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Part of the Bay and Cliff . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Kimmeridge Bay and cliff

shows a delightful little niche of Dorset and Purbeck where there is little changed since Victorian times.
   The significant changes could be there is now the oil well with its Nodding Donkey, which is rather more of interest and curiosity than an eye-sore as some might imagine. One should consider that it holds a major bonus in there is no strong heavy sulphurous odour, a consequence of burning the copious shale found along the bay and cliff which was once a mainstay of local industry.  
   Something that is both old and very significant visually and historically and is only different in its decay is the Clavell or Kimmeridge Tower which we have devoted to its own page. Also it rises way above the bay and is often viewed as a separate entity albeit on the same Smedmore Estate as Kimmeridge.  
   One of the products of Kimmeridge, from the bay and east along the cliffs was shale. This is a strange fragile slippery layered substance grey/black in colour. In the bay and cliff picture it is actually on view being several of the many strata, these are repeated to the east along what is basically a cliff and seemingly inaccessible place which can just be made out on the picture where there are two visible left of centre. However, if mankind wanted something he found a way of getting it and one way was to extract the shale down into boats which were moored at the cliff base and at sometime in small quays built up for the purpose. This was of course very much at the mercy of the weather and tides. The product was also transported over the cliffs by rail. Some remnants of the track can be found utilised around the Clavell Tower which is to the left (west) of the picture.

Shale mine entrances in cliff
Shale mine entrances

   Shale could be used, as found, as a fuel or through various processes used in the production of varnish, grease, pitch, naptha, dyes, wax, and fertiliser. Another product was oil and there is mention of it being used to light the streets of Wareham and Paris. There was in fact an oil from shale processing works in Wareham in the 19th century.  
   The down side to all of this was it produced an awful smell and much of what it was used for stopped for that very reason, because it engendered so many complaints and may have prompted court cases.  
   We have mentioned fuel, in fact one particular local fuel use was to fire a glassworks, we believe between 1613 and 1625. The smell was of course unpopular, but we believe the glassworks did in fact close because of litigation regarding infringement of copyright. One of the people involved may have been an Abraham Bigoe.  
   Going back to Roman times there is a mention of an Oil Shale Workshop to the west and a little back from the bay. We are uncertain which product was the most made, but do know that bangles and rings turned on rudimentary lathes was very popular. The Romans were also responsible for mining much of the Dolomite Beds, one of which is exposed in much of the bay, for their mosaic floors, possibly all over England. It is a hard, grey carbonate rock. Taking a few steps further back in time there is reputedly evidence that during the Iron Age, Kimmeridge materials, including shale, were utilised around Poole Harbour, so there would have been Iron Age men to extract them which suggests possibly a small Iron Age presence at Kimmeridge, with isolated instances in between.  

St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church

Bay and Cliff

  . . . . . . . . . . . . click picture to open in new window
Kimmeridge Bay

   Staying with local materials brings us more up to date with the local oil well drilled in 1959. We think it is the oldest continuously producing well in the UK, long before the more famous Wytch Farm on the south of Poole Harbour. Production was once over 300 barrels/day and whilst having reduced with time has not stopped. The oil is taken out of Middle Jurrassic Limestone at about 1,000 feet depth.  
   Taking a modern look at Kimmeridge it is accessible either from the cliff paths or down though a valley on a meandering road which also leads to Smedmore House.

Motorbikes                             £1.00
Cars                                       £5.00
Cars with Boat on roof        £10.00
Minibus & Motorhomes        £10.00
Vehicle & Trailer                  £15.00
Coaches (Over 15 seats)   £20.00
Sep. 2012

The road sometimes means paying a toll because it is still part of the Smedmore Estate. It is very much a small bowl tucked away where you would thing it unknown, but over 2,000 years of activity means it is certainly not unknown and is in fact very popular, even if it is a day trip to go and sit in your car on the cliff top as shown in the first picture. As a conventional "resort" it has virtually nothing to offer except tranquillity which is dear to the heart of many. The down side to that is it can get crowded. There is nothing in the way of a beach, but much in the way of things to investigate especially at low tide when many rock pools are so very accessible. A word of warning though, wet rocks can be slippery and the vast amounts of seaweed can be strong to the nose especially during a hot summer's day and also very slippery, so always tread with care.  
   The village at Kimmeridge is small and whilst there is food and accommodation, many visiting complain there are too many people. Sorry, but it is not going to expand, that's how it is and going to stay. Expansion is not really practical and would ruin the place anyway.


Clavell or Kimmeridge Tower

   . . . . . . . . . . . . click picture to open in new window
Clavell or Kimmeridge Tower

   For those prepared to put in some footwork there is much to find and see. Approaching on the coastal paths and looking down into this discreet bowl gives you the appreciation of how idyllic it is. If you come from the east you are bound to find the Clavell or Kimmeridge Tower, probably the only "outstanding" item you are going to find.  
   Going back inland a little you find Smedmore House which was effectively a Parsonage originated by Sir John Mansell inheriting Smedmore around 1837 from the Clavel family.  
   Taking a step back, Kimmeridge like much else had belonged to the church, Cerne Abbey to be precise until about 1540. We are not sure how he obtained it but Sir William Uvedale sold to the Clavells of Smedmore in 1554. His earlier relative Walter de Clavile had crossed the channel with William the Conqueror and subsequently held various local properties. John Clavell married Joan, the grand-daughter of William Wyot and thus added Smedmore to his portfolio. Wyot had originally purchased the estate from the De Smedmores in 1391.  
   Much of Smedmore history including tombs is sadly lost under, or removed because of, new and refurbished building over the centuries.


Nodding Donkey
Nodding Donkey
Kimmeridge Cliffs
The South Dorset coastal cliffs are of international geological importance. The cliffs expose a complete section through through the Upper Jurrasic and Cretaceous ages, and include fossil-bearing rocks which have shaped our understanding of evolution. The Kimmeridge Clay is famous for its fossil reptiles and ammonites. The clifftop vegetation, also part of the Site of Special Scientific Interest, includes the strongest national population of wild cabbages, Brassica oleracea, the ancestor of our cultivated cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts.
Kimmeridge Oil Shale
The presence of oil shale first brought oil exploration to Kimmeridge. Oil Shale, a soft slate permeated with crude oil, had been extracted since the Neolithic period, but larger scale exploitation at Kimmeridge began in the late Iron Age and continued throughout the Roman occupation. Shale was worked by hand or lathe to produce beads, armlets, rings, cups, pendants and even table tops and furniture legs. The largest known extraction site was from the cliff near Kimmeridge.
Later, oil shale was used mainly as a fuel, for Alum works in the early seventeenth century; for distillation by the Bituminous Shale Company in Weymouth in 1848; and after 1854 for producing fertiliser in Wareham. In 1858 a new company won a contract to light the streets of Paris with Kimmeridge gas. Adit mines were driven in the cliff and 50 tonnes of oil were exported each month.
The oil produced at Kimmeridge does not come from the rocks that can be seen in the cliff, but from slightly older and deeper rock, 520 metres below sea level.
Formation of Oil & Gas
Millions of years ago, much of the earth was covered by sea and swamps. As microscopic animals and plants died, their remains were deposited in the sea bed, mixed with materials eroded from higher ground. Gradually, sediments many thousands of feet thick built up and became compressed to form sedimentary rocks such as sandstone and limestone. Because of the lack of oxygen, the small organisms did not decay but were transformed by heat and high pressure into oil and gas.
As more new rocks formed above, gravity, capillary action and water pressure forced the oil and gas out of its source rock upward through porous rocks.
If further upward movement was eventually stopped by an impermeable rock layer and if sideways movement was prevented by a fold or fault in the earth's structure, then oil and gas were trapped in a reservoir. This is not an underground lake, as the name suggests; oil and gas are held in the pores between grains such as water is held in a sponge. To reach this oil, a hole has to be drilled and the oil sucked out.
Oil Production at Kimmeridge
BP's Kimmeridge Wellsite is probably the oldest continually producing wellsite in the United Kingdom. It was first drilled in 1959, but the Kimmeridge area has seen repeated attempts to drill for oil and gas since before the Second World War. Oil is extracted at Kimmeridge by beam pump, or 'nodding donkey'. The well produces only some 80 barrels (12,720 litres) of oil per day, The oil is stored in tanks on site, The oil is collected twice a week by tanker and delivered to BP's Gathering Station at Wytch Farm for stabilization and export by pipeline to a terminal at Hamble, near Southampton. The stabilised crude is then exported by tanker to refineries in the UK and abroad for the production of high quality fuels.
Cross Section of Oil Well
Well Section
BP Logo    Our thanks to BP for this section which is for the most part displayed on their plaque adjacent to the Oil Well and Nodding Donkey compound on the cliff-top.


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Appendix Glass
Among the French Protestant refugees who fled from their country after the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572 were some who brought with them the art of glass-making. One of these families of French glass-makers named Bigoe, Bagoe, or Bagg, has been traced by Hallen in various parts of England and Ireland. In 1623 Abraham Bigoe had a glass-house at Ratcliff and another in the isle of Purbeck. He was probably the founder of the firm mentioned by Lysons in his account of the parish of Stepney published in 1795. Among the industries of the hamlet of Ratcliff he includes 'Bowles's celebrated manufacture of window glass, established by the great-grandfather of the present proprietor, who is said to have been the first to manufacture crown glass in this kingdom.' Lysons adds, 'it has certainly been brought to its present improved state by his family. 'Industries: Glass', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2: General; Ashford, East Bedfont with Hatton, Feltham, Hampton with Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton (1911), pp. 155-58. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=22168
Single trench and trial pit excavated in advance of proposed development and following an assessment (Event 1350781), recording finds from the Kimmeridge Glassworks (1613-1625) and a wall assigned to a fisherman's hut or boathouse of 19th century date.
Grid ref. OSGB - SY 90 78
Grid ref. LL - 002 08 W 50 36 N
Subject type and period
BOAT HOUSE, Post Medieval
GLASS WORKS, Post Medieval
Intervention type
Evaluation - 1999,
Responsible for Fieldwork
AC Archaeology
Paper/microfilm archive: location
AC Archaeology
Artefact archive: location
AC Archaeology
Bibliographic references
122/2000 Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society
McMahon P (1999) An archaeological evaluation at the site of the Proposed New Marine Centre at Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset. AC Archaeology [assessment & evaluation reports]
Associated identifiers
AIP Record Number C.19.4304
Record maintainer
English Heritage, National Monuments Record
Resource Name
English Heritage NMR Excavation Index for England
Depositor's Id No.
"Coal was certainly being used with complete success by glassmakers by 1615, for in that year a Royal Proclamation forbade further use of 'Timber, or wood, or any Fewell made of Timber or wood' in their furnaces. In that same year Admiral Sir Robert Mansell, the man who was destined to organize the glass industry on a national basis and control it for the next forty years, joined Zouche and his partners and plunged at once in his industrial career, settling John Squire, who had worked at Eccleshall and Cheswardine, and Jacob Henzey in a glass-house at Wollaton, Nottingham. By 1618, Mansell had bought out all his partners and held the monopoly alone, although this was not officially recognized until 1623 when he had to fight hard to retain it."
Mansell's monopoly, for some reason, was exempt from the 'Statute of Monopolies' of 1624 which declared all monopolies to be void.
Just a bit about the Mansell family found in From Broad-Glass to Cut Crystal: A History of the Stourbridge Glass Industry by D.R. Guttery (London, 1956).
Piece details: E 134/22Jas1/East24 : full details
Sir Robt. Maunsel, Knt. v. Sir William Clavill, Knt.: Glass works in the Isle of Purbeck (Dorset), and at Ratcliffe (Middlesex). Touching an indenture of covenants made between Phillip Earl of Montgomery, Sir Thos. Howard, Knt., Sir Edwd. Zouche, Knt., Sir Thos.
22 Jas 1 1623-24
E Records of the Exchequer, and its related bodies, with those of the Office of First Fruits and Tenths, and the Court of Augmentations
Division within E Records of the King's Remembrancer
E 134 Exchequer: King's Remembrancer: Depositions taken by Commission
Subseries within E 134 James I
Scope and content
Sir Robt. Maunsel, Knt. v. Sir William Clavill, Knt.: Glass works in the Isle of Purbeck (Dorset), and at Ratcliffe (Middlesex). Touching an indenture of covenants made between Phillip Earl of Montgomery, Sir Thos. Howard, Knt., Sir Edwd. Zouche, Knt., Sir Thos. Tracy, Knt., Thos. Percival, Bevis Thelwall, Robt. Kelway, and - Hayes of one part, and plaintiff of the other part; also an agreement between plaintiff and Abraham Bigoe. Alleged infringement by Bigoe of the articles of last-named agreement, and arrears of rent for glass works in the isle, due to plaintiff by Bigoe, and extent upon his goods. Touching also defendant's interference with the monopoly of the sale of "green glasses" in London, and his claim to the "furnaces" for making, and libertie of making, glass in the isle, &c., &c.: London; Dorset; Middlesex.
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/ displaycataloguedetails.asp?CATID=4582133& CATLN=6&Highlight=&FullDetails=True&j=1
From what I have been able to piece together, Abraham Bigoe was a French Huegeunot haveing fled France after the St. Barthelomew's Day Massacre. I have several sources that indicate he was from the Lorraine region of France -- a Lorrainer and a glassmaker. Now glassmakers enjoyed certain priveleges because of their knowledge. Glassmaking was closely guarded by families and the father would pass down his knowledge to his son or appropriate heir. So I am guessing that Abraham Bigoe was an heir to this craft. Obviously the conditions in France had become so extreme that he was willing to give up the privileges of his class.
"The said masters and glassworkers, because of their craft, are and must be privileged, and enjoy divers good rights, liberties, franchises and perogatives... and are held and reputed in such franchises as chevaliers, esquirers and nobleman of the duchy of Lorraine... [they and their heirs] working in the same craft shall be held free, quit and exempt from all income and land taxes, aids and subsidies, military service... obligation to provide fodder and from Chavaucher and all licences, exactions, subventions... which might in the future be imposed..." (from the 15th century charter for glassmakers in Lorraine France)
I believe that his name in France was Abraham Bigualt. (Bigoe is supposed to be an Anglicanized version) This line of glassmakers, from what I can find, has not been traced. Of course, there is difficulty in tracing the Hugeunots, because many families erased these members names from their records.
By the early seventeenth century English manufacturers had developed coal-fired furnaces based in towns which were beginning to replace the wood-fired furnaces. An Englishman, Admiral Sir Robert Mansell, held the monopoly on this new technology. Furthermore, owing to the enormous depletion of woodland a royal proclamation in 1615 banned the use of wood fuel in glasshouses in England. The increased competition of Mansell, who also ensured the strict enforcement of the 1615 ban, pushed the French families out of the glass-making industry. In order to ply their trade, some of these French families moved to other countries which were not prohibited from using wood, Ireland included.
In 1619 Mansell issued an arrest for Sir William Clavell and Abraham Bigo. This may have been as a result of Clavell and Bigo's joint venture to establish a glasshouse at Church Knowle in Dorset in 1618. Four years later, in 1623, Abraham Bigo appears in Birr, Co. Offaly, having leased land from Lawrence Parsons to construct a glasshouse in the townland of Clonbrone, near Birr. Under the conditions of this lease Bigo could not 'set up any glass house or glasswork on any other land, or buy wood of any other for his glasswork but only of me'. In the reign of Charles II (1660-85) a namesake and descendant of the earlier Philip Bigo was granted land in Ballyneshragh, Carrowmore, Feddane and Newtown in Lusmagh, Co. Offaly, and according to local tradition he established some glasshouses in these areas.
In 1638/9 the exportation and manufacture of glass in Ireland was prohibited, and in 1641 another bill prohibited the felling of trees as a fuel supply for glass-furnaces. As happened in England twenty years earlier, the combined effects of the legislation and technological advances heralded the end of the forest glass wood-fired furnaces.
Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society - Bury Quay - Tullamore - Co. Offaly - Ireland
Mary Boydell, Annette Camier, Hon. Sec. of the Huguenot Society of Ireland, David Crossley, Sheffield University and Noel McMahon, Shinrone.
http://www.offalyhistory.com/content/reading_ resources/archaeology/glass_furnaces.htm