Carstone (or carrstone) is a high iron content conglomerate sandstone found in West Norfolk; the stratum also runs through Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire. The iron gives it a reddish colour varying in terms of artist’s pigment from raw sienna to burnt umber. A quarry at Snettisham is still in use. I visited it in 1972 and found it producing a lot of ginger coloured sand, together with the well-known building stone.
As with all the stone produced in this part of the country it can be used in various sizes from random lumps –rubble- to closely graded courses. It is used extensively around Kings Lynn and about as far east as Wells-next-the-Sea. The use of carstone does not extend west into the fens. The church at Middleton is built of carstone as are several others in the vicinity. At Castle Acre Priory the remains of the columns in the nave show an interesting use of carstone with imported freestone, the ginger coloured native stone being used to produce decorative bands on the columns along the nave. The building is now ruinous, but the effect must once have been very striking.
Carstone is used in several local churches in West Norfolk. Middleton church on the A47 is completely made of carstone rubble. Sandringham church is another church built of carstone, but in this case it is of more graded stones in approximate courses. Carstone buildings provide a very distinctive flavour to the landscape of West Norfolk. In the middle ages it was the cheaper alternative to the better (i.e harder) sandstones such as Barnack stone from the village near Stamford. Snettisham church is built from pale sandstone and flints although it is in the heart of carstone country; it was a church built with no expense spared, and the builders no doubt regarded carstone as too vernacular.
Carstone could also be also used with the lighter coloured sandstone from elsewhere in impressive buildings for decorative purposes, as at Castle Acre. It was used not only in ecclesiastical buildings but in all sorts of domestic houses and even in farm sheds. Today carstone is an exclusive and expensive building material, but until about a hundred years ago it was just the natural local stone, and the cheap alternative to brick.
There are a number of properties where even the garden walls are made of carstone. One example of this is as far east as Sparham. This dates back about a century to the time when the village of Sparham was still owned by Lord Leicester and formed part of the Holkham Estate. The stone used for the walling around the village houses was brought by horse and cart from Holkham, where it is found naturally, being to the west of the county.
In respect of East Anglian building CLUNCH is a hard chalk stone, found in certain parts of Norfolk. Its use is therefore restricted to parts of the county such as the area around Thornham in North West Norfolk. It was used merely because it was available, and unlike carstone it has not been used for any great decorative effect, although some 19th century cottages make effective use of the stone. It is mostly restricted to farm buildings, garden walls and the interior walls of houses. Thornham church which represents the higher end of medieval architecture appears to make no use of this very local building stone, though no doubt it was used for the rubble in-fill, not to be seen.
Like flint and carstone it is found in combination with brick which was used for the window and door openings and for the ends of walls. It is also found combined with those other local stones flint and carstone. This combination extends beyond architecture to the natural scene; the different coloured strata of chalk and sandstone produce spectacular banded cliffs at nearby Hunstanton.
Although it is very much part of vernacular architecture it has a certain charm. The colour is a chalky white and the effect at a distance is to lighten the appearance of buildings which would have a darker hue at other places on the North Norfolk coast from the use of flint. Unlike flint and carstone I do not think that clunch is used any longer as a building stone; however I may be wrong.