Geoff Townson - Visual Artist

 Book Review

Hardback with dust jacket 320 pages, 250mm x 250mm  ISBN: 978 0 9564405 9 4

Geoff Townson writes As a geologist who did his BSc Geology in a Portland stone building, then gained his doctorate on the Portlandian of England & N France, followed by employment in various Portland Stone buildings on both banks of the Thames, this book is a delight! It is a lavishly illustrated volume with 325 photos (over 75% colour) and 35 maps and diagrams. It should appeal to geologists, archaeologists, historians, building engineers and architects alike.

Part One is a brief overview, followed by Part Two (nine chapters) which cover the history of quarrying and the use of Portland Stone in London and the Empire from 1600 onwards. For those who live &/or work in London, Part Three comprises a tour of 135 of Londonís Portland Stone buildings and monuments with seven maps and 111 colour photos. For visitors to this Dorset peninsula, there follows a guide with a map and 16 colour photos.

Five Appendices cover the geology, quarrying methods, exports and examples beyond London: UK (Belfast, Cambridge, Cardiff, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Oxford, Portsmouth, Southampton, Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Plymouth, Swansea), Eire (Dublin), Belgium, Denmark, Japan and the USA (e.g. in Virginia in 1725).

This book reveals the history of The Isle of Portland, not only the quarrying and stone export but its interlinked land ownership and agricultural history. There are fascinating details about quarrying on the Royal Manor and the use of the stone in London, especially since 1600 Ė in particular the impact of Londonís economic and political history on the development of the Portland stone industry. The account of on-going strife between Christopher Wren and the islanders post-Fire of London is intriguing. Links with London scientists are mentioned, e.g. "The father of modern science" Robert Hooke, who concluded in 1665 that fossil bivalves and ammonites (which he saw in Portland stone), were the remains of living things - a conclusion praised by Charles Lyell in his Principles of Geology (1832).

The reader is given an insight to the challenges of exporting huge blocks of stone from the cliff tops in the northern part of the Isle down to sea level, then by boat to London or Plymouth. This book provides details, drawings and photos of the progression from just throwing blocks over the cliff, to using horse-wagons, railways, steam traction engines and todayís internal combustion engines. Loading the boats was hazard enough but followed the risk of attacks by the French enemy, being wrecked by storms or even intercepted and press-ganged by the Royal Navy! This assumes the access tracks and loading piers survived landslips (several did not).

I have often been surprised that so many buildings and memorials (e.g. war graves) could have come from such a small Dorset peninsula but Gillís maps reveal the extent of the quarrying over the years, from coastal landslips to inland quarries and, nowadays, adit mining. I estimate that quarrying has taken place over nearly three square kilometres, which, discounting for net/gross and wastage, must still total 5-10 million tons of exported dimension stone.

We are familiar with the "Inferior Oolite" and the "Great Oolite" but geologist the Rev. Townsend listed (1813) the Portland Stone as the "Superior Oolite". Of course, these terms were coined to reflect their relative stratigraphic positions within the English Jurassic but, in my view (and Christopher Wrenís) the Rev. Townsend was right in every sense!