Headington Stone - The Colour of Oxford

There are an almost innumerable number of reasons to visit Oxford - the literary history surrounding you at every turn, the plethora of world-class museums, the exceptionally beautiful stationery shops... - but one of the main draws for many visitors to the city is its exquisite architecture.

The City of Dreaming Spires (as Matthew Arnold so fittingly crowned Oxford in his 1865 poem 'Thyrsis') was declared the United Kingdom's most aesthetic city by Atlas Ceramics, and contains 26 listed buildings per square kilometre, meaning there is never any lack of stunning vistas to stumble across. One of the things that unifies the buildings of Oxford and makes them especially beautiful is the stone that the buildings are made of. The cohesion of these now iconic landmarks can make one feel as if they are in a waking dream, and the hue of the stone itself reflects the sunlight in such a way that one cannot help having their spirits cheered by it. Evelyn Waugh described this effect of the light in his seminal novel Brideshead Revisited as making Oxford feel like 'a city of aquatint', referring to the depth of tone in 18th and 19th century prints, which may explain why it so often feels like one is walking inside a postcard whilst traversing Oxford's winding streets. While most buildings are now clad in a variety of stones - including Cotswold, Bath, and Portland - the stone at the heart of many Oxford buildings is of a far more local flavour.

Headington stone gets its name from the Headington Quarry where it was produced, around 4 miles from the centre of Oxford. It is thought that the first use of Headington stone came in 1396, when the local limestone was utilised in the construction of New College's bell tower. By the 1600s, Headington stone dominated the construction projects of Oxford, with all major buildings making use of it in their creation. The stone was a specific type of limestone, called Corallian limestone, created by the fossilisation of coral reefs millions of years ago when the Oxfordshire area was still submerged in the sea. Limestone is famously softer than other types of stone, and Headington stone in particular was praised for the ease with which one could cut and manipulate it to fit the desired shape or angle of the building project at hand. This quality was so desirable in the stone that it was even used in projects outside of Oxford, including Windsor Castle and Eton College. 

As demand grew and extraction increased, however, the quality of Headington Quarry's Corallian limestone began to deteriorate drastically. Many of Oxford's finest buildings soon found themselves with an existential problem: the very stone they were made from was being eaten away by pollution and acid rain, leaving their continued standing in a state of peril. Bath stone came in to save the day, with many buildings requiring re-cladding in order to assure their structural safety - much of the stone now on view in our very own Turl Street is Bath stone. Headington stone's reign had come to an abrupt end, and today the land is residential, though two pits (Magdalen Quarry and Rock Edge) still remain as sites of Special Scientific Interest. 

While Headington stone may not have ended up being the enduring local success that the architects and quarrymen of the past had hoped it to be, we still find the story of such local ingenuity and diligent work deeply inspiring, and as such we wanted to pay tribute to the buried foundation of some of Oxford's finest buildings. As such, our new Ornate Vase Journal, Verba Volant, Scripta Manent Pocket Journal, and Oxford Pocket Journal are available in our new Stone coloured leather, intended to be as close a match to the Corallian limestone that originally built our great city as possible. The motifs on these journals are embossed with a bronze foil so as to allow the rich hue of the leather to shine through, whilst adding a dash of ornamentation that we hope the earliest architects of Oxford would have approved of.

All of these journals are available on our website, or in our Turl Street shop, from which you can see the experience the aquatint of Oxford's light upon the Bath stone that clads Lincoln College on a bright spring afternoon such as this. 

Stay safe and well, Scriptum Blog readers x 

Photo of Lincoln College Library Spire with Tree in the Forgeground