A group discussion

Two tours of Rudloe Stoneworks Ltd. took place as part of Heritage Open Days 2011. Paul Baker and his wife Jenny gave a fascinating insight into the work carried out and took us through the processes involved in their business. The product range was much larger than most visitors realised, including natural hand carved stone and the manufactured cast stone products.

The company was set up some 20 years ago at Box Hill, just outside of Corsham, on a small farm. It has ‘organically’ grown since then and makes a range of products from fireplaces to flag stones, mullion windows and sills, through to garden ornaments. Their comprehensive service also includes fitting grates and baskets for gas, coal or electric fires.

For bespoke stone products large blocks of stone are obtained from local quarries, Hartham Park Quarry or Limpley Stoke for example, and are individually chosen specifically for the job in hand, such as a fireplace. The stone is cut on large stone saws and then goes to the mason’s shop for their experienced stone masons to hand carve. Any waste is crushed and it is from this waste that many of the cast products are made. Cast stone is generally cheaper to buy compared to natural stone due primarily to less time required – remember that working with stone by hand is a time consuming process. As a bonus, the resulting product is more resilient than natural stone.

The whole process of cast stone is carried out ‘in house’ at Rudloe including the initial design, making of wooden masters, through to making rubber moulds.

The product is then manufactured from a mixture of stone dust, aggregates and cement, is moved to a vibrating table which releases any air bubbles, and then goes into a temperature controlled room where an exothermic reaction takes place; the carbonates, water and cement react, releasing energy in the form of heat which cures the mixture itself overnight in a self-curing process.

Rudloe use a unique process where detailing is etched upon the stone by dipping in a solution of hydrochloric acid. This dissolves the surface of the stone leaving the intricate details showing. A crane and stainless steel lifting gear is needed for this operation. The stone then goes through a neutralizing tank to clean off any residual acid.

Today Rudloe have a wide customer base; from local retail customers, through to nationwide house builders and including recently shipping some 300 square metres of local stone flooring to a celebrity in the USA. There are numerous styles of fireplaces, many named after local places of interest, such as Box Tunnel (built precisely at one fifteenth scale of the actual tunnel), the Hazelberry range, the Hartham, the Pickwick and the Sheldon. There are 300 original floor tiles from which casts are taken, an ever increasing range of different fires/stoves including log burning stoves, gas fires, gas stoves and gas baskets. (The company is HETAS qualified and Gas Safe registered for gas installation.)

At the time of the visit in September 2011 the recession was having an impact on Rudloe, as on all manufacturing companies. In order to maintain the viability of the company, they have continued to diversify, recently into woodland management and wood stores which have galvanised feet to prevent rotting. Five live stoves heat the whole building and help keep energy consumption under check as well as being a good advertisement for log burning stoves.

In summer 2011 Tetbury Stone became part of Rudloe and an old stone lathe came with the purchase which they hope to restore allowing the company to increase their range even further to include stone balustrades.

We are very grateful to Paul and Jenny for providing these tours. They made us very welcome and it was good to see the enthusiasm which Paul had for the business. It was interesting to see that the group I was with were surprised of the high quality and range of goods provided by a local firm, largely unknown to the local population.

Jane Browning

Acknowledgement: Thank you to Jenny Baker who kindly checked through my article for correctness and provided the photographs.

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