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Grays Gorge (previously known as Grays Chalk Quarry), CHAFFORD HUNDRED, Thurrock District, TQ609789, Notified Local Geological Site
Site category: Boulders - sarsen
Site name: Grays Gorge (previously known as Grays Chalk Quarry)
Grid reference: TQ 609 789
Brief description of site:
Large, historic chalk quarry with good exposures of Upper Chalk. Around the rim of the quarry are fine sarsen stones, exhumed from the overlying sand and gravel as quarrying proceeded. The quarry is a biological SSSI and of great value for promoting geology. Part of Chafford Gorges Nature Park.
The history of Grays Chalk Quarry can be traced back to at least 1801 when a quarry here known as Duvals Pit was owned by a man named Zachariah Button although chalk excavation for lime burning had taken place in the vicinity since the seventeenth century. Much of Button’s estate passed to John Meeson who by 1843 was working not only the Grays Chalk Quarry but also the adjacent Titan Quarry. By 1866 the quarry had passed to his son, Richard Meeson (1814-1871), who linked the two quarries by a tunnel under Hogg Lane. By this time the company was known as Grays Chalk Quarries Company Ltd. and was one of the biggest producers of whiting in Britain. Whiting had many household uses as well as being used for the manufacture of paint, putty and chemicals. In 1929 their works covered over 250 acres with 20 miles of railway and a 300 foot jetty on the Thames.
Grays Chalk Quarry, or Grays Pit as it was frequently called, has produced a considerable number of fossils over the years, many with the help of Richard Meeson. Meeson was a fellow of the Geological Society and was apparently an acute observer and gave his workmen encouragement to save any fossils they came across. When the tunnel to Titan Quarry was dug under Hogg Lane the under-surface of a bed of chalk was found to be covered with the impressions of magnificent entire shells of Inoceramus, a giant fossil clam. Meeson had the surface cleared and a number of casts taken. Meeson was also a brick-maker in Grays and was involved in the saving of many important fossil mammals (see site entry for Grays Brick Pits). The quarry has received several visits from the Geologists’ Association over the years. The account of one of these visits, in 1871, reports the finding of numerous fossil shark teeth, sea urchins and molluscs and describes a spectacular section through the Chalk with its horizontal layers of flint nodules, the overlying Thanet Sand and the Thames gravels at the very top of the cliff.
Around the rim of the quarry are a number of fine sarsen stones, all with unweathered mammillated surfaces. The stones, up to 2 metres (6 feet) long and around 50 million years old, were found at the base of the Thames terrace gravels overlying the Thanet Sand and were exhumed as quarrying proceeded. Sarsens were first recorded at Grays Chalk Quarry by geologists in 1867 and their curious shapes and possible origins have been commented on by numerous authors ever since. Of particular interest is a paper in the Essex Naturalist by T.V.Holmes in 1903 which includes photographs of stones that are almost identical to those that can be seen today, indicating that they have been here for more than a century.
The Grays Chalk Quarry played its part in the birth of another Essex industry. In the 1860s the water that was constantly flooding the pits was analysed and found to be of high quality and so the South Essex Waterworks Company was formed to sell the water to East London. This was the origin of the Essex Water Company (now Essex and Suffolk Water) which now supplies most of Essex.
The Grays Chalk Quarries Co, was dissolved in 1954 and the abandoned workings became a haven for wildlife. The quarry is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of the wealth of chalk-loving plants. It now forms part of Chafford Gorges Nature Park and is managed by Essex Wildlife Trust.
The stratigraphy of the Chalk here, and elsewhere in the area, has been described in detail in Mortimore et al 2011.
Sarsen stone on the rim of Grays Chalk Pit in 2005
Geologists Association field trip to Grays Chalk Pit in 1910
Sarsen stones around the rim of Grays Chalk Pit in 1910
Grays Chalk Pit during a Geologists Association visit in 1910
Part of Grays Chalk Pit in 1920
Grays Chalk Pit in 1910 during a Geologists Association visit
Shark teeth from the Chalk of Grays
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Reference: Prestwich 1872, Holmes 1903, Johnson 1871, Morris 1867, Powell 1983 (p. 66), Walker 1881, Thompson 1921, Woodward 1903, Lucy 2009, Mortimore et al. 2011.
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