Beer Quarry Caves
Beer Quarry Caves is a man-made limestone underground complex located
about a mile west of the village of Beer, Devon, and the main
England for beer stone. The underground tunnels resulted
from 2,000 years of quarrying beer stone, which was particularly
favoured for cathedral and church features such as door and window
surrounds because of its colour and workability for carving. Stone
from the quarry was used in the construction of several of southern
England's ancient cathedrals and a number of other important buildings
as well as for many town and village churches, and for some
buildings in the United States. Extraction was particularly intense
during the Middle Ages, but continued until the 1920s. An adit to
another set of workings can be seen from the South West Coast Path
east of Branscombe, having been exposed by a landslip in the late 18th
century. The quarry is part of the Jurassic Coast, and is a Site of
Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
1 Beer stone
2 Roman period
3 Norman period
4 Medieval period
5 Modern period
6 Notable buildings made with beer stone
7 See also
9 External links
Beer stone is a creamy-grey, fine-textured limestone from the
Cretaceous period that takes its name from the town of Beer,
where it was quarried and mined from Roman times. The layer of the
best stone (lowest number of flints) is about thirty feet thick. It
is also found in other places in south-west England. Because of its
fine grain, it is a "Free stone", which means that it can be sawed or
squared up in any direction: the crystal structure does not restrict
the directions in which it can be worked. When first mined, it is
relatively soft and easily cut, but it hardens with exposure to the
air, and becomes about as hard as Portland stone.
Cliffs east of Branscombe, Devon, showing an adit to Beer Stone
The earliest workings at the quarry were in the Roman period initially
in open quarries, after which it was necessary to quarry into the side
of the hill because of other rock strata above. At this time the
estuary of the river Axe provided a safe harbour for the removal of
the stone by boat. The Roman section is typified by large arches which
support the roof and was hand excavated using picks and wooden wedges.
Beer stone was used in the Roman villa of Honeyditches, Seaton.
The Norman workings join directly onto the earlier Roman quarry,
working deeper into the hillside, and are typified by large
rectangular columns which support the roof and includes several
smaller side galleries.
Quarry men worked long hours by candlelight with hand tools such as
picks and saws. The quarrymen were also often supported by child
labour. Skilled stonemasons would then work on the stone in the caves
because it became harder to carve when exposed to the air. The stone
blocks would then be lifted by hand operated cranes after the
connection of Lewis lifting devices to be loaded onto horse-drawn
wagons. They would then usually be taken to barges which would sail
from Beer Beach. After 1540, stone was only quarried for secular
After the Reformation, one of the uses of the caves was as a secret
Catholic church. In the 19th century, the caves were also used to
store contraband, including by the smuggler Jack Rattenbury.
Entrance to the caves
Quarrying at the site ceased in the early 20th century when a new
quarry was opened nearby. Some caves were then used to cultivate
mushrooms and others were used to dump waste from the new quarry.
Guided tours of the caves are now run from spring to autumn. The
caves provide a haven for hibernating bats in winter. The presence of
the bats, along with the opportunities to see the geological profiles
that quarry faces allow, caused the old and new quarries to be
declared a Site of
Special Scientific Interest. The very rare
Bechstein's bat and the greater and lesser horseshoe bats along with
five other bat species are all found in the caves.
Notable buildings made with beer stone
Cathedral (St. Louis, Missouri)
Peak House, Sidmouth
St Paul's Cathedral
List of places on the Jurassic Coast
List of Sites of
Special Scientific Interest in Devon
Pecorama Pleasure Gardens
Pecorama Pleasure Gardens and the Beer Heights Light Railway
^ De La Beche, Henry Thomas (1839). "Chalk and Green Sand". Report on
the geology of Cornwall, Devon and west Somerset. Longman, Orme,
Brown, Green, and Longmans.
^ a b Rawlins, F.I.G. (1957). "The Cleaning of Stonework". Studies in
Conservation. 3 (1): 1–23. doi:10.2307/1504930.
^ "Dorset and East Devon Coast". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. 2001.
^ a b c d Ashurst, John; Dimes, Francis G. (1998). Conservation of
building and decorative stone. Butterworth-Heinemann. p. 117.
^ Whitaker, William (1871). "On the Chalk of the Southern Part of
Dorset and Devon". The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of
London. 27: 93–101. doi:10.1144/gsl.jgs.1871.027.01-02.20.
^ Jukes-Browne, Alfred John; Hill, William; Geological Survey of
Britain (1904). The
Cretaceous Rocks of Britain: The Upper Chalk of
England. Wyman and Sons. p. 380.
^ Miles, Henrietta; J. M. Price; M. A. Sheldrick (1977). "The
Honeyditches Roman Villa, Seaton, Devon". Brittania. 8: 107–48.
^ "Out of the darkness" brief history and description of the old
quarry by Scott and Gray.
^ Erskine, A. M. The Accounts of the Fabric of Exeter Cathedral,
1279-353: Part 1: 1279-1326. Devon & Cornwall Record
^ Billing, Joanna (2003). The Hidden Places of Devon. Travel.
p. 25. ISBN 978-1-902007-89-2.
^ Andrews, Rob (2010). The Rough Guide to Devon & Cornwall.
Penguin. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-4053-8605-0.
Beer Quarry Caves
Beer Quarry Caves SSSI citation". Natural England. Archived from
the original on 2014-09-04.
^ a b c d e Knoop, Douglas; G. P. Jones (1938). "The English Medieval
Quarry". The Economic History Review. 9 (1): 17–37.
^ AA Illustrated Guide to Britain. Norton. 1997. p. 32.
^ Quinn, Tom; Felix, Paul (2007). Britain's Best Walks. New Holland.
Beer Quarry Caves
Coordinates: 50°41′56″N 3°6′46″W / 50.69889°N