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History to be read in every stone

The Churnet Valley has a rich and fascinating history; from post glacial outwash streams and lakes to post-war (WWII) forestry expansion, the story is there for those who can read it. Not least amongst these stories is the creation of our diverse dry stone walls. While many people would consider “A wall is a wall” if we thought about it at all it does not take long to realise ths is not the case. Between the changing geology of the Churnet Valley and its influxes of immigrant labour over the years, we recognise at least five distinct styles of dry stone wall, one or two effectively unique to England.

The Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership is on a quest to identify these walls and to attempt to dismantle, understand and rebuild a selection of them. At Crumpwood Farm, near Alton, we’ve been lucky enough to have access to a herringbone field wall. We’ve dismantled 30 metres of semi-derelict wall, and with the support of two walling instructors and many volunteers, rebuilt it in the original style. This particular wall is of massive gritstone and we believe was built by Irish labourers brought over during the potato famine to work for the Earl of Shrewsbury Estate. Herringbone style walling is not uncommon on the west side of Ireland, but not with such massive stone, the current assumption is that these labourers adapted their skill to meet the need.

The Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership will be looking at, and working on, a number of other walls through the valley during the next year. They will also produce a report on the importance of local provenance in walling to the preservation of our unique landscape.

A PDF presentation with more photos may be downloaded here.