Tuesday, July 10, 2012


click photo to enlarge
"You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone", as Joni Mitchell put it in her song, "Big Yellow Taxi". That's certainly true of cobblestones and setts (they are different but are popularly the same). In my youth there were many more cobbled roads to be seen. However, the needs of motor vehicles and their occupants resulted in many such roads and paths being taken up and replaced with smooth tarmac, others simply buried under the newer material. This was a gain for the posteriors of drivers and passengers, and doubtless improved the longevity of car suspensions, but there was a loss to the sense of place when this long-lasting surface disappeared. Eventually people realised what they had done and started to re-instate the popular cobblestones and setts.

As I moved around the country I came to realise that there were regional differences in the materials used as cobbles or for cobble-like road surfaces. Seaside towns often had sea-worn pebbles laid in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. In the Yorkshire Dales river-worn beck (stream) stones were commonly seen. Retangularly cut granite setts were used in Scotland, some northern towns and elsewhere if the heavy material could be cost-effectively imported. South coast towns often favoured flint nodules. When I lived in the Yorkshire city of Kingston upon Hull the High Street was paved with pitch-impregnated wooden setts.

Today many towns have uncovered their buried cobbles and setts and re-laid them. Some have put down new roads, paths and squares using local materials. However, many more have sought the durability and character of setts (in particular) by laying modern, concrete substitutes. These have the advantage of being cheaper whilst giving something of the appearance of the traditional road surface. Moreover, being flatter they make vehicular and pedestrian passage smoother. The disadvantage is that they rarely match original setts made of local materials, and they bring uniformity where regional difference would be preferable. It must be said, though, that they are a welcome break from the monotony of tarmac. Today's example shows some "new setts" in Stamford, Lincolnshire. I have to say that they look fine in this location. So much so that I took this "mouse's-eye view" of them with the backdrop of some of the town's old buildings.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On