Erosion is a serious threat to our coastlines which are constantly receding at a frightening rate. This is particularly the case along the cliffs at Kimmeridge as they are somewhat volatile. However, just occasionally erosion can bring to light relics from the past that have lain dormant and hidden for many years……and I am not talking fossils!
I came across these pictures recently whilst searching through my old files. They were taken in 2011 and show an old mining truck that had, after being buried for over a century, appeared in the cliff face when coastal erosion caused the rocks that had buried it to collapse. The cart was still on its rails just as it had been left in the shaft when the mines were deserted in the late 1800’s.
The mines along this part of the coast produced Kimmeridge Shale and operated in the second half of the 19th century, the last mine closing in 1890. The cliffs here are extremely crumbly so working underground in these workings must have been a really hazardous occupation. The shale was extracted from shafts driven into the cliff face and brought out on trucks to be shipped out by sea from an iron pier which has long since disappeared. On the cliff tops above, there were more workings but these were open cast and a tramway led from these to Kimmeridge Bay and a stone jetty.
In reality, the Kimmeridge Shale industry is much older than these mine shafts and is thought to date back to prehistoric times as ancient finds indicate that it was once used as a fuel in the production of salt.
The picture below, courtesy of the Almond Valley Heritage Trust shows how the mines would have looked towards the end of their lives. It is thought to date from around 1890 and clearly shows the quarry ledge and one of the mine entrances. One of the two people in the picture is thought to be the mine owner.
I haven’t been along the under cliffs for some time so I am not sure if the truck is still visible or whether it has been covered again or possibly even brought down by more erosion. At the time of its reappearance, there was some talk of rescuing it for a museum display but I don’t know if this was possible.
Oil Shale burns well and on a number of occasions it has caught fire in situ, even in my lifetime. I remember these cliffs burning in the 1970’s, and even since then. I also remember some mine entrances still being accessible and I actually went into one on several occasions – unfortunately I have not been able to locate the photos that I took then. Most, if not all, have now collapsed but who knows what further erosion might reveal!
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Until next time,
The Dorset Rambler
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Yes, I seem to recall there being fires along there;my memory’s foggy, but was it mid-70s? I recall we had severe drought and hot weather then and some Devon villages were reduced to stand pipe water.
Yes, I believe in 1973 and I think again in 2000.
That sounds right.Although I was in Australia in 2000
I noticed what appeared to be rails visible from the top of Houns Tout Cliff. I wonder if these two were once one sort of mine. I had puzzled as to why there would be railway tracks up there, perhaps this is why?
Looking at the old maps, I can’t see any old tramways at the Houns Tout end although there were quarries all along there. There were tramways at the Kimmeridge end and there were some rails hanging over the edge of the cliffs above Clavell Hard but I don’t think these are visible from Houns Tout.