Author: Rose Ferraby from Exeter University (PhD Student)

Our third pondering on the meanings and values that surround our rocky earth heritage comes from one of our Jurassic Coast PhD students, Rose Ferraby. She has spent a great deal of time researching the quarries along the coast, the people who work in them and the various ways that we all relate to stone.

Stories in Stone

The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site is based upon the stone which forms the cliffs and beaches that weave their way round headlands and bays. We can see character and beauty in the material in all its forms, but it also holds glimpses of hidden worlds, traces of stories, past and present. As ideas of past environments emerge, we can begin to see narratives that arc millions of years, or certain points in more detail; the way in which an Ichthyosaur died, the moment a sauropod meandered through a muddy pool, how plants grew on a log. Exquisite snapshots of worlds that are often hard to imagine.

But these stone worlds can also act as a lens through which to look at the more recent past and our contemporary landscapes. Our relationship with stone goes right back, from the earliest carefully crafted stone tools to the building stones which characterise the different architectures of this country. In the quarries on the coast we see this continue, with the unique knowledge’s that come with the excavation of these stone layers.

In Purbeck, many beds of limestone push inland and roll into the valleys. They carry with them names that stretch back into their past, shadows of the men who worked them: Rag, Grub, Thornback, Blue Bit and Spangle, to name but a few. In the removal of stone, an accidental, inverted architecture is created in the landscape, leaving caves, open spaces and tunnels, some of which run forgotten beneath the surface. The quarry stratigraphy is revealed; a history of the stone’s creation and removal all at once.

Once in the quarry shed, the stone takes on new faces as saws and chisels expose smooth surfaces; shelly worlds that glimmer in and out of focus. The stone is surrounded by rhythms of working; circular saw, polished head, chisel stroke. Masons marks are carried back out into the world; stories carried with the stone to continue in the pillars of Cathedrals, the quoins of a house, the smooth, spiralled steps of a staircase.

Through stone, we can trace stories which span different scales of time and space, connecting us with landscapes, people, processes and ecologies. And these narratives continue to be created, connected and reworked as we go into the future.

First published in J-Post edition 33, April 2014

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