Two entries in the Lloyd George 1910 land survey ‘Domesday Book’ for Cromhall [D2428/1/25], transcribed by Mike Beacham, refer to ‘Strontia Works’ [Nos 198-199], valued at twenty-five and twelve pounds per annum respectively. He was surprised and followed them up, sending us some more information.
One entry in the book for Dodington [D2428/1/59] refers to a ‘Strontia Quarry’ [No 143], valued at twenty-five pounds, with another ‘Works’ at Raysfield Farm [No 27] valued at five pounds ten shillings. Being shamefully ignorant of what strontia was or is, a bit of on-line searching, including the Archives’ on-line catalogue, and a fruitful consultation with Anthea brought resolution of a sort. Strontium sulphate, or celestine, is a crystalline compound of strontium found in shallow beds usually not far below the surface, which were ‘mined’ in the opencast manner, with the disturbed grounds back-filled once the celestine, known locally as ‘spar’, had been extracted.
From the late eighteen eighties until World War II the greater part of the world’s requirements for celestine were provided by opencast works in and around Yate in south Gloucestershire, and all hand-dug. Kelly’s 1914 Directory estimated annual exports of 12000 tons – and that’s a lot of shovelling! Although the mineral is found in various countries around the globe – Germany and the USA, for instance – the Yate area workings contained the purest spar, and as such, was highly prized.
The ‘Domesday Book’ for Yate itself [D2428/1/86] shows at least four sites being worked, three of which are valued much higher than the foregoing examples. The ‘Spar quarry’ at Godwins Farm [No 65] and the one at Goose Green Farm [No 290] were both valued at three hundred pounds; spar at a Yate Rocks property [No 332] was worth one hundred, while R.N.Hooper’s quarry at Stanshawes [No 208] was only worth twenty.
The mineral had several uses: it formed part of a German process to make sugar from sugar beet; it burned with a bright red flame and was ideal for making fireworks; as the war approached, again because of its red colour when heated, it was used in the manufacture of ‘tracer’ bullets; and also in incendiary bombs.
After the war, mechanical diggers were used to increase production, but the beds were becoming worked out, and new manufacturing processes could utilise low grade material which was plentiful elsewhere. Stiff competition saw exports more than halved after the end of the war, and although the mining continued for forty years or more, the ‘glory days’ were long gone.