St Paul’s Cathedral | Quarrying
St Paul’s Cathedral

Purbeck and Portland stone are important quarrying products from the limestone areas around Swanage to Weymouth.

The stone was originally quarried by hand from small family run quarries. It was then transported to London and round the world by boat from Weymouth and Swanage. When the railway arrived in the 1880s, the stone reached London and other markets more easily.

Purbeck marble

Purbeck marble is not suited to external use, as it does not weather well. However, it is strong and suitably decorative for use as internal columns. As such, the stone was valued and used in the construction of many large churches and cathedrals being built at the time.

Purbeck limestone

In contrast to the decorative Purbeck marble, Purbeck limestone, or more commonly “Purbeck stone'” has been used in construction locally since the early days of quarrying on Purbeck.  

The Great Fire of London in 1666 led to a period of large-scale reconstruction in the city. Purbeck stone was extensively used for paving during the reconstruction.

It is still used as a paving and building material today.  

The stone was loaded onto small boats using “whims” or small wooden cranes direct from the cliff workings. Larger scale shipping was from Swanage or Poole Harbour and after the arrival of the Railway, by rail to London and elsewhere.

Ball clay

More mineral extraction in the area came from ball clay used for making pottery. The principal ball clay workings were in the area between Corfe Castle and Wareham. Originally the clay was taken by pack horse to wharves on the River Frome and to the south side of Poole Harbour. However, in the first half of the 19th century the pack horses were replaced by horse-drawn and then steam engine tramways. With the coming of the railway from Wareham to Swanage, most ball clay was dispatched by rail, often to the Potteries district of Staffordshire, but also to Poole Pottery.

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