Sunday, 11 December 2016

Swithland slate

I've been wanting to tell you about Swithland slate for a very long time: it's been on my "to do" list almost since I started my training as a Leicestershire Tour guide in 2012, and since I started this blog way back in 2013, but it's one of those that I so wanted to do lots of research on and give you lots and lots of interesting snippets of information. Sadly, time rarely seems to be on my side, so here's a brief post which has been prompted by a talk on Swithland slate headstones, and the publication of a recent website on the same. But first, roofs!!

Swithland slate was quarried around Swithland, Woodhouse Eaves and Groby, and there were a number of quarries on land that belonged to the Martin family, who lived at The Brand in Woodhouse Eaves. In an article published in 1944, Albert Herbert (1) wrote that there were millions of roofing slates produced at these quarries in the preceding three centuries (although a certain online encyclopedia suggests the popularity of these roofing slates began as late as 1750 (2)). As was common in days of yore, building materials used in the area were usually locally made products, like bricks, made by Tuckers, or Hathern Station Brick Company, or were made of materials that were mined or quarried locally (like Swithland slate and Mountsorrel granite), partly because it was a good deal cheaper and easier to transport things only a short distance. 

A Swithland slate roof is quite distinctive. Unlike Welsh slate, Swithland slate is not easy to split, and in fact, blocks of slate were sawn with a hand saw, and smoothed with a mix of sand and water, so the slates are very thick and look quite rough. Also, whilst Welsh roofing slates are a uniform size on each roof (although different roofs have different sized slates (with differing names, like Duchess, Countess, Queen etc.)), Swithland slate roofs are distinctive because each row of slates is a different size from the others, so you get small tiles laid nearest the ridge, gradually getting bigger in size, until the largest row, at the base of the roof.

I'll show you some examples of Swithland slate roofs at various places, so you can see how distinctive they really are:
Outbuildings at Stoneywell Cottage

Outbuilding in the grounds of Stoneywell Cottage

Part of the roof of Stoneywell Cottage

Another part of the roof of Stoneywell Cottage

A Swithland slate roof at Ulverscroft Grange

Building at the University of Leicester Botanical gardens

Building at the University of Leicester Botanical gardens

Building at the University of Leicester Botanical gardens

Building at the University of Leicester Botanical gardens
The example from Ulverscroft above is quite fascinating, because the roof is at head height when approached from the road, so it's possible to get a really good look, and if you're tall enough it's possible to touch the tiles. 

There are many, many buildings in Loughborough town centre which have Swithland slate roofs. Here are just a few examples:

Lowe's shop on Church Gate

Caravelli's Italian restaurant on Sparrow Hill
The other part of Lowe's on Church Gate
12 Degrees West, formerly the Mundy Arms
Next time you're in town, have a look at the roofs and see which others you can spot. 

Apart from roofs, Swithland slate is also used for a whole variety of other things, like plinths, window sills, milestones, gateposts, animal troughs and many more things. Here are a few examples from Stoneywell:
Swithaland slate door frame (inscribed with G 1899)

Siwthland slate coat hanger inside Stoneywell Cottage
I have a feeling some of the fireplaces and window sills in Stoneywell were also made of Swithland slate, but my photographs are not clear enough for me to be sure.

My internet connection is not playing ball today and it keeps switching off, so I am going to post about the use of Swithland slate for gravestones another time. In the meantime, here's a photograph of some from our very own parish churchyard (All Saints with Holy Trinity) to keep you going:
Swithland slate gravestones in the churchyard of All Saints with Holy Trinity
I'll let you know when the post about Swithland slate gravestones is ready, so do pop back again!

PS I have now blogged about Swithland slate gravestones, although there will be a further post concentrating on photographs. 

You are welcome to quote passages from any of my posts, with appropriate credit. The correct citation for this looks as follow:

Dyer, Lynne (2016). Swithland slate. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 11 December 2016]

(1) Herbert, Albert (1944). Swithland slate headstones. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological Society, Vol. XXII, Part III, 1943-44



  1. Hi Lynne,

    I just happened across your blog, which I like very much. I studied geology in university and though I have now forgotten most of what I learned, different rocks do still catch my eye. I wrote a blog post on Welsh and Charnwood slate gravestones a few years ago. Here it is:

    1. Hi Rod! Thanks for happening upon my blog! Geology is not my best subject, but I do believe Charnwood is a great area for rocks! Great post on Welsh and Charnwood slate gravestones! This was going to be my topic this week, but there were so many other interesting uses for Swithland slate that I ran out of time before I could get to the gravestones!! Lynne

  2. Wow, you weren’t kidding! Swithland slate roofs definitely do look unique. At first I wasn’t sure I saw the difference, but now I can definitely see the difference. Although I’ve personally never seen this style of roofing, I really do like it. I think it offers an aged, yet sophisticated look. Who would have thought Swithland slate is used for so many other things.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Pleasance Faast. Photographs do not do justice to Swithland slate, but I hope do manage to give a flavour. I don't expect you will ever see them for real: it's a long way to Swithland from Pala Alto. Lynne


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