Architecture and Geology

The Greenhouse
The Greenhouse was a rusticated stone building in the “Gothic Style” with five arches in the south side and timber frames and glazing to form a kind of orangery.  The major part of the building, including the front arches, was intact until 1952 when the arches blew down in a gale.

Having been rebuilt in 1992, the Greenhouse now acts as a Visitor Centre for the park, being sited close to the new entrance, and contains a gift shop with a tea room containing a very pleasant seating area being housed in a new building at the rear.

The Urn
The Urn was placed by Sir Richard Hill in 1784 to commemorate his ancestor, Rowland Hill.  The inscription reads:  “A gentleman remarkable for his great wisdom, piety, and charity; who being a zealous Royalist, hid himself in this glen in the civil wars, in the time of King Charles the First; but being discovered, was imprisoned in the ancient castle, commonly called Red Castle, whilst his house was pillaged and ransacked by the rebels.  The castle itself was soon afterwards demolished.  His son, Rowland Hill, esq., coming to his assistance, also suffered much in the same loyal cause”.

Prior to restoration works commencing, it was thought that the only remains of The Urn were its brick pedestal and the inscription stone which was found lying intact in the undergrowth just in front of it.  However, clearance of rhododendrons revealed the Urn, somewhat fragmented, and scattered down the slopes of Tower Glen.

The White Tower
Described as “a large handsome building in the Gothic Style” …..which affords “a fine prospect of all the country several miles around”.  It may seem strange that a red brick octagonal battlemented tower should be called white.  Evidence, however, suggests a lime washed finish which has disappeared with time.

In addition to being a shelter from inclement weather (the fireplace does suggest a destination for winter walks), it was possibly used as a summerhouse by the Hill family.  It was in a very dilapidated state prior to restoration, but thankfully remnants of all of the elaborate timber mouldings were rescued from the building in 1987 and sufficient remained of the window sash boxes, floor, plaster mouldings and ceilings to discern the original appearance.  It is now a Grade 2 listed building.

The Monument
Erected by Sir Richard Hill in 1795, it commemorates Sir Rowland Hill, the first protestant Lord Mayor of London.  Listed Grade 1, the Monument, also incorrectly known as the Obelisk, is a column of the Tuscan order, approximately 100ft high which supported a statue of Sir Rowland.

It had a spectacular role in the great festivities which took place in 1815, celebrating the Battle of Waterloo victories, when it was illuminated and was the scene of a firework display.

The shaft of the column contains a stone spiral staircase, and at the top a circular turret gives access to a square viewing platform.  Prior to restoration the statue had fallen down, breaking parts of the turret and platform, and the door and iron railing to the platform had gone.  Following repairs and the fitting of new doors and iron railings, a new statue of Rowland Hill by the sculptor Guy Portelli, cast in early 1992, now graces the top of the monument.

On a clear day, it is reputed that up to thirteen counties can be seen from the top.

The Swiss Bridge
A rustic bridge, part of Richard Hill’s “Scene from Switzerland”, crosses a very deep gulf.   It had rotted away at the time of the restoration in the early 1990’s, and was again restored in 2001 with further repairs effected in 2012.  It is a very popular feature of the Park and therefore needs constant attention to keep it safe!

The Arch
This was built above the roof of the Grotto as an artificial ruin comprising an incomplete gothic stone arch. Although it could be described as a true “folly” its purpose was actually as an eyecatcher affording splendid views down Cannon Bank to Elysian Hill and the Citadel in the distance.

The Grotto
Though some stories tell of Roman copper mines, this is not known for sure.  Consisting of a series of caves and passages excavated from the soft white sandstone at the top of Grotto Hill, much of the character derives from the ‘columns’ of stone left to support the roof and the circular window openings cut into the outer face.  These openings were originally glazed with stained glass in leaded lights, but all have disappeared.  The ceiling and walls were “encrusted with costly shells, selected from the remotest regions of the sea and inlaid with fossils from the deepest recesses of the earth”. This work is said to have been carried out by the ladies of the Hill family.  It is interesting to note that some of these encrustations were in fact a waste product from the new iron industry in Coalbrookdale – branded turquoise furnace slag!  Sadly a considerable amount of destruction of these encrustations took place when part of the Park was used as a Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War.

Restoration has involved reforming the two chambers at the front of the Grotto, securing the eyecatcher Arch above and re-establishing a safe terrace at the front of the Grotto from which to view the landscape.

Gingerbread Hall
Originally this was called the Temple of Patience, where visitors would await their guide.  Later on it changed its name to Gingerbread Hall when refreshments were offered, including gingerbread. It was a timber structure carried on posts and built into the rock fact, with a conical thatched roof.  It was restored to its original form based on 19th century photographs and the locating points in the rock.

 The Hermitage
Once the home of “The Venerable barefooted Father Francis”.  19th century photographs show the Hermitage to have been a hut, with walls of rubble stonework, an arched doorway with a stable door and a roof of rough heather thatch.  The live hermit was superceded by an automaton which was operated by the guide.  Although the restored hermitage was badly hit by fire in 2008, it has since been rebuilt but does not house a hermit at present!

The Red Castle
The original circuit of the walks historically ended at Red Castle.  It certainly appears as a constant focus along the walks, and was perhaps designed to be the climax of the tour.  It was originally built on one of the crags rising from the plain in 1227 by Henry de Audley and was an ideal location for a castle befitting the Lords of the Welsh Marches but by the 15th century it had fallen into ruin.

In the 19th century the remains of the Red Castle were very extensive, comprising parts of four or five towers as well as the main tower, or “Giant’s Well”, which rose some 20ft higher than it does now.

Although the subject of a management plan by English Heritage, the stonework is still eroding rapidly, aided by the growth of bushes and ivy.

Due to the dangers of the site, it is now closed to the public and does not form part of the walks.

Hawkstone Geological Trail

You are invited to discover the story of the rocks of Hawkstone Park as you walk the trail and enjoy the exciting historical features created by the Hill family. Go back not merely to the 18th century but to the age when dinosaurs (small ones!) were just beginning to roam the North Shropshire Plain, 230 million years ago.

The Urn
As you walk from the Visitor Centre towards the Urn, you will notice exposures of soft, red/brown sandstone. There are steps cut into natural stone and near the seat tree roots can be seen growing around the rock. This is the first of the two main sandstone found in the park, the Wilmslow Sandstone. Standing at the safety rail near the Urn, you can appreciate a good view of the opposite cliffs which form the Terrace. The red and white sandstones look blocky in places and are fragmented by joints. Joints are cracks in rocks where there has been no movement, differing from faults where the rocks have been displaced. Joints are often filled in with minerals or with later sediments. The red coloration is due to the weathering of iron oxides present in the sandy sediments The pale sandstones have been affected by chemical alteration resulting from hot fluids circulating during the period of igneous activity 50 million years ago; this alteration changed red to white or yellow and caused some hardening of the rocks. Notice how there is a lack of vegetation on faces where there have been recent rock falls. The holes along the layers behind the Urn were probably excavated by bees, wasps or other insects and an iron oxide deposit (haematite) is visible there.

White Tower
En route to the White Tower the softness and workability of the sandstones are obvious. Vertical and curved markings indicate the pick marks of stone masons in the quarries and the rounded alcoves show how easily the rock could be shaped as well as how easily it was naturally eroded. Notice the hollows in the steps leading to the White Tower, resulting from many human feet in combination with some water erosion.

The Monument
The white top of the Monument contrasts with the red stone of the rest. The corner stones are much newer and it can be seen that the markings on these are regular and vertical, made by a later machine-cutting technique rather than by hand.

Swiss Bridge
Crossing this narrow bridge is exciting and you can ‘ enjoy’ the steep drop and impressive gorge below as well as the striking view of Grotto Hill. To appreciate the geology further, go down to the lower route which goes under the bridge. You find yourself in a shady, narrow gorge where the rock walls are covered in moss and algae. This gorge is probably eroded along a line of weakness known as a fault. Whether this is completely natural or whether it has been artificially widened during the construction of the features in the park is not known. There are many examples of fault planes at Hawkstone and it is possible to see one at close hand here in the gorge. Look on the left at the bottom of the steps by the barrier. Set back a metre or SO is some light coloured sandstone. A diagonal crack separates this from some red and white sandstone This crack is a fault plane along which the rocks have been displaced, the rocks across the crack not matching up. The fault crosses the path and can be traced again on the right hand side of the gorge about 5 metres downhill.

Weston Bridge and Gingerbread Hall
As you cross Weston bridge on the way to Gingerbread Hall, you may be able to see grooves and polished flat surfaces on the rock faces below. These markings are known as slickensides and have been produced when one rock face slides past another during faulting.

The Cleft
Here is another good example of how a natural feature has been used by the Hill family to make something more dramatic.

The steps have been cut in the underlying sandstone and the Cleft deepened to allow a way through for visitors. The Cleft was originally a fault line partially widened by erosional and weathering processes. There is evidence to show how it has been modified by human effort in the chisel marks. These are visible towards the bottom of the rock faces but missing at the top suggesting artificial deepening. Notice the way the sandstone has been laid down in layers. These layers are called beds and this is evidence that the rocks belong to the major group known as Sedimentary Rocks.

The Grotto
You can’t examine the rocks in the Grotto easily even with a torch as it is so dark but the mysterious atmosphere soon becomes apparent as you wander through the fascinating network of chambers, pillars and passageways. The old mine tunnels have partly been used as well as new excavations and there are many clues to the mineral formerly mined there. Green staining on the surfaces is evidence of malachite, copper carbonate. a minor ore of copper which was mined here possibly as early as Roman times This staining is best seen near the exit. At Hawkstone the copper deposits were less rich than at nearby Clive and therefore not worked so extensively but this mineralisation as in other places in the area, is associated with fault planes. From the platform outside the Grotto is a magnificent view across to the Red Castle, built on a small outlier of white Grinshill Sandstone capping a hill formed of the red sandstones of the Wilmslow Group.

The same rock sequence occurs beneath your feet which is seen clearly in the cliff below Raven’s Shelf. Notice how the light, younger Grinshill Sandstone forms the top of Grotto Hill, changing to the red sandstones at its base. There is some striking green copper staining near the top of the cliff and an overhang which indicates softer rock below it. It is worth a closer look beneath your feet as the rock shows wavy structures formed when the sandy sediments were deposited and irregular white crystals of the mineral, barytes, which also fills small joints, and is scattered throughout the rock giving it an interesting texture.

It is interesting at this point to climb up to the arch on the top of Grotto Hill and look at the building blocks there. There is much variety of colour, size of grains and hardness even though they are all sandstones.

Hermitage and Retreat
As you follow the signs along the path look up to the left and there are excellent fault planes parallel to each other showing once again the tell-tale copper staining and producing most attractively green and orange coloured rock features. Next to the path weathering has added another variation: beautifully rounded boulders of different sizes. At the Retreat it is possible to sit down, pick up loose sand and pretend you are on a beach somewhere hot! The sand probably originated not from a beach, though, but from a desert! Do you recognise the white crystals again?

Fox’s Knob
Fox’s Knob is a pinnacle of Grinshill Sandstone with a flat slab on top and is a remnant left after the erosion of a much larger rock formation. You will, by now, easily recognise the mineral, barytes which forms discontinuous layers, 2cm thick, standing proud from the surface. The most interesting and important feature here is seen as you emerge on the far side and look back. Thin, striped, curving beds sweep across the rock face, made more distinctive by the black iron oxide present in alternate layers. What is seen here is cross-stratification (or cross bedding), a sedimentary structure produced by shifting sands moved by current action on shallow river beds or migrating dunes wind-blown by winds in deserts and resulting in inclined beds at varying angles.

Reynards’s Walk and The Terrace
From Fox ‘s Knob onwards a red sandstone makes its appearance beneath the pale rock.There is no clear break between the two but the red sandstone seems to belong to the underlying Wilmslow Formation, already seen at the base of Grotto Hill and outcropping widely over a large area in the east of Hawkstone Park especially at Elysian Hill.

The path along Reynard’s Walk and at the foot of the Terrace Cliffs displays perhaps the most impressive and, indeed, beautiful sandstone faces in the park. Turning one corner, a high vertical cliff of red then white rock with thinner slabs at the top exhibits an excellent section through the Wilmslow and Grinshill formations and further along magnificent, sweeping, high angle dune bedding comes into view Closer examination reveals ‘flows’ of barytes up to a metre long, looking like miniature waterfalls.

Here is the place to take an imaginary trip 230 million years back in time, to feel the dry heat, wipe the grit from your eyes and gaze upon the sand dunes and dried up river beds of the seeming endless desert landscape. After all this it will be a relief to find yourself approaching the Urn again and the promise of refreshments back at the Visitor Centre.