Rock around the Block

We welcomed Dr. Max Johnson to our April meeting to talk about the use of stone in buildings. From the start it was clear that this ex-lecturer knew his stuff! Well, he even had a (very old) map; the sort that used to grace the walls of many a geography room at school, touched with varnish. Our attention was grasped, even demanded; our attitude to stone was never to be the same again - and woe betide the inattentive!

But immediately we were reassured by his kind statement that as stone was essentially local then it was hard to identify. To a member we threw away out "Observer's Book of British Stone" - if anything was less than hard it was certainties about stone. Dr. Johnson (for it was he) led us through an enchanted book of words that are inevitably associated with stone. Some were familiar like 'Juassic', 'Silurian' and 'Triassic' but many opened new worlds. We were told of; 'Rowley Rag', 'Cricklade', 'Hollington' and, more remotely, 'Grinshill', 'Tixall' and 'Perton'. Then the real hard ones; 'Clunch' and 'Hopwas Breccia' - thence 'Brachiopod'? Best of all was a fortunate street called "Oolite Terrace" - lucky inhabitants.

Max presented us with a fine and telling array of slides, by courtesy of the Society's new projector, that amply supported his geographic and structural explanations of stone's many uses; where the stone came from, the buildings in which it was used and its amenability to working. Some can't, come can and some are merely useful in the circumstances.

Stones of great beauty and some of great hardness, some with a robust and cheerful countenance and some that can be worked to our great delight. No two are the same, even from the same quarry; we were very literally brought down to earth. Kind as he was to us, I still wouldn't like to present an essay to Max Johnson's eagle eyes. Portland stone withered under his laser-like gaze - Lewis's (New Street, Birmingham) will never be the same again. My own reading was reinforced by his loving presentation of a wealth of knowledge.

For the curious your reviwer can recommend "English Stone Building" by Alec Clifton-Taylor, A.S. Ineson & Michael Stratton (Pub. Victor Gollancz and Peter Crawley, 1994; ISBN 0575-05846-3 pbk) which will amply reinforce everything that Max Johnson said.

Alan Thompson
April 2005