Purbeck Marble

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Purbeck Marble is a fossiliferous limestone found in the Isle of Purbeck, a peninsula in south-east Dorset, England. It is a variety of Purbeck stone that has been quarried since at least Roman times as a decorative building stone.



Stratigraphically these limestone beds lie towards the top of the Durlston Formation of the Purbeck Group. They were deposited during the Berriasian age of the Early Cretaceous epoch. Purbeck Marble is not a metamorphic rock, like a true marble, but is so-called because it can take a fine polish. Its characteristic appearance comes from densely packed shells of the freshwater snail Viviparus . [1] [2] Sussex Marble is similar in type. The 'marble' is properly classified as a biomicrudite, as it consists of large clasts (the snail shells) in a fine-grained limestone mud matrix. [3]

The individual marble beds (also known as 'seams'), lie between layers of softer marine clays and mudstone, laid down during repeated marine ingressions. Some of the beds contain iron oxide/hydroxide minerals, such as hematite or limonite, giving red or brown varieties, while other beds contain glauconite giving a green (or occasionally blue) colour. [3]


Purbeck Marble is found at outcrop, or beneath superficial cover, all the way across the Isle of Purbeck from Worbarrow Tout in the west to Peveril Point in the east. The marble beds are never more than 1.2 m thick and are often much thinner. The outcrops lie within the Purbeck Monocline, with the beds dipping moderately steeply to the north. [4]


There is a single example of Purbeck Marble being used during the Bronze Age, in a cist at Langton Matravers. During the Romano-British period, Purbeck Marble was used for inscriptions, architectural mouldings and veneers, mortars and pestles, and other articles. [5]

Purbeck Marble was also quarried in medieval times and can be seen in virtually all the cathedrals of the south of England, in columns and slab panels and flooring. For example, it is used in Exeter, Ely, Norwich, Chichester, Salisbury, Lincoln, Llandaff, Southwark and Canterbury Cathedrals, and in Westminster Abbey. [6] Additionally, it was utilised in the 13th-century King's Table, a furnishing used in coronation events. [7]

It has been less used in modern times, but a remarkable example is the church at Kingston, Purbeck, Dorset built in 1874–1880. [8]

Other strata of Purbeck Limestone are being quarried at the present time (2021). Purbeck Marble was previously extracted in 1993. [9]

Purbeck Marble is used by a number of contemporary sculptors, such as Robbie Schneider, [10] and Emily Young. [11]

Related Research Articles

Swanage Human settlement in England

Swanage is a coastal town and civil parish in the south east of Dorset, England. It is at the eastern end of the Isle of Purbeck and one of its two towns, approximately 6+14 miles (10 km) south of Poole and 25 miles (40 km) east of Dorchester. In the 2011 census the civil parish had a population of 9,601. Nearby are Ballard Down and Old Harry Rocks, with Studland Bay and Poole Harbour to the north. Within the parish are Durlston Bay and Durlston Country Park to the south of the town. The parish also includes the areas of Herston, just to the west of the town, and Durlston, just to the south.

Isle of Purbeck Peninsula in Dorset, England

The Isle of Purbeck is a peninsula in Dorset, England. It is bordered by water on three sides: the English Channel to the south and east, where steep cliffs fall to the sea; and by the marshy lands of the River Frome and Poole Harbour to the north. Its western boundary is less well defined, with some medieval sources placing it at Flower's Barrow above Worbarrow Bay. According to writer and broadcaster Ralph Wightman, Purbeck "is only an island if you accept the barren heaths between Arish Mell and Wareham as cutting off this corner of Dorset as effectively as the sea." The most southerly point is St Alban's Head.

Durdle Door

Durdle Door is a natural limestone arch on the Jurassic Coast near Lulworth in Dorset, England. Although privately owned by the Lulworth Estate, it is open to the public.

Purbeck District Non-metropolitan district in England

Purbeck was a local government district in Dorset, England. The district was named after the Isle of Purbeck, a peninsula that forms a large proportion of the district's area. However, it extended significantly further north and west than the traditional boundary of the Isle of Purbeck which is the River Frome. The district council was based in the town of Wareham, which is itself north of the Frome.

Durlston Country Park

Durlston Country Park is a 320-acre country park and nature reserve stretching along the coast of the Isle of Purbeck on the outskirts of Swanage in Dorset, England. The park is a popular destination for tourists to enjoy the walks, views, visitor centre, climbing, and wildlife, including Durlston Castle, the Great Globe, Tilly Whim Caves, and Anvil Point Lighthouse. It is a gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, forms part of the 630 mile South West Coast Path, and is owned by Dorset Council.

Langton Matravers Human settlement in England

Langton Matravers is a village and civil parish on the Isle of Purbeck, in the county of Dorset in the south of England. It is situated about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Swanage town centre and 5 miles (8 km) south-east of Corfe Castle. In the 2011 Census the civil parish had 381 households and a population of 853.

Worth Matravers Human settlement in England

Worth Matravers is a village and civil parish in the English county of Dorset. The village is situated on the cliffs west of Swanage. It comprises limestone cottages and farm houses and is built around a pond, which is a regular feature on postcards of the Isle of Purbeck.

Geology of Dorset

Dorset is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. Covering an area of 2,653 square kilometres (1,024 sq mi); it borders Devon to the west, Somerset to the north-west, Wiltshire to the north-east, and Hampshire to the east. The great variation in its landscape owes much to the underlying geology, which includes an almost unbroken sequence of rocks from 200 to 40 million years ago (Mya) and superficial deposits from 2 Mya to the present. In general, the oldest rocks appear in the far west of the county, with the most recent (Eocene) in the far east. Jurassic rocks also underlie the Blackmore Vale and comprise much of the coastal cliff in the west and south of the county; although younger Cretaceous rocks crown some of the highpoints in the west, they are mainly to be found in the centre and east of the county.

Dancing Ledge

Dancing Ledge is part of the Jurassic Coast near Langton Matravers in the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, England. Dancing Ledge is a flat area of rock at the base of a small cliff. A little scrambling is required for access. It is signposted on the South West Coast Path a few kilometres west of Swanage. Dancing Ledge is so called because at certain stages of the tide when the waves wash over the horizontal surface, the surface undulations cause the water to bob about making the ledge appear to dance.

Purbeck Group

The Purbeck Group is an Upper Jurassic to Lower Cretaceous lithostratigraphic group in south-east England. The name is derived from the district known as the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset where the strata are exposed in the cliffs west of Swanage.

Worbarrow Bay

Worbarrow Bay is a large broad and shallow bay just to the east of Lulworth Cove on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset, England.

Durlston Bay

Durlston Bay is a small bay next to a country park of the same name, just south of the resort of Swanage, on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, England. It has been a renowned site for Lower Cretaceous fossils since the initial discovery of fragments there by Samuel Beckles in the 1850s.

Tilly Whim Caves Caves in Dorset, England

Tilly Whim Caves consists of three stone quarries in Durlston Country Park, 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Swanage, on the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorset, southern England. The Tilly Whim Caves are a part of the Jurassic Coast.

Purbeck stone refers to building stone taken from a series of limestone beds found in the Upper Jurassic to Lower Cretaceous Purbeck Group, found on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset in southern England. The best known variety of this stone is Purbeck Marble. The stone has been quarried since at least Roman times up to the present day.

Anvil Point

Anvil Point is part of the Jurassic Coast on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, England. It is within the grounds of Durlston Country Park and is about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from Swanage town centre. Anvil Point Lighthouse is located on the point.

Durlston Castle

Durlston Castle stands within Durlston Country Park, a 1.13 square-kilometre (280-acre) country park and nature reserve stretching along the coastline south of Swanage, on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.

St Albans Head

St Alban's Head is a headland located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) southwest of Swanage, on the coast of Dorset, England. It is the most southerly part of the Purbeck peninsula, and comprises an outcrop of Portland Stone from the overlying Lower Purbeck Stone. It is part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. It is designated a Special Area of Conservation under the European Union's Habitats Directive.

Geography of Dorset

Dorset is a county located in the middle of the south coast of England. It lies between the latitudes 50.512°N and 51.081°N and the longitudes 1.682°W and 2.958°W, and occupies an area of 2,653 km2. It spans 90 kilometres (56 mi) from east to west and 63 kilometres (39 mi) from north to south.

Priests Way Ancient trackway in Dorset

The Priest's Way is the historical route taken by clergy from St Nicholas's, Worth Matravers to St Mary's Church, Swanage in the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. The track arose as a result of St Mary's being a chapel of ease to St Nicholas's, and followed the route priests took to say mass in Swanage. A modern footpath and bridleway follows much of the route.


  1. Arkell, W. J. (1947), Geology of the country round Weymouth, Swanage, Corfe Castle and Lulworth. London: HMSO for British Geological Survey.
  2. Clements, R. G. (1993), "Type-section of the Purbeck Limestone Group, Durlston Bay, Swanage, Dorset", Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, 114, 181–206.
  3. 1 2 West, I. "Durlston Bay - Peveril Point, Durlston Formation, including Upper Purbeck Group". Geology of the Wessex Coast (Jurassic Coast, UNESCO World Heritage Site). Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  4. Phillips, J. (1996). "Quarr Houses on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset" (PDF). Mining History. 13 (2): 155–162. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 March 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  5. Beavis, John (1971), "Some aspects of the use of Purbeck Marble in Roman Britain", Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, 92, 181–204.
  6. Leach, Rosemary (1978), An investigation into the use of Purbeck marble in medieval England, 2nd edition. Crediton: the author.
  7. "Living Heritage: The King's Seat and Table" . Retrieved Oct 30, 2019.
  8. Kingston (St James) Church Archived 2007-11-21 at the Wayback Machine
  9. Haysom, Treleven (1998), "Extracting Purbeck Marble", Hatcher Review, 5(45), 48–54.
  10. http://www.robbieschneider.com . Retrieved 17 March 2022.{{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. Salisbury Cathedral (21 November 2009). "Advent of Archangels - New 'Angel Heads' instillation by Emily Young at Salisbury Cathedral" . Retrieved 10 November 2012.