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Stone Quarrying in Purbeck - History

The Purbeck quarries have a long history going back to Saxon times.

In the past the stone was quarried underground. It was back breaking work for most of the seams were not deep enough to allow a man to stand up. The old quarry men were a law unto themselves and rarely saw daylight during the winter, going underground before it was light and returning home after dark.

Their relationship with the local farmers was often acrimonious for they claimed an ancient right to quarry under any field they chose. It was believed that if a quarry man could encircle a piece of land with his tunnel, the stone in the middle was his. Sometimes rival tunnels would cross and then fights would break out beneath the fields.

Purbeck quarry - photo by Richard Jeffery

The stone was extracted by undermining the soft clay on which it rested and levering the blocks on to trolleys, which were pulled to the surface by pony. The roofs of the tunnels were supported on makeshift pillars and many of these underground workings still remain today – a favourite home for bats, with their entrances choked by weeds and brambles.

The stone was generally worked by chiselling it to the required shape. Occasionally it was sawn by hand - a lengthy and back breaking job involving a single blade iron saw lubricated with water and fed with sand. Many quarries were on the cliff so the stone could be winched onto barges for transport to London and elsewhere.

Tony Viney : Sandy Hill Workshops : Sandy Hill Lane : Corfe Castle : Dorset : BH20 5JF : (+44) 01929 480977 :