Despite 2000 years of stone construction, London has no indigenous building stone. Its geology is sand, gravel and clay. Stone has been imported since Roman times along the River Thames to build that amazing city.

To build Londinium (starting in 47 AD), Romans imported stone from many places in England and from as far away as Egypt, Greece and Italy. Part of the Roman defensive wall is still visible and many Roman buildings have been uncovered (i.e. an amphitheatre, forum, bath houses, etc.).

Medieval London had narrow streets and timber-framed, thatch houses so the Great Fire of London destroyed much of it in 1666. Legislation afterward required stone or brick construction to prevent future fires. (Halifax, Nova Scotia, passed a similar bylaw in 1857 after several fires.)

London's geology became helpful in construction at this point. Its clay, a key ingredient in bricks, was used to make bricks for rebuilding. London stock bricks have a distinctive yellow colour. (London's clay also made for relatively easy tunneling when its subway was built in the 1800s but that's another story.)

White limestone from the Isle of Portland became the main stone used in important buildings after the Great Fire of London. For example, Portland Stone was used in 51 churches including the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral which was rebuilt from 1675-1710.

Portland remained the dominant stone until the 1800s when the growing railway system made it easier to ship stone from all over the UK to London. The River Thames was no longer the only practical way to transport building stone into the city.

Minerals in movies The crown

The Crown.

After an 1834 fire destroyed much of the parliament buildings, a survey of over 100 United Kingdom quarries was conducted to pick stone for the rebuilding. The list of quarries helped further diversify the building stone used in London.

The rebuilding of parliament was done with sand-coloured limestone from the Anston Quarry in Yorkshire because it was cheaper than its competitors. Unfortunately, the stone decayed in London's smoky air - defects were visible as early as 1849 - and the stone was later mostly replaced between the 1930s and 1960s, with a pause in construction during WWII.

Buckingham House was built in 1703 for Duke Buckingham. King George III bought it in 1762 and modernized it. When George III’s son, George IV, became king in 1820, he made major additions to Buckingham House. Most of its facade was done with Bath limestone, the same stone used in Downtown Abbey.

In 1837, Buckingham Palace (note the new name) became the main London residence of Queen Victoria and later, Queen Elizabeth.

Work on a new east wing began in the 1840s. French stone was used for its facade but it also proved too soft for London's air and in 1913 the east wing was redone with Portland stone.

While Portland isn't the dominant stone in London that it was for a century and a half after the Great Fire, it's still important and was used in the United Nations building in New York and many others around the world.

Many scenes in The Crown are set in Buckingham Palace but nothing is shot there. Various buildings (Lancaster House, the Old Royal Naval College, University of Greenwich, etc.) are used for shooting different rooms and the footage is pieced together to make it look like one palace.

Explore more examples of minerals in movies: The Crown, Games of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Superman, James Bond, Broadchurch, Locke and Key, Sesame Street, and others.