British Stone : Hartham Park Bath Stone

In yellow jackets at the front, James (left) and Simon Hart with the production team on Bath stone freshly winched from the underground Quarry at Hartham Park. On the left of the picture is Stephen Ainsworth and next to him Adrian Boniface, who respectively manage the site and production.

Lovell Stone Group moved into Hartham Park Bath Stone underground quarry in February. It is already at full production.

Five or six times a day a buggy loaded with premium quality Bath Stone (like that pictured on the right) is winched out of Hartham Park underground quarry. The target is to extract 80m3 a week – and it is just about there. 

That is quite a feat because Lovell Stone Group only moved into the quarry in February.

It has helped that the people working there were already familiar with the operation in what most people would call a mine but which, for traditional reasons, in this part of the country is known as an underground quarry.

Lovell Stone Group is run by brothers Simon and James Hart under the watchful guidance of their father, who is the chairman. They recruited Stephen Ainsworth to oversee the setting up of the operation at Hartham Park. He was assisted by Adrian Boniface, who re-opened the mine in 1999 and is in charge underground. Four of Adrian’s team, including two who had been with him since 1999, chose to remain at Hartham Park under the new regime and two others have been newly recruited.

Stephen had been involved in the underground extraction of Bath Stone a decade ago, before moving overseas, working in Kazakhstan, Armenia and at a gold mine in Greenland. He returned to the UK in March last year intending to retire but was persuaded to help at Hartham Park. He says: “I like a challenge.”

Although the challenge was made all the easier by the team working there. Stephen told NSS: “These men are the best I have ever worked with; they are a cracking team.”

Simon and James Hart had already bought a new Fantini saw for cutting the stone from the face underground. Fantinis cost upwards of a quarter of a million pounds and you don’t buy them off the shelf. There is an eight or nine month lead in time, but Lovell had ordered the machine well in advance so they could introduce it to the mine on day one.

But that was not the only machinery they needed. They had to have scoop trams to move the stone around the underground tunnels and load it on to the buggy to be winched to the surface. They needed a winch (which they bought from Ace in Scotland). And they needed two fork lifts on the surface (they bought a 12-tonne Merlo P120 and a 3-tonne JCB) to move the stone to the storage areas. They also had to install ventilation and lighting systems underground. Stephen was instrumental in sourcing the equipment needed, even buying two scoop trams he had previously used in the gold mine in Greenland in which he had worked.

The previous operators of Hartham Park, Hanson Bath & Portland, had been extracting stone from reserves they have the rights to, which they have closed off underground so they are no longer accessible from the Park Lane entrance to the mine (currently the only entrance).

But there are plenty of other reserves to stretch beyond the foreseeable future – reserves that Adrian says are as good as any stone extracted to date. Stephen Ainsworth: “Adrian knows this ground better than anyone else. If he says the stone is good, it’s good.”

Lovell Stone Group already operates open cast quarries producing Purbeck, Somerset Lias, Chilmark & Chicksgrove and Hurdcot Greenstone, but had long wanted a widely used premium Bath Stone. In fact, it had previously approached Hanson about taking over the lease at Hartham Park, which Hanson had wanted to sell ever since it sold its Portland quarries in 2004. It did not happen because the two parties could not agree a price.

The land at the entrance to Hartham Park and much of the minerals rights are owned by David Pollard. The Harts got to know him and when a break clause in the contract with Hanson made it possible to terminate the agreement, David decided he preferred to work with the family company. So, in February last year, he served notice on Hanson to quit by February this year.

It was not ideal timing for Lovell Stone Group because the company was still working on setting up a new factory at Chicksgrove. But, says James Hart: “It was an opportunity that was only going to come up once.”

Hanson understandably removed all its equipment and Lovell’s main concern was to get in and start extracting stone as quickly as possible to minimise disruption of supply. It has done that. It was only a month after taking over that it had extracted the first block and now it is pulling three or four blocks at a time to the surface five or six times a day.

Lovell has an extensive stone processing factory on Purbeck in Dorset, which it has just expanded with a new Omag five-axes CNC workcentre bought from D Zambelis, which represents Italians Omag in the UK and Ireland. The factory is exceptionally busy producing high end masonry, flooring and paving in British limestones as well as hard landscaping that has resulted from providing stones from show gardens at Chelsea Flower Show in previous years.

Not that Lovell plans to take Bath Stone to Purbeck to be processed. Its aim is to sell block only from Hartham Park and does not want to be seen to be in competition with those who are buying the block.

Hartham Park stone is a true ground stone, which means it has good weathering properties, as the Georgian and Roman buildings in Bath ably demonstrate. It also has a slightly different colouring to other sources of Bath Stone, which makes it particularly desirable as the best match for many conservation projects.

Lovell also believes Bath and Portland are the only British stones with serious potential overseas and will consider marketing abroad. But first it intends to start cropping smaller pieces of stone to sell as walling, expanding its already established network of builders merchants selling walling stone from its other quarries.