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Memorials of Old Dorset

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
The physical features due to the geological formation of the district now called Dorset have had such an influence on the inhabitants and their history that it seems necessary to point out briefly what series of stratified rocks may be seen in Dorset, and the lines of their outcrop. There are no igneous rocks, nor any of those classed as primary, but, beginning with the Rhætic beds, we find every division of the secondary formations, with the possible exception of the Lower Greensand, represented, and in the south-eastern part of the district several of the tertiary beds may be met with on the surface. The dip of the strata is generally towards the east; hence the earlier formations are found in the west. Nowhere else in England could a traveller in a journey of a little under fifty miles—which is about the distance from Lyme to the eastern boundary of Dorset—cross the outcrop of so many strata. A glance at a geological map of England will show that the Lias, starting from Lyme Regis, sweeps along a curve slightly concave towards the west, almost due north, until it reaches the sea again at Redcar, while the southern boundary of the chalk starting within about ten miles of Lyme runs out eastward to Beechy Head. Hence it is seen that the outcrops of the various strata are wider the further away they are from Lyme Regis. Dorset has given names to three well-known formations and to one less well known: (1) The Portland beds, first quarried for building stone about 1660; (2) the Purbeck beds, which supplied the Early English church builders with marble for their ornamental shafts; (3) Kimmeridge clay; and (4) the Punfield beds. The great variety of the formation coming to the surface in the area under consideration has given a striking variety to the character of the landscape: the chalk downs of the North and centre, with their rounded outlines; the abrupt escarpments of the greensand in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury; the rich grazing land of Blackmore Vale on the Oxford clay; and the great Heath (Mr. Hardy’s Egdon) stretching from near Dorchester out to the east across Woolwich, Reading, and Bagshot beds, with their layers of gravel, sand, and clay. The chalk heights are destitute of water; the streams and rivers are those of the level valleys and plains of Oolitic clays—hence they are slow and shallow, and are not navigable, even by small craft, far from their mouths. The only sides from which in early days invaders were likely to come were the south and east; and both of these boundaries were well protected by natural defences, the former by its wall of cliffs and the deadly line of the Chesil beach. The only opening in the wall was Poole Harbour, a land-locked bay, across which small craft might indeed be rowed, but whose shores were no doubt a swamp entangled by vegetation. Swanage Bay and Lulworth Cove could have been easily defended. Weymouth Bay was the most vulnerable point. Dense forests protected the eastern boundary. These natural defences had a marked effect, as we shall see, on the history of the people. Dorset for many centuries was an isolated district, and is so to a certain extent now, though great changes have taken place during the last fifty or sixty years, due to the two railways that carry passengers from the East to Weymouth and the one that brings them from the Northto Poole and on to Bournemouth. This isolation has conduced to the survival not only of old modes of speech, but also of old customs, modes of thought, and superstitions.