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Construction Materials


Stonework at church in Seaton Carew

The geology of the district, in addition to by-products of industry, have provided construction materials used locally and elsewhere. Building stone, clay for brick-making, sand, gravels and road-stone have all been exploited at one time or another.

The earliest constructions using locally derived stone are the estimated 10,000 burial mounds erected by the area’s Neolithic inhabitants from around 4,000 years ago. These ancient builders appear not to have quarried, but rather gathered up the many boulders of Middle Jurassic and Quaternary age that are scattered across high ground. Quarrying for building material allegedly arrived in Britain with the Romans. One possible candidate for workings of this age may be Stainton (=Stone Town) where whinstone, from the nearby Cleveland Dyke, could have been extracted.


The buff coloured, fine grained Lower and Middle Magnesian Limestone provides the only viable building material from the Permian Period. Medieval masons used it because it was easy to carve intricately. It was used in the construction of many Abbeys and Minsters, including York Minster.


Sburn church

St.Emmanuel’s Church, Saltburn-by-the-Sea

Perhaps the best locally available building material is the massively bedded deltaic sandstones of the Middle Jurassic. Disused quarries in the Saltwick Formation can be found on hills around Eston, Upleatham, and Skelton in addition to the escarpment of the Cleveland Hills and North York Moors. Prestigious buildings, like Guisborough Priory, as well as alum works, mine buildings, cottages, railway bridges, stations and field walls have all, in the past, been constructed using this stone. Quarries at Galley Hill, near Aislaby (N. Yorks.), provided large blocks for Whitby’s East Pier, not to mention foundations for the original London and Waterloo Bridges. Blocks of Dogger Formation sandstone from near Whitby were used to construct breakwaters and loading ramps at Saltwick alum works.

The Lower Jurassic strata are not renowned for their building materials, though they have occasionally been used for this purpose. Flags from the finely laminated Staithes Formation provide paving slabs for several coastal villages including Staithes and Runswick. In 1861, local ironmaster John Bell built Rushpool Hall near Saltburn using ironstone mined from Cleveland’s first shaft mine at Skelton. A wide range of fossils can be seen in its slowly weathering walls.


Whinstone setts were occasionally used for building. They can be seen forming a decorative base on the town clock at Redcar.


Sburn theatre

Commondale bricks and tiles making up the theatre, Saltburn-by-the-Sea

Brick and tile making is perhaps more commonly practiced in regions without a viable source of good building stone. These are, by definition, districts generally underlain by fine-grained deposits suitable for the manufacture of bricks. Despite the ready availability of building stone in the Tees Valley, the area’s rapid expansion in the mid-1800s was primarily achieved using brick, which is cheaper and more convenient than quarried stone. Triassic and Jurassic shales and mudstones, in addition to superficial drift deposits, have all been exploited for this.

• At Commondale, mudstones from the Saltwick Formation were extensively quarried and milled into clay to produce brick and tile.

• Brickworks on the Tees floodplain used the glacial lake clays to produce bricks and tiles.

• A brickworks existed at Skinningrove to produce building materials from the glacial clay. The bricks were used to line drifts in the mine.

• Lingdale Ironstone Mine produced bricks with the waste shale from ore extraction.

• Slag from iron and steel making was cast into grey-blue bricks used to construct many miles of training walls to tame the River Tees, and which commonly line gutters in towns and villages across the area.

Road Stone

An ironstone quarry on Eston Hills provided road stone until 1850, when it was found that the stone was actually Cleveland Ironstone. This provided the catalyst which facilitated the launch of the iron and steel industry on Teesside.

Another, more durable, source of road stone (known as whinstone or dolerite) can be obtained from the Cleveland Dyke. Many quarries and mines were opened to extract it for use in highways across the north of England. Perhaps the best remains are to be found at Cliff Rigg, near Great Ayton, where quarrying and mining occurred between 1869 and the 1930s. Others can be found at Preston Park, Ingleby Barwick, and numerous sites across the North York Moors.


The much-prized mineral known as jet, commonly associated with Whitby has been prospected for across much of the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire. The name jet comes from the Greek term for it, Lithos Gagates – which means ‘stone of Gagas’, (Gagas being a town in Turkey). In French this translates into gaiet or jaiet and then into English as jet.

The earliest examples of worked jet date from around 10,000BC. Since the Bronze Age, people in Yorkshire have seen jet as a valuable commodity, often recovered from burial mounds (barrows) in the form of beads, bracelets and other precious items.

Jet became universally popular in more modern times though a rather tragic event when, in 1861, Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria died. Queen Victoria entered a long period of mourning declaring only jet jewellery was to be worn in court. The people followed and Whitby’s jet industry responded to the degree that by 1872, it is estimated that there were around 200 workshops, with over 1400 people employed to turn the raw material into beautiful jewellery. This is compared to 2 jet workshops employing 25 people in 1832.

Jet is formed from the fossilised trunks of Araucaria trees – similar to the modern day Monkey Puzzle. The trees grew on a Jurassic landmass away to the north-west, a little over 180 million years ago. Many would fall, or be swept into, rivers draining the landmass and eventually be carried to the ancient sea. The trunks would gradually become waterlogged and sink to the oxygen-poor (anoxic) sea floor where decomposition was either slow or non-existent. Gradually, the sunken logs became buried beneath more sediment until their once rounded trunks were flattened into thin planks by the weight.

Jet Jewellery

Jet jewellery

The rock member in which jet resides belongs to the Whitby Mudstone Formation and is known as the Jet Rock. The mineral comes in two forms known as hard and soft jet, with the former most prized for working and found below a thin limestone known as the Top Jet Dogger. Soft jet can be found slightly above the Top Jet Dogger as well as in the deltaic deposits of the Middle Jurassic. Native jet often preserves the shape and texture of the tree from which it came, and other fossils (commonly ammonites) can become impressed into the wood. These features can sometimes be seen in the finished jewellery.

When it is found, it is a dull grey brown and unspectacular to look at, but it is easily worked and after final polishing jet takes on a deep lustrous shine.

In the early days of exploitation, jet was simply picked off the beaches, but as demand grew mining became necessary. Dessing is an early method of working jet. It involved a man being lowered over the cliff side where he would break off pieces of jet. As demand grew, safer methods were sought to get the jet and mining started. Whitby was the main manufacturing centre but much of the jet was obtained from small mines located along our part of the coast and inland, for example in the hills around Guisborough and Great Ayton.

Jet was usually mined by driving tunnels, known as adits, into the cliffs or hillsides, several metres below the Top Jet Dogger. The miners would then work into the roof, standing on the spoil they produced to reach the ceiling as the roof gained in height, until they met the Top Jet Dogger which they used as a strong roof for their workings. The miners sold the jet they collected to a jet merchant who would then sell it on to a jet workshop where craftsmen would turn it in to jewellery.

How to identify jet:

• Look for evidence that jet was once a tree – sometimes growth rings can be seen.

• Jet will leave a brown mark when scratched on a piece of unglazed white pottery.

• If you burn jet it will smell like burning coal.

• Jet is warm to the touch.

• Jet will never fade in sunlight.

If you have a question about your local geology, or a rock, mineral or fossil you’d like identified then please visit our Contact Us page and we will do our best to help.


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Lumpsey Ironstone Mine ca1920 Marske Hall North Skelton Ironstone Mine Redcar Submerged Forest Roseberry Topping Cleveland-Yorkshire Coast near Staithes Duck Bridge, Danby Hissing Scar Huntcliff-at-Saltburn Kilton Mine from Little Moorsholm Kilton Mine Spoil Heap Loftus Alum Quarry Skinningrove Blast Furnaces Spa Wood Ironstone Mine View east from Boulby Quarries View north from Skelton View north-east from Loftus Quarries

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