A Right Royal Roof
About 450 million years ago, the area around Honister Slate Mine in Cumbria was in the midst of considerable volcanic activity. Volcanic ash and lava was laid down and, millions of years later, was subjected to extreme pressures and heat when the land masses collided due to continental drift. This caused the structure of the rock to 'metamorphose', creating the material that, today, we know as slate.
Slate has been mined from the Honister area since Roman times - possibly even before then - but it was in the 1700s that industrial-scale quarrying started to get going, with underground mining commencing in the 1830s. Apart from enforced closures during the First and Second World Wars, Honister continued to produce slate until around 1970. After languishing for ten years or so, it was acquired in 1981 by new owners who undertook a programme of significant capital improvements, attracting the interests of global quarry owners Alfred McAlpine Plc, who bought it in 1985. Four years later, McAlpines ceased all mining operations at Honister, and then in 1997 the mine was acquired by a local entrepreneur, Mark Weir.
Sadly, Mark died in a helicopter accident in March 2011, but today, thanks to his energy and vision, the mine has become a successful tourist attraction, and is once again producing the Buttermere Green slate which is famous all over the world.
Before we filmed at Honister, we knew that the roof-tiles produced there had been used on some very prestigious buildings - The Ritz Hotel and St James's Palace in London being just two. But it was also rumoured that slate from Honister Mine had been used on the roof of Buckingham Palace, so we contacted the Queen's press office to find out. After they made enquiries with the archivist of the Royal Estates, they told us that they couldn't be certain, but that they had found a Buckingham Palace roof-tile which had been engraved with the letters "HRH"! We knew that this would make a perfect ending to the film, and after some careful negotiation, it was agreed that The Magic of Making could film on the roof of the Queen's official residence!