Dorsetshire

The following extract was originally published in A guide to the coasts of Hants & Dorset by Mackenzie Edward C. Walcott in 1859 and digitized by Google on March 19, 2007.

The county of the ” Dwellers by the Water ” (the British. Durotriges), is remarkable for its geological interest. From Lymington to High Cliff, from Hengistbury Head to Bournemouth in Hants—onwards in an arc round Poole Harbour and Wareham, to a line drawn westward from Standfast Point—occurs a bed of pottery and fire-brick clay, above a seam of earthy-brown coal, and overlaid by alum and copperas shale, fire-brick, and glass sand. To the north of this district, as to the north-east of Christchurch, extends a bed of strong clay and sand; but both these deposits for miles on either side of the Stour, as also about Boscombe, are mingled with ironstone and cement-stone. Southward of the Trough of Poole is a stratum of chalk traversing Corfe Castle, with a line of limestone and rag more southward. At Handfast Point the loose sand passes into sandstone. From Swanage, westward, succeed Purbeck marble, coarse gypsum, and paving-stone, the latter in beds 300 feet thick. Closer to the sea, southward, we find the Portland oolite; while between St. Aldhelm’s Head and Kimmeredge a belt of bituminous shale lies along the shore. The Purbeck stratum is of the upper oolite formation—argillaceous limestone, alternating with schistose marl—while between it and the chalk of the North Downs, are interposed chalk, marl, green sand, iron-sand, and weald clay.

Alfieri thought Italy and England were the two most remarkable countries in Europe, because, in the former, nature triumphs over the evils inflicted by bad government; and in the latter, art conquers nature, and transforms a rude ungenial land into a paradise of comfort and plenty. The poet fortunately did not traverse the bleak downs of Dorset. The coast-scenes, however, are of striking beauty, and often have a rude sublimity, such as Salvator Rosa would have made his study. ” I pity the man,” said Sterne, ” who can travel from Dan to Beersheba, and cry ’tis all barren ; and so it is, and so is all the world to him who will not cultivate the fruits it offers.” On the Dorsetshire coast massive barriers oppose the continual beating of the waves—black, barren, desolate, indeed, against the sky when in shadow; but, where a flood of gorgeous splendour is poured over the landscape, the peaks look like giants helmed in gold. Here lofty colonnades jut out into the waves, there yawning chasms sunder the gigantic rocks ; in one place the sharp outlines of chalk catch the sunlight, in another the rugged face of the limestone cliffs looms like the walls of a castle, whose towers and battlements were carved out by the hand of Nature; while, beyond, the overhanging steeps assume the form of broken ruin and crumbling bastion.

Several remarkable birds have been observed in this county; the blue-throated redstart; the black stork, at Poole, in Nov. 1839; the American bittern; and the grey scallop-toed sandpiper, Oct. 1777, at Blandford. One curious old custom was observed at Shaftesbury. The mayors went yearly, at Rogation, in procession to En- more Green, and there offered a prize besom, decked like a May garland with gold and peacocks’ feathers, and a pair of gloves, two loaves, and a gallon of beer, in acknowledgment of the grant of the water of Motcombe-well to the town. The county gave the title to Earl Osmond, Count of Seez in Normandy, and Bishop of Salisbury ; to William de Mohun in the time of Queen Maud ; and to King John. John Beaufort was created Marquis of Dorset, 1397, and Edmund Beaufort received the same rank, 24th June, 1442. The marquisate was again created in the family of Grey, 18th April, 1475 ; and an earldom in that of Sackville, March 13, 1603: on 17th June, 1720, Lionel Sackville, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, was advanced to the title of Duke of Dorset; but it became extinct in 1843.

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