Geology Site Account
St. Margarets Church, Barking, BARKING, London Borough of Barking, TQ44058388, General geological site
Example of unusual building stone only
The fifteenth century tower of St. Margaret’s Church in Barking is a rare example of the large scale use of Reigate Stone. Reigate Stone, or ‘firestone’, was obtained from extensive subterranean stone quarries in the Lower Greensand beds near Reigate in Surrey. These mines have long ago ceased operation but the vast underground galleries are still in existence beneath the North Downs. It is a calcareous, fine-grained sandstone which, when freshly mined underground, is very soft and a striking olive green colour. On weathering it hardens and turns grey or even chalky-white.
Reigate Stone should not be confused with the much more common Kentish Ragstone which makes up the rest of the church. ‘Kentish Rag’ as it is more usually known, was obtained from opencast quarries in Kent and used in the construction of thousands of churches and other buildings in Essex and London. Although Reigate Stone is found in several Essex churches it is usually just as dressings and internal carved work. Its use in Essex as early as the 15th century is surprising as the mines were some distance from the nearest navigable water. The only other buildings in Essex with significant amounts of Reigate Stone are All Saints Church in West Ham and Hadleigh Castle.
The church is next to the site of Barking Abbey which was demolished in 1541, and the church is surrounded by boundary walls of stone plundered from the abbey. At the Dissolution, an abandoned abbey became a valuable ‘quarry’ and stone was reused in other buildings in the neighbourhood. In the case of Barking Abbey, it is thought that much of the high quality stone – almost certainly including a quantity of Reigate Stone dressings – was shipped to Dartford to be included in the Priory and Queen’s Manor House.
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Reference: Sowan 1980
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