsewhere. These latter practices are particularly damaging to the Collyweston trade because they reduce the demand for newly quarried stone slate, making it economically unviable and not competitively priced, and once lost, it is unlikely that a Collyweston roof would ever be replaced. If the demand for the material reduces, the skilled slaters will no longer be able train apprentices and the craft will die out.

 

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