Logo Picture Left SideLogo Picture Right SideLogo Text at Center
Penny Magazine Heading

[Continued from No. 377.]

Portland Quarry

Portland being a part of the ancient demense lands, the quarries are held by the sovereign as lord of the manor, and let out to proprietors under various forms of tenure. The quarries are about 100 in number. The crown holds and works about a fourth; and the rest are shared between some half-dozen proprietors, who pay a nominal rent per acre, and a real rent of 2s. per ton for every ton of stone raised and shipped. The immediate management of the quarries is entrusted to stewards or agents, at fixed salaries, averaging 70l. per annum. Under them are several "masters" or foremen, who take the oversight of a certain number of men, and whose pay varies from that of a common quarryman to 50l. yearly. The quarry itself is usually worked by a company of six men and two boys, whose pay in all cases depends on the actual amount of stone "won" and delivered to the agent.

Before proceeding to explain the processes used in getting the stone, it will be necessary to first to describe the structure of the crust or superficial strata of the island. A visitor would accomplish this at once by a glance at any clean-faced cliff in his neighbourhood, but in the absence of ocular demonstration the following description and the cut (above) will very clearly exhibit its constitution.

First occurs the surface-soil 7 feet deep. Second, three layers of grit, called "Bur-stone, Cap & Scull-cap," or collectively, the "Turf-layer," 16 feet. Third, Roach-stone, 9 feet; which immediately covers the good Portland stone of commerce, in a compact horizontal bed of about 8 feet in depth. Beneath it follow various beds of clay, marl, flint, &c. Here then we have a superincumbent mass of earth and stone, 32 feet in depth, which must all be removed before a single foot of the good stone it covers can be procured,-a hard task, and one which is rendered still more so by the fact we have before mentioned, that till this is done the workmen are not entitled to any remuneration. In a quarry of this size, and worked by the number of hands described, the labours of three years are required to accomplish the task. First, the layers of surface-soil and rubbish are dug, and carried in strong iron-bound barrows, to be thrown over the fallow fields in the neighbourhood. Next, the "Turf-layer" is raised, but the obstinacy of its structure and its weight make it a work of serious labour. The strata of which it is composed sometimes present great solidity, and at other times are naturally split in large masses; in both cases they have to be reduced to small lumps, and lifted into carts. The breakage is done by driving wedges, and other similar contrivances; and the lifting by a peculiarly formed shovel, whose long handle is laid along the thigh, and the load raised by a sudden jerk, the combined action of the arm and knee, and thrown into a cart, to which seven or more horses are attached, and by whom it is carried, either to be thrown over the cliffs into the sea, or piled up in large mounds at a distance. The Roach-stone is the next stratum, and as it is unbroken in its mass, of great hardness, and nine or more feet in depth, it requires of course a long struggle to accomplish its removal. After clearing the surface, the first step taken is the preparation of a blast, for splitting the Roach into blocks sufficiently small for removal. A circular hole, 4 feet 8 inches in depth by three inches in width, is then drilled in the rock; filled at the bottom to the height of 2 inches with gunpowder, tightly rammed, and connected with a train on the outside. This is then fired, and an explosion follows, which splits the stone for several yards around into perpendicular rents of about an inch across. The masses of stone between these rifts have now to be removed, and as some of them weigh upwards of fifty tons, an amount of powder would seem required, far beyond the compass of half a dozen quarrymen, and the scanty mechanical means at their disposal. The only instruments used as rollers of various sizes, and strong double-handed jacks; months are consequently consumed in the slow-paced operation. Three of the jacks are placed against the mass, and then follows what may perhaps be justly deemed the severest struggle in which human bones and muscles were ever engaged. More than one hundred thousand pounds of stone have to be moved a hundred yards and more over heaps of loose stones, by half a dozen men! The jacks being fixed in the most advantageous positions, the men commence to heave round the winches; and then the shrill cry is heard of "High, boys, high," repeated with great rapidity. Meanwhile the winches of the jacks, turned against so prodigious an amount of resistance, make a progress as slow as the minute hand of a watch. It is sufficient, however, if they do really turn at all, for it is by the smallest possible degrees the removal is at length accomplished and the pit cleared for the production of the best stone. The exhaustion which these labours occasion is evidenced by the frequent periods of rest, and in the constant use of the water-keg, from which they drink copiously. One of the men, when I asked him if the work was hard, said, "Sir, we are obliged to heave our hearts out, and all in the sun too!" They do not, however, appear to suffer any permanent damage by their labours, and but little abatement of strength, even in extreme old age. A night's rest cures all. One old fellow upwards of seventy years of age, who was doing the work of the strongest, told me, that through that long period he had never known sickness. The secret of this is to be found in pure air, free exposure to all weathers, and a certain quiet of mind.

When a quarry has been cleared of its rubbish, and the flooring of good Portland stone brought fairly into view, the real business of a quarryman-that by which he would choose to be known-commences. All his preliminary labours have required little beyond the exercise of mere strength, but now judgment and ingenuity are called for in the selection and preparation of the rude lumps of stone for architectural purposes; and the labourer becomes an artisan. The cleared bed of pure stone is found to be split in numerous directions by what are called "gullies," and these of course divide it into masses, varying in size according to the width of the gullies. In this way blocks of every imaginable size and form are procured; and when they have been wedged out, a council is held by the men, and it is discussed whether this one would make a pier-stone for a bridge; another, a shaft for a column; a third, a baluster for a parapet, and so on. These important uses determined, the masses are severally dragged to convenient spots, and reduced to square or appropriate forms by the action of a double-headed iron picker, called a "kivel," and weighing twenty-five pounds. The only business remaining, previous to the delivery of the stones to the wharf, is to ascertain their weight, and to mark it on them. The former is computed by measure, 16 square feet being estimated to weigh a ton; and the latter by cutting the amount in certain hieroglyphic characters. A monogram of the proprietor's name is also added. The measuring rod used for the above purpose was covered with odd symbols, of which I could make nothing.

When the stone is ready for delivery, it is lifted on a stage-like cart, with solid wooden wheels, exactly resembling the wagon of the ancients and the Moorish bullcart of Spain at this day. To this is yoked seven horses; and in the case of the western quarries it is then taken to a railway station at the top of Fortune's Well hill, and entrusted to the care of a company, who send it round the hills, by inclined planes, to a wharf at the foot of the Chesil bank, a mile and a half distance, and for which they are authorized to charge 8d. per ton for stone of the best, and 4d. for roach and other kinds of inferior quality.

Western Cliffs, Portland

We have mentioned that quarrymen are paid only for stone actually delivered from the quarry. Ten shillings a ton is fixed by common consent as the average price, and this is supposed to include the value of all the preliminary labour. The money thus earned is placed to his credit, and at the end of six months an account is made out, and a balance determined, which is often against the workman; the labour of "winning" the stone occupying a period of three years; and the men receiving nothing in the interval, the agents meet the destitution which would otherwise be suffered by opening chandlers' stores, and letting the workmen have all the larger necessaries of life on account of their prospective gains. The average amount earned by a workman, if he were constantly employed, would be 12s. per week; but this average is much reduced by various casualties. Thus, if it rain before the nine o'clock in the morning, he is not allowed to work that day; if the wind be high, the dust of the pit drives him from his labours; should the markets be dull, his work is reduced to four days; if a burial take place, he is obliged, on the tolling of the churchbell, which commences at noon, to leave work for the rest of the day; and should the deceased happen to be a stranger, he is even compelled, by immemorial usage, to attend and assist the obsequies. Added to this is the time lost by accidents, which in so perilous a trade are frequent; and the cost of tools also, which are found by himself. These drawbacks combine to reduce the weekly wages to an average of 9s. or 10s.; but even that small pittance is frequently reduced to 7s.

The earnings of a quarryman being so small, and his family very commonly large, it may be worthy of inquiry how they are supported; and as they are both well fed and well clothed, and have never resorted to "parish allowance," except in some few cases of extreme age or decrepitude, the subject becomes one of the deepest interest. The resources of a Portland family are the following:-1. An acre of land, used either for raising corn, potatoes, or the general products of a garden. For this 20s. rent and 10s. tithe and poor-rate are paid, and 30s. is supposed to be the cost of seed and miscellaneous expenses. The corn and potato grounds are mostly on the top of the island, and the gardens on the declivities. On these little plots the men spend their leisure evenings and holidays in a diligent cultivation of the best vegetable products. In this way flour for the puddings, potatoes for the winter store, and, notwithstanding the sterility of the soil, a good supply of small fruits and suculent vegetables, are produced. Gooseberries, sheltered by walls from the sea-breeze, bear abundantly in the season. Gooseberry-cakes, of the size and form of Cheshire cheeses, may be seen drying in the sun (before baking) at many of the cottage windows. 2. A cow is often procured by the savings of the thrifty housewives; the grazing costs nothing, the Vern-hill serving as meadow land for the common use of the island. Milk is consequently cheap and abundant; and home-made cheeses are found on most tables. 3. Fowls are numerously reared, and add the luxury of eggs to bacon. 4. On the Southern Downs the common mushroom grows in great abundance, and to an enormous size. I measured some a foot in diameter. These are carefully gathered, and enter largely into the seasoning of a Portland feast. 5. Water-cresses are found sparingly in moist spots, but are gleaned with diligence, and provide a relish for the breakfast. 6. On all the fallow-fields (and these are numerous, crops being raised only in alternate years) the Cuckoo-pint (Arum Maculatum) grows in unparalleled abundance, and the field is then called a "starch-moor:' The roots are gathered by the women, the farinaceous matter is extracted, and a fine supply of British arrowroot secured. Much of it is sold in Weymouth, and the produce brought home in clothing. The Society of Arts, by judicious gifts, formerly gave great encouragement to this manufacture in Portland. 7. Harvest-work is exclusively performed by women; and as none but Portlanders are employed, a comfortable purse is thus secured by many families for winter purposes. Fish of every sort abounds, and is sold at low prices fresh from the sea. The village of Chiswell is wholly employed in the conduct of the fisheries. This is, of course, a very capital circumstance in the economic history of Portland; and as Weymouth takes all the surplus produce, an additional advantage is derived in the many occasional shillings which the young women of the island earn by its carriage thither. 9. Shepherd's work on the plains is performed by the younger boys, who are paid in food and clothing. 10. Fuel costs nothing: the island is destitute both of coal and wood, and as a substitute dried cow-dung is used. The females are employed all the early part of summer mornings in collecting and drying it, and in stocking up a reserve for winter consumption. It burns with a low clear flame and emits much heat, but to a stranger has a slightly unpleasant smell.

Thus the Portlander and his busy family, by an industrious and prudent use of the scanty favours of the comparatively barren rock on which they spend their days, contrive to support themselves in a degree of comfort rarely equalled by the poor of their own or any other country.

The frugality and perseverance exhibited in these pursuits would naturally lead us to infer the existence along with them of a high tone of moral feeling.

1. They have no place of confinement in the island, and stocks, whipping-posts, or any analogous instruments or modes of punishment, are totally unknown. 2. The magistracy is a sinecure, a commital not taking place once in fifty years. "In shart," said an islander whom we questioned, "an accident might happen in that length, but then it would be a chance." 3. No persons are allowed to live together in an unmarried state. 4. The Sabbath is strictly observed with uniform propriety. The degree of sanctity with which it is regarded may be estimated by the fact that I heard it related as a tale of wonder that in London boys were actually allowed to play marbles on Sunday. 5. The strongest oath and the common expletive is, "On the word of a Portland man." These facts, in connexion with various others of a similar but minor character, present an amount of public virtue as admirable as we believe it to be unparalleled in the British Islands. We were happy, but not surprised, in learning that this desirable state of things is clearly traceable to the influence of Bible principles, a circumstance which we shall not stay here to prove, beyond stating that in the Wesleyan chapel at Fortune's Well, out of a congregation of 600 persons, there are 170 approved communicants.

The Portland quarrymen constitute about 500 of the population, and are evidently a distinct and well-defined race. They are nobly formed, and come very nearly to the finest antique models of strength and beauty. In height they vary from 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet. Large bones, well knit and strongly-compacted muscles, confirmed in their united energies by the hardest labour, in a pure atmosphere, give them a power so Herculean, that three cwts. is lifted by men of ordinary strength with ease. Their features are regularly and boldly developed; eyes black, but deprived of their due expression by the partial closure of the lids, caused by the glare of the stone; complexion a bright ruddy orange; the hair dark and plentiful, and the general expression of the countenance mild and intelligent. Their usual summer costume on working days is a slouched straw hat covered with canvass and painted black, a shirt with narrow blue stripes, and white canvass trousers. On Sundays they add to these a sailor's short blue jacket, and look very like good-natured tars in their holiday trim.

Having spent some time in inspecting the quarries, we may now proceed to other parts of the island.

On reaching Blacknor Point, the road should be again taken on the edge of the cliffs. Inland nothing is to be seen but barren downs, dotted here and there with scanty flocks of Portland sheep. These are elegant creatures; smallness of limbs, delicacy of features, and a certain look of goodnatured intelligence distinguish them. The mutton is highly esteemed in the neighbourhood. Turning from the downs, the sign is perpetually relieved by the cliff scenery. Black and hideous caverns, "long lashed by rude winds"-rocks varying from one to three hundred feet in height, severed by convulsions from the body of the Island, stand nodding to their fall-chasms of great depth, running inwards to distances beyond the examination of the most curious intercept the path, and constitute, by the rapidity of their succession and the strangeness of their forms and combinations, a series of magnificent pictures. The first mile of the walk will be amusingly diversified by the black-backed gull (Larus marinus) and the herring-gull (Larus argenteus), who build in the cliffs, and rise in vast numbers on the approach of a stranger, uttering a succession of sounds so like those of hearty laughter, that I repeatedly fancied myself the subject of human merriment. Occasionally also, in retired bays, various species of auks and puffins may be observed in small parties, swimming and diving in apparently the most harmonious rivalry. A walk of a mile terminates in a series of land-slips, in the midst of which several workings for the dislocated stone are established, approached by pathways so steep and narrow that the foot of a chamois would seem to be required for their safe passage. In these places the blocks of stone are tossed over to the beach, and lifted on board small vessels during calm weather. Proceeding onwards, the upper and lower lighthouses come into view. These are well-built structures, admirably ventilated, and furnished with numerous stationary burners of intense brilliance. Each of these establishments is surrounded with two or three neat dwellings, for the residence of the families and servants of the respective keepers. These abodes must be very monotonous;-six months out of the twelve the winds are so high, the wife of one of the keepers told me that "womenkind and such-like" could not dare to go abroad. From the lanterns of fine view is obtained of the Portland race.

The lighthouses were built to warn mariners of the dangerous neighbourhood, as well as to indicate the position of Portland Bill, which juts into the sea immediately beyond them. Proceeding forwards, the "Holes," "Jack Russell's Window," and "Large Hole Point," successively claim attention. These are caverns worn by the waves in the face of the bare cliff. Many legendary tales of starving mariners and sea-born sprites are connected with these caverns. What the guides regard as the very lion of the island is nothing more than a cavern of unusual dimensions. In stormy weather the sea rushes violently into this cave, fills it, and finding an aperture at the upper end, rises for a moment in a columnar form, then sinks into the abyss beneath, to be again and again tossed upwards.

[To be continued.]

[Top of Page]