The Yeavering Quarry
At the western end of the Ad Gefrin site, where the farm track to Yeavering Bell meets he Kirknewton road, a bite seems to have been taken out of the gently rolling landscape. This was the site of the former Yeavering Quarry. Easily visible on aerial photographs and on Google Maps, the quarry once threatened the fragile archaeology around it.
In the post-war reconstruction, building materials were in short supply. In 1952 Alastair Virtue from Foulden, Berwickshire contracted with John Purvis, the landowner at Yeavering to begin commercial extraction of a small quarry opened at the western end of the ‘Sandy Field’, – the field in which St Joseph had made his remarkable aerial discovery just three years before. Men, diggers and lorries were brought in daily and an elevator was raised on a brick base to screen out the sand and gravels. Soon a sizeable quarry was rapidly extending eastwards destroying the as yet unidentified but clearly important fragile archaeological remains.
In 1951 Brian Hope-Taylor persuaded the Ministry of Public Buildings & Works of his belief that these might be the remains of Bede’s royal township of Ad Gefrin. Negotiations began to ensure excavation directed by Brian and funded by the Ministry preceded the process of destruction. In a climate of competing interests, the relationship between Virtue, Purvis and the Ministry was never an easy one. As Virtue had already secured consent for extraction from by Northumberland Council, the Ministry was initially very much on the back foot, with rescue excavation dependent upon Virtue and Purvis’s goodwill.
Occasionally tensions arose, as in the summer of 1953 following a sudden and unexpected 20m eastward lurch of the quarry that resulted in the mechanical stripping of topsoil that had not yet been archaeologically investigated. This left Hope-Taylor ‘quivering with shock’.
In August 1953 the site was eventually placed under state protection as an ancient monument, though consent was still required from the landowner before the annual excavations could take place. Before long Virtue reached the boundary of the area granted to him for extraction, and together with the added complication of the archaeology quarry operations ceased. The landowner continued to harbour hopes that, once rescue excavations were completed, scheduling might be lifted and the mound might yet return to profitable quarrying operations. There were attempts to revive these hopes, – in 1955 when the field was put on the market, and in 1969 when Purvis applied again to Northumberland County Council for permission to recommence extraction. With rescue excavation by the Ministry concluded, despite an outcry from the archaeological world they found themselves in a difficult position to object. Fortunately nothing came of the application; no buyer was found and on the death of Mr Purvis management of the estate passed into the hands of Barclays Bank until the field was sold to the Gefrin Trust in 2002.