Potholes expose hidden past

Recent bad weather has left many of our roads dimpled with assorted sized potholes.

A report from the cyclist organisation CTC estimates that there is an average of one pothole for every 110m of road.

Pothole in road reveals cobbles beneath

Pothole in road reveals cobbles beneath

Many councils have embarked on the massive challenge of repairing the road surfaces in their areas. Since January 2010 Gloucestershire County Council alone have repaired over 15,000 potholes.

With the top layer of road surface broken away our road heritage is revealed below and often this takes the form of cobbles or sets.

Rather than rip up the millions of shaped stone blocks, road builders simply lay the asphalt over the existing road surface.

Cobblestones or sets

Applying cobblestones or sets to a road dates back many hundreds of years and was done to improve the durability of mud tracks in bad weather.

The stones allowed for carts to travel over a solid road surface rather than a mud or sandy surface where frequently the track would churn up in bad weather.


Setts possibly granite

A road made of cobblestones has a very random surface, whilst one made of the regular shaped granite or sandstone block work has a uniform pattern.

“Cobblestone” is derived from the very old English word “cob”, a small rounded object.

Rectangular setts are often between 75mm and 100mm wide, with lengths between 150mm and 300mm.

The cube shaped setts are often made from granite 100mm cubed.

Each stone needed to be placed individually into a bed of sand with more sand or a grout placed around it to keep it in place.

Local stones are frequently used in place of granite to savework, time and costs.

Block paving is in some ways the modern equivalent of the granite setts and can now be seen on many driveways and in public spaces throughout the world.  However, the granite sett still has a use as it lasts a lot longer than the fired brick and is more resistant to modern date dirt such as chewing gum


Many roads constructed with cobbles or setts have preservation orders placed upon them.  This ensures that if they are lifted to allow access to underground pipes or works that they are returned.

Many dealers specialise in supplying recycled setts which are used on driveways or for historical restoration. Prices are currently around £100 per ton.


Many websites have sprung up in response to the increasing number of potholes, however not all are a rallying call to arms or a way of getting at the assorted road maintenance organisations.

Mypotholes.com has been set up by Montreal artists Claudia Ficca and Davide Luciano and  showcases rural craters in a comedic and creative fashion.

Further information

The Sett makers of Dartmoor – The very hard life of the rock shapers high on Dartmoor.

Fill that hole – Website from the CTC.

Potholes.co.uk – Warranty based website highlighting potholes.

Pothole gardens – An ongoing series of public installations highlighting the problem of surface imperfection.

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