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Headington history: The quarries

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Magdalen (or Workhouse) Quarry


Quarry face with boy

This disused one-acre stone pit is reached from the end of William Kimber Crescent, which runs off the north-west side of Gladstone Road. It belonged to Magdalen College, and there is some evidence of its use at Magdalen College from 1474 and Wadham College from 1610.

The maps below show the proximity of the Headington Union Workhouse, explaining why it was often known as the Workhouse Pit in the nineteenth century. According to Raphael Samuel in Village Life and Labour, it was called the Corporation Pit, and it was said, “you didn't need a Union card to get into the pit, you needed a name – Gurl”.It was the last working quarry in Headington, only closing in 1949.

1876 map
1876: Just a gravel pit opposite Barton Road, where William Kimber Crescent now lies

1898 map
1898: There is now a quarry next to the Union Workhouse, at the north-west end of the present Gladstone Road

1921 map
1921: The quarry has moved south, and Gladstone Road (then Elms Road) is being built to the east

1939 map
1939: The quarry is further south again, to the area of the current SSSI. Lime kilns are shown at its north end.

As the above maps show, quarries were not fixed workings, restricted to a single rock face, but progressed onwards over the years.

This quarry is now a Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest. The rocks exposed in the cliff face are of Upper Jurassic age, deposited c.140–150 million years ago. The upper rocks are Wheatley limestone, with some bands of smooth limestone called Headington Hardstone running through it: this is the stone used for important Oxford buildings. In the middle are shell pebble beds, and the lower rocks are Beckley sand.

Fossil

 

Left: Fossil found at Magdalen Quarry. Whole fossils like this are quite rare here (unlike at Rock Edge), and fragments of shell ware are more common.

 

 

The photographs on this page were all taken on Saturday 23 July 2011 when the Oxfordshire Geology Trust held an open afternoon at this quarry.

Looking down on the quarry

The preferred layers of stone here were known by stonemasons as the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd “Headington Hard”, and the “Hedgehog Course”.

Quarry with welcome tent

© Stephanie Jenkins

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