West, Ian M. 2017. Lyme Regis, Dorset, the Town and Seafront: Geology of the Wessex Coast. Internet geological field guide. School of Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton University. http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/Lyme-Regis-Seafront.htm. Version: 4th October 2017.

Lyme Regis Seafront - Geology of the Wessex Coast

By Dr. Ian West,
Romsey, Hampshire.

Ocean and Earth Science ,
Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences
Southampton University

Website hosted by courtesy of iSolutions, Southampton University
Website archived at the British Library

|Home, Contents and List of Webpages |Lyme Regis - West |Lyme Regis - East, to Charmouth |Lias Fossils |Lyme Regis Bibliography| |Beach Fires, Cliff Fires and the Lyme Volcano

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(You can download this educational site to SurfOffline or similar software to keep an offline copy, but note that updating of the live version takes place periodically.)

Ian West at the Museum, Lyme Regis, Dorset, 2011

Lyme Regis and part of Black Ven as seen from the Cobb, 12th May 2008

The town of Lyme Regis, Dorset, seen from the hillslope to the north-north-east

Lyme Regis, Dorset, viewed from the Cobb

Eastern wall of the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset, capped by Portland Roach, Portland Stone

Ledges of Blue Lias argillaceous limestones seen from Cobb Gate, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Seaward end of Broad Street, Lyme Regis, Dorset


Broad Street, Lyme Regis, a modified, digital, image based on a watercolour by A.R. Quinton, in about the 1920s


The River Lym at Lyme Regis, or Buddle, now a clean stream, but once, to some extent, an open sewer, photograph June 2015

Seafront at Lyme Regis, Dorset in a storm, old photograph

Above, the small, historic town of Lyme Regis is world-famous for the fossils from the nearby cliffs. Also shown is Gun Cliff, Lyme Regis in a severe storm, many years ago, probably in the 1970s.

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Lyme Regis - Chippel Bay westward to Seven Rock Point
Lyme Regis - East, to Charmouth (with Black Ven)?
Liassic Fossils?
Lyme Regis - Bibliography?



Location and road map of Lyme Regis, Dorset

Simplified Geology of the West Dorset Coast

Detailed geology and locations - Lyme Regis

A geological map of Lyme Regis, Dorset, from the 1950s

A 1906 geological map of Lyme Regis, Dorset, part of the old Sidmouth Sheet of the Geological Survey

Geological map - east of Lyme Regis

Cliff sections for West Dorset, Pinhay Bay to Golden Cap

The maps above, and the cliff section, provide the introductory geological setting for the area and also location information. The general pattern is that on the hill tops there is weathered Cretaceous Upper Greensand (brownish green) with much chert and with some Chalk (of about 100million years old). These units lie unconformably on grey Liassic (Lower Jurassic) marine clays (of about 150 million years old) with ammonites, belemnites and, occasionally, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. The occurrence of the Cretaceous sands and chalk above Jurassic clays is the cause of much landsliding in the area. The clay cliffs undergo rapid sea-erosion which reveals the fossils. The details of the geology are discussed in this and two associated webpages - .

Lyme Regis - Chippel Bay westward to Seven Rock Point
Lyme Regis - East, to Charmouth (with Black Ven)

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Car and Coach Parking

The centre of Lyme Regis is a narrow road with a sharp turning, and with traffic lights. There is no parking close to the beach at Gun Cliff where the shopping street comes down to the shore. It is necessary to park away from this central area, with fossil shops and museum, and to walk there.

Holmbush Car Park at the Cobb Road turning on the hill above the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset, 2011

Coaches and cars for field trips to the west side (Cobb to Chippel Bay and Seven Rock Point) can park at the large car park - Holmbush Car Park (map reference SY 337920) up the hill at the top of the steep Cobb Road on the west side of the town. There are toilets here.

The car park at Monmouth Beach and the old cement factory, both constructed on beach boulders and pebbles held back by the western wall of the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Cars can park down at the Monmouth Beach Car Park just west of the Cobb, but the car parking charge is higher here (about a pound an hour in 2012). It avoids a steep hill between the car and the beach.

Charmouth Road car park, Lyme Regis, Dorset

The Charmouth Road Car Park, on the eastern side of Lyme Regis, Dorset, in June 2015

For the town centre and the eastern side (Church Cliffs and Black Ven) there is the Charmouth Road car park and coach park about two-thirds way down the eastern hill down into Lyme. There are toilets at the car park, too. It is easy to drive to this car park from Charmouth. Coaches generally cannot proceed beyond it though.

Guidance information about the new eastern sea defences of Lyme Regis, Dorset, as can be seen at the Charmouth Road car park, 2015

In 2015 a new sea wall and promenade was opened to the east of Lyme Regis in the direction of the Spittles and Black Ven. There is a new path down to this from the Charmouth Road car park. This is very convenient but if access on the beach towards Black Ven is needed, it is essential to go at low tide. Tide tables need to be checked to avoid being cut off by the sea (although if there are no obstructing soft mudslides present it is possible to walk to Charmouth).

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Lyme Regis Town - Topographic Maps

Location and road map of Lyme Regis, Dorset

A map, published by Jukes-Browne, showing the location of the 1908 'Lyme Volcano', an oil-shale fire at Lyme Regis, Dorset

A 19th century topographic map of Lyme Regis, Dorset

Part of an 1928, six inch scale, topographic map of part of Lyme Regis, and the Spittles area of Black Ven, Dorset

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Aerial Photographs - General

For aerial photographs of the Lyme Regis area go to: The Channel Coastal Observatory , National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. There are numerous, orth-rectified aerial photographs taken at low tide on various occasions. They cover all the south coast of England and elsewhere. They are of very high resolution. In addition there is much technical data, such as Lidar, available. First go to the online site above, then register with the CCO online and receive an id and a password. Subsequently you can download the aerial photographs and other coastal data that you may need. Note that the photographs initially are in ECW format and need an appropriate viewer, which can convert them to jpg should that be necessary. Examples shown on this website have already been converted to jpg. The general geologist may only need some of the aerial photographs, such as those shown here; coastal and geomorphological specialists can obtain much more technical data for research studies.

Small-scale, composite aerial photograph of the cliffs and landslide west of Lyme Regis, to Goat Island, courtesy of the Channel Coastal Observatory

The small-scale aerial photograph above shows Lyme Regis and the coast westward, through the Axmouth - Lyme Regis Undercliffs, National Nature Reserve, as far as Goat Island and Culverhole Point. This is just a copy of index photographs and not at high resolution. Detailed, large-scale aerial photographs can be downloaded free by registering with the The Channel Coastal Observatory , National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

Blue Lias ledges seen at low tide, south of the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset

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Panoramic Photographs

For high resolution panoramic photographs of Lyme Regis see: Panoramas of Lyme Regis - by Malcolm Etherington.

A link to Panoramas of Lyme Regis, Dorset

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Safety and Risk Assessment

The Lyme Regis area has risks from rock falls, entrapment in mud, tidal cut off etc. The town and seafront area is relatively safe (perhaps apart from traffic problems), although non-geological activities associated with swimming or boats may involve hazards. It is possible to fall off the walls of the Cobb or to slip or rock armour, but such events are rare. The cliffs are considered in separate but associated webpages, and the risks discussed there. The situation on this coast varies from day to day and hour to hour, and tide, sea and weather conditions must be assessed by the visitor at the time. If in doubt do not proceed; no liability is accepted.

There is major risk of falling debris from the Blue Lias cliffs, at East Cliffs and at Chippel Bay (Monmouth Beach). There are vertical cliffs with alternating limestone bands and shale. It is very important to consider the state of the cliff on the particular occasion and to minimise risk by avoiding the foot of the cliff as far as possible. Researchers, collectors and photographers sometimes have to approach cliffs. If this is necessary limit the time in the danger zone to a very minimum. Children should not approach the foot of cliffs gthat are high and vertical. Geological accidents are rare but when they occur they can be fatal.

Major landslides can occur at rare intervals on the coast near Lyme Regis without any warning at all. Even after the fall the landslides may be hazardous because further loose material may fall, long after the main cliff collapse. The debris may be unstable and it may also have soft mud between it. Mudslides present dangers of soft mud (like quicksand) into which people can become stuck.

Tide problems can occur near Lyme Regis. The beach route from Lyme Regis to Charmouth can be hazardous on a rising tide, and people have been drowned at Church Cliffs (although there is now a new sea-wall and promenade.

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West Dorset cliff sections - general

Lyme Regis is situated on Liassic clay slopes between two spurs of Chalk and Upper Greensand (see map below). The valley is drained by the small River Lim, Lym, or Buddle. From about the year 900 Lyme became a town of some importance in the reign of Henry III, when it was known as "Nether-lym supra mare", in distinction from Up-lym (Uplyme). In the reign of Edward I the manor came to the crown and, as the King's demesne (manorial estate), the "Regis" was added and the town assumed its present name Woodward, 1889.

Lyme Regis was once a industrial place, a port with much sea-fishing and a place where there was quarrying of the cliffs for limestone for cement. When major fossil discoveries were made about 200 years ago the town became famous for these. Now it is a small tourist place, still with an antique and historic atmosphere. At its centre it is characterised by narrow streets, some fossil shops and a museum.

Lyme Regis is in a small bay between Church Cliffs on the east and Chippel Bay (to Seven Rock Point) cliffs on the west.The town and the river valley is in a syncline of Liassic clays (Shales-with-Beef and Black Ven Marls) with cliffs of the harder Blue Lias limestones and shales on either side. This bay corresponds to the area where the soft Liassic clays come down almost to sea-level. The Parade (the promenade or sea-wall) lies at the level of the uppermost Blue Lias beds, unlike the cliffs both east and west where the top of the Blue Lias limestone-shale sequence is higher. The Blue Lias tends to produce vertical cliffs while the Liassic clays above form sloping, slumped cliffs. For the most part the town thus lacks the wall of vertical cliffs at the base, but has the slumped, clay slopes coming down almost to sea-level. This circumstance provides easy access to the shore but results in some landslipping problems like those of Black Ven but on a more limited scale.

St. Michael's Church, Lyme Regis, Sept. 2001

Above is a view east across the centre of Lyme Regis, in the evening, from the Red Lion Hotel to St. Michael's Church. This has a graveyard containing the body of the famous fossil collector Mary Anning and some of her family. The Church Cliffs are to the southeast and named after the church. High above the town of Lyme Regis to the northeast the top of Black Ven is visible, with the yellow, weathered Upper Greensand forming an upper scarp.

Lyme Regis, Guildhall, Sept. 2001

Here is a view down a little further to the right of the church, seen with the first drops of rain falling from a storm approaching from the north. The little tower of the Guildhall is visible above the house roofs. The house (fish bar) seaward of the the Rock Point Inn is now more protected by sea-defences than when the photograph at the top of the page was taken. In this area there are interesting fossil shops and a museum.

More information on Lyme Regis geology is in the webpages on:

Lyme Regis, West to Seven Rock Point,
Lyme Regis, East to Black Ven and Charmouth,
Liassic Fossils,
Lyme Regis Geology Bibliography.

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Earthquakes and Tsunamis at Lyme Regis

At no great distance from the Western Approaches of the English Channel and the Atlantic beyond, and in addition the fact there are buildings at a relatively low level above the sea means that Lyme Regis may be sensitive to small tsunamis of distant origin. One record, however, refers to a local earthquake coinciding with a small tsunami. There are, of course, several old faults associated with the northern margin of the English Channel Basin in the area, and perhaps these move a little from time to time. It is not known whether the town has ever been hit by large tsunamis; there does not seem to be an historical record of this. Minor events are recorded below.

1688 - The Town of Lyme in Dorsetshire suffered by an earthquake (Cox, undated)

1759 - 31st of May. Tsunami? "The sea flowed 3 times in an hour at Lyme" (Cox, undated).

1797 - 18th August. Possible tsunami? "The sea as above attended by lightning" (Cox, undated).

1799 - 26th January. Tsunami at Lyme Regis. "The sea flowed as above with the shock of an earthquake about 4 o' clock in the morning (Cox, undated).

1863 - October, first Tuesday in the month. 3.35 am. Earthquake. Violent shaking of beds for 2 seconds. Rumbling sound. The shock was most violent at Bridport Harbout, Burton Bradstock, Chideock, Charmouth and Lyme Regis (Legg, 1999).

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Gun Cliff

Lyme Regis, Dorset, viewed from the Cobb

Gun Cliff, Lyme, 14.09.01, looking east to Stonebarrow Hill and Golden Cap

Lyme Regis, Dorset

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The Cobb - Introduction and History
(map ref. SY 338916)

An Edwardian postcard showing the Cobb and the Monmouth Beach cement works at Lyme Regis, Dorset

The Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset, seen from the air in 1949

The Cobb in the distance, Lyme Regis The Cobb at low tide, Lyme Regis, Dorset

The end of the Cobb at Lyme Regis, Dorset

An extension to the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset, of larvikite rock armour from Norway

West of the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset, towards Seven Rock Point

The Cobb is an old projecting sea wall and harbour - map reference - SY 338916, and is about half a kilometre southwest of the centre of the town. (map reference SY 337920). For an interesting account of its history with old illustrations see Clarke (1982) .

The Cobb harbour was originally just a wooden pile and stone structure and at high water was completely separated from the land and constantly damaged by storm. Because of this harbour the isolated settlement on the Dorset and Devon border grew from a simple fishing village into one of the great ports of western England. Without the Cobb, Lyme would still be a village. The wall and harbour was once of great importance. In 1582 Roger North wrote that "there is no [harbour] like it in the world and I cannot but wonder that our Topographers have taken no more notice of it" (Payne, 1953).

To understand the history of the Cobb it is necessary to enquire why Lyme Regis became an important port in the past. In 1153 the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine brought the port of Bordeaux under the English crown. Soon wine was being imported from southern France to western England and wool exported to the same regions. According to Payne (1953) the trade was greatly hampered by the fact that between the rivers Exe and Wey there was only one harbour the deep-draught nefs (type of ship) could use - Axmouth. Early in the 12 century the ancient harbours of the Axe were closed by the sudden collapse of Haven Cliff across the river estuary. This misfortune for Axmouth was an opportunity for Lyme. Harbour facilities in the Dorset point were extensively improved. Trade came flooding in and merchants built their warehouses along both river banks. Some writers have assumed that this was the time that the original Cobb was laid out, approximately on its present site. Note, incidently, that at this time sea-level would have been somewhere near 1m below the present level. Payne (1953) thought that it was more probable that the harbour of Lyme remained in the river estuary until 1329, in which year a series of winter storms washed away the projection tongue of land (at and adjacent to Broad Ledge) and so eroded the coast on either side that the river anchorage became untenable. Payne commented that in support of this belief Roberts tells us that in 1284 the merchants were still using a quay on the Lyme's eastern bank; for he says
"in that year a bridge was erected across the river [at] a spot selected because it s enjoyed a continuity to the Key". Payne (1953). commented that the present site of the Cobb, a quarter-mile to westward of the river, could hardly be called "a continuity"; nor were the merchants likely to have built warehouses on the river bank unless it was here that their goods were originally unladen.

By 1372 the Cobb was present but in that year it was completely destroyed by a savage storm that also damaged much of the town (Clarke, 1982) . In 1373 there was another great storm, probably worse and notable for destroying 77 tenements in the town. This caused further damage to the remains of the Cobb. Destruction of the Cobb again happened in 1377. A sudden southwesterly storm arose on the Feast of St. Martin and destroyed it. A contemporary chronicler recorded that: "many merchants are dead, and the rest departed and the few inhabitants that remain cannot pay their taxes."
In the early years of Elizabeth's reign the ancient quays along the river Lyme had been replaced by quays along the Cobb. Then the Cobb was reconstructed with the worm-eaten baulks of elm replaced by piles of solid oak, the rubble scoured out and replaced by massive blocks of stone. This was of the most durable type to be found in the nearby cliffs which are of Blue Lias, (although with Upper Greensand in the slopes above). An outer wall was then added protecting the harbour from the east. The earliest drawing of the Cobb, dated 1539, and reproduced in Clarke (1982), does indeed show it built principally of wood with a rock infilling. It is interesting to note that in this drawing the early semicircular structure does appear to be connected to the land, and at a place where there is quite a steep cliff at the site of the present Cobb hamlet.

Roger North, Lord Guildford, visited the town in the days of Charles II. At that time the sand beach was already present as shown by this account:
"the vessels at Lyme are laden and unladen by horses, which turn and return across the sand between the Cobb and the town. They have no drivers, but are charged with bales at the town warehouse and away they trot to the ship's side, and stand (sometimes above the belly in water) waiting to be discharged; and they then gallop back to the warehouse again. So they perform the tide's work; and know by the flood when their labour is at an end."

The Cobb seems to be situated in a strange place with no obvious reason for its location here away to the southwest of the river mouth. Ashley (1992) commented that there has been much coast erosion and, perhaps, once it was in the lee of a lost promontory. It seem to be situated on reefs of cementstone at near the top of the Blue Lias. There were silting problems to be solved before the Cobb was finally joined to the mainland in 1756.

Eastern wall of the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset, capped by Portland Roach, Portland Stone

Portland Screw in Portland Stone

Students on  the wall of the Cobb

Note that much of the Cobb is made of large blocks of limestone from the uppermost part of the Portland Stone Formation (Upper Jurassic) of the Isle of Portland. For much of it, and obvious in the eastern wall, the Portland Stone lies above smaller slabs of Blue Lias argillaceous limestone from the local reefs. The " Roach " is a shelly oolitic limestone with moulds of aragonitic fossil shells, particularly the " the Portland Screw " ,a cerithid gastropod - Aptyxiella portlandica . The moulds of this shallow water mollusc, which is confined almost entirely to the Isle of Portland, are well seen on the smooth, almost polished surface of seaward sloping limestone blocks. The Roach, unlike the Portland oolite beneath, is not much used for buildings but, as waste stone, is widely used for sea-walls and sea-defences.

In one of the photographs above students (in 1998) walk back over the Portland Roach blocks and along the wall to Monmouth Beach, to the west of the Cobb. At this beach the Duke of Monmouth landed in 1685 to attempt to achieve a Protestant rebellion and to make a claim for the throne of England. He was defeated and some of the rebels were hanged just here. Seen in the distance in this slightly enlarged view and immediately to the east of the town is Black Ven (i.e. black fen - marsh or swamp). The lower part is of dark grey Liassic clays with a prominant cliff formed by the Belemnite Marls. At the top is oxidised Upper Greensand of the Cretaceous. There are chert beds present. Water seeps through these permeable strata at the top and causes major landslides and mudslides down Black Ven. For more on this see the Lyme Regis - East to Charmouth webpage.

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The Cobb - Monmouth Beach Progradation

Accumulation of shingle west of the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset

The Cobb is a very old example of sea-defences on the south coast of England. As noted above, initially it was a timber and stones structure that was not particularly robust. At a later stage it was separated from the land, probably not as a result of building intentionally offshore but simply because of coast erosion of the shale cliffs near its base. Later the gap was closed and the Victorian sea wall was very strongly built of Portland Stone. At this state of rebuilding the sea-level was probably only about 25 cm. lower than at present and thus, even now, it is still quite high in relation to sea-level.

It is interesting to note though that the Cobb is responsible for reclamation of land on a part of the coast which is normally retreating at a relatively rapid rate. Monmouth Beach shows clear evidence of progradation (building out by sediment). This has happened as a result of progressive trapping of Upper Greensand chert pebbles and other material immediately west of the beach. The direction of longshore drift is from west to east as a result of the prevailing southwesterly winds. The natural travel of pebbles is obstructed by the Cobb and Monmouth Beach is very different from when the Duke of Monmouth landed here. The old cliff line is behind the large car park on the sea front. It is an obvious break of slope at the northern side of the big flat area, north of the small road along the sea front here. Unlike Cobb Hamlet a little further east there do not seem to be any old buildings here. This is because it is all a relatively modern beach shingle accumulation.

Draper (2004) has provided a map of Lyme in 1814. This piece of reclaimed land was in existence at that time and has on Albion Cottage with the name Mr. Weston attached. The cottage seems to be in the middle of what is now the car park and well seaward of the cliff line. Elsewhere in Draper's publication is an illustration of Albion Cottage on the prograded Monmouth Beach. The caption states that it was built on the beach probably in the late 18th century and demolished in the 1860s just after the photograph was taken. In the picture it is clear that the cliff was still in relatively fresh condition with what seems to be the Birchi Nodules exposed (there is little recognisable dip). There is some accumulation of fans of debris at the base but the vegetation is in a very early stage with just very small clumps of plants. It would be difficult to imagine that this cliff was much older than a 100 years from active, and probably less. An Elizabethan (1560-1603) drawing in Clarke (1982) seems to show active cliff erosion with separation of the Cobb from the land, probably as a result of sea activity. Perhaps the Cobb did not form an effective and permanent groyne until about 1700 or 1750.

We can consider the future of this reclaimed area. There is adequate source of supply of Upper Greensand chert and other rocks from the collapsing cliffs to the west. The supply will not diminish. All that is necessary for the Cobb wall to hold in the face of the effects of global warming for this area of flat land to survive in the long term. Unless the rise in sea-level (at Southampton about 3 to 4 mm per annum) were to increase dramatically direct flooding in quiet conditions is probably not the major threat. If storm activity increases, as is sometimes suggested to be likely, then this could cause a major breach at the landward end of the Cobb. Such a breach, as might have happened in the distant past, could release the beach shingle so that it could resume its normal travel eastward (in the direction of its usual journey to the Chesil Beach). If the gap is left open for a series of storms then the Monmouth Beach material will depart and the reclaimed ground will return to the sea. It seems very unlikely that this would be allowed to happen without the rapid rebuilding of the Cobb in even stronger form, something which has taken place from time to time throughout its long history.

The lower part of Cobb Hamlet is, of course, also dependent on the survival of the Cobb, but it is on the lee side and because much of it is very close to, or on, the old cliff it may not be too vulnerable in the case of storm-breach. This proximity has led to some problems with landslides in one or two places, though, as the old cliffs degrade. Some of the buildings are actually seaward of the old cliff-line, but nevertheless the Cobb has long provided safe and strong protection from storms and several of the buildings are very old and have survived the centuries.

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Broad Ledge

Broad Ledge at low tide, with Black Ven behind, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Broad Ledge and Lucy's Ledge, Blue Lias of Lyme Regis, Dorset

Sequence of Blue Lias limestones at Lyme Regis

Geological map - east of Lyme Regis

Broad Ledge is the outcrop of a gentle anticline in Blue Lias limestones. It is formed of the Third Quick (see the diagram of the Blue Lias limestones), which is visible in the centre and the Gumption present in the marginal areas. See the maps of Lang (1913), shown here. From Broad Ledge there is a gentle west or southwesterly dip into the bay with the Marine Parade. Notice this slight dip in Lucy's Ledge. A consequence of this is to lower the top of the Blue Lias limestones down to or below beach level southwest of Lucy's Ledge. This probably lowers the potential level for shear-planes (or slip-planes) and may be the reason for the landslide weakness in the Lister Gardens area. Note that at the Cobb the dip is in the opposite direction. Although not visible at the present, the synclinal axis is likely to close to Lister Gardens.

Notice that at low tide, Broad Ledge is a very long reef, effectively connected to the shore at Back Beach. The photograph from the Cobb and showing the length of the reef was taken with a low tide of 1.1m in the tide tables. About 500 years ago when the town of Lyme was developing this ledge would have been somewhere between 0.5 and 1m higher in relation to sea-level (sea-level has risen at about 1 to 2 mm per annum at Southampton). As a result the ledge may have been dry at that date at mean tide level. If the effects of 19th century quarrying of cementstone and the consequences of natural sea erosion are taken into account then it is very likely that this was a promontory of the land extending much further south than at present. Supporting this view is the fact that the reef is not composed of the highest Blue Lias limestones, but of the Third Quick and Gumption, thus showing that there were once at least 9m of alternating limestones and shales above up to Grey Ledge, with a few more beyond. While these may have been long eroded away, these are more resistant strata than the shales above. Fowles (1983) wrote that:
"The long reef reaching out southeastwards at low tide is Broad Ledge. It may, in Lyme's earliest days, have stood above high water and had houses on it. It was considerably lowered in the 19th century, when it became a a main quarry for the local stone trade. Huge quantities were taken, with disastrous effects on Church Cliffs behind when much deeper waves could get at them."

No doubt this is correct and the Broad Ledge promontory probably once protected one side of a deeper embayment, much like the rather similar Broad Bench promontory protects Kimmeridge Bay. The easily eroded location was south of Lister Gardens (Marine Parade) where there is little or no protective Blue Lias at the base of the cliff (because of the syncline). This is where an embayment like Kimmeridge Bay would have formed. Of course, with lower sea-level in the past the Blue Lias reefs of the Cobb area would also have formed something of a promontory.

Fowles (1983) also makes the point that before 1756 the Cobb was detached from land and was an artificial island at high tide. He explained that shingle was let through and would have moved eastward in accordance with the usual long-shore drift direction. He considered that was trapped and banked in a criss-cross of groynes. In addition it would have been held back by Broad Ledge, building up near the obstruction to some extent like the beach pebbles do now at Monmouth Beach, west of the Cobb. The early town of Lyme Regis may have extended not only seaward but also further southwest in the direction of the Cobb if this storm beach was once present. This is only speculation but such a former coastline might partially explain the surprising distance of the harbour from the old town.

More information on the historical development of Lyme Regis with implications regarding Broad Ledge have been given by (Payne (1953). He observed that Lyme Regis traces its origins back to the days of Cynewulf, King of the West Saxons (i.e. of Wessex). Cynewulf granted to the Abbey of Sherborne a parcel of land on the west bank of the river Lyme, and here a salt-distilling industry quickly became established. The salt water (which was said by Payne to be unusually saline in Lyme Bay) was boiled and the residue of salt taken by pack-horse to the Abbeys of Sherborne and Glastonbury. Opposite the salt workings on the other, eastern, bank of the Lyme there was a stone church and around it a cluster of cottages where the farmers, salt-workers and fishermen lived (Payne, 1953). Presumably that was on on near what is now Broad Ledge. Assuming that this information is correct, low ground for salterns and salt production presumably existed on the west bank of the Lyme rather than just a narrow beach and a [old] cliff as at present. If there was such a low area here then it was probably behind a shingle beach of chert pebbles, like that which now is mostly held back from eastward drift to this location by the present fully-developed Cobb. Against this, though, it must be said that was historic salt production at Kimmeridge and there is no very low ground adjacent to the sea there, only cliffs. Certainly there has been much loss of land since. (Payne (1953) commented that land equivalent to more than a soccer pitch has been eroded from seaward of Cobb Gate in living memory (when written in 1953). A disastrous series of storms in 1329 resulted in: "the sea-walls and the whole of the shipping, together with seventy houses and the ground of the promontory on which they stood were swept utterly away". Payne suggested that the promontory stretched out to seaward and formed the river bank. He thought that thus the earliest haven lay along the east bank of the Lyme, within easy reach of the fishermen's cottages that lined the sheltering promontory. He wrote that "after an exceptionally low tide, a series of stone blocks stetching to seaward of the present river mouth,.. may be the ruins of the "sea-wall" mentioned by the chronicler. Thus Broad Ledge and adjacent sea-floor was probably once a more seaward part of the town.

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Ledges - Broad Ledge to the Cobb (Lucy's Ledge)
(at low tide)

Lucy's Ledge between Broad Ledge and the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset, 2011

Wrack-covered ledges at low spring tide, Lucy's Ledge to the Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset, March 2011

Lucy's Ledge looking northward to Marine Parade, Lyme Regis, Dorset, March 2011

A very low spring tide on the 22nd March 2011 provided good access to Lucy's Ledge, south of Marine Parade, Lyme Regis. It was disappoining from a point of view of fossil content, because it was covered by seaweed and other marine life. The ledge does not approach the beach but ends abruptly. It is not clear as to why this is but it might be the result of former quarrying of cementstone for cement.

The general structure with a syncline at Lyme Regis suggests that Lucy's Ledge should be above the main Blue Lias succession, and is perhaps a bed somewhere near Table Ledge.

As shown in a photograph above, landward of Lucy's Ledge is a narrow strip of natural low-tide shore, followed by a high artificial beach of hard, subangular, siliceous pebbles. Because there is no matrix of sand amongst the pebbles and because they are not completely rounded, this beach is uncomfortable to sit on, and I have even seen a dog having trouble walking on it. However, the main purpose of this artificial beach is to provide weight to the toe area of any potential landslide and also to absorb wave energy. It is a type of civil engineering structure designed to reduce the rate of coast erosion here. It has been successful so far in that it has remained in place, and there seems to have been very little loss of pebbles. (For people who wish to sit on beaches, there is an artificial sand beach adjacent to the Cobb, further west, and they should find this more comfortable.)

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Landslides in Lyme Regis - General Introduction

For a good summary see particularly:
Geotechnical Study Area. 200?. [Risknat Organisation]. Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK. 16 pp.
Risknat Geotechnical Study Area. Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK. (available free online as a pdf file)

Location map of Lyme Regis, Dorset, showing the landslide area

Some landslide locations at Lyme Regis, Dorset

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In certain parts of the town, particularly within and in some cases adjacent to the locations indicated on the maps above, there are rather unstable clay slopes which have resulted in damage, distortion and loss of houses due to landslipping. Lee (1992) has provided some detailed information on this. Much of Lyme lies on a series of degraded slides in Lower Lias clays and overlying head deposits. He noted that the most problematic area of Lyme Regis comprises the slopes immediately inland of Marine Parade, where landslide movements have been recorded throughout the last 70 years or so (Lang, 1928; Arber, 1941, 1973; Pitts, 1979; Hawkins, 1991).

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Near the Former Railway Station

Sapping by springs has made the ground unstable in an area where the Cretaceous strata oversteps onto the Lower Jurassic. More specifically it is junction of the Upper Greensand over the underlying Lias clays. This has made the ground unstable in the goods sheds and coal pens of the now disused railway station at map reference 333926 according to Arber (1973) . The major landslipping is elsewhere, though, and is purely on Liassic clays.

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Langmoor Gardens

Arber in 1941 and again in 1973 commented on the slips. They have periodically occurred in the Langmoor Gardens, on the slope behind the sea-front known as Marine Parade, which has several times been broken by the weight of the subsided clay masses. The Parade lies at the level of the uppermost Blue Lias beds, which are capped as in Black Ven by the resistant limestone of Table Ledge. This forms a terrace on which talus accumulates from the Shales-With-Beef behind and above. In the Langmoor Gardens, the talus is held up by the barrier formed by the Parade, until the weight of the saturated mass becomes too great for the masonry to bear, when it bursts through on to the beach ( Lang, 1928; Arber, 1941).

On the east side of the Langmoor Gardens a mud-slide descended on Library Cottage (341920) early in 1971, engulfing the kitchen at the back of the house (Arber, 1941).

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Lister Gardens

Cobb Hamlet and the Marine Parade, Lyme Regis in the early 1950s

Cobb Hamlet and the Marine Parade, Lyme Regis in 2004

Lister Gardens at Lyme Regis, seen from the Cobb

Marine Parade and Lister Gardens at Lyme Regis, Dorset

There is a slope of Lower Lias clays between the steep hill of Cobb Road (up from the Cobb to the hill-top car and coach park) and Broad Street with Marine Parade at the base. This slope is virtually a sloping cliff-face and is formed of Shales-with-Beef. It is capped at the top of Langmoor Gardens by a small terrace which is presumably formed by the Birchi nodules, according to Arber (1973) . Above the terrace is a steep slope leading to flattening about at the level of the junction of Cobb Road and Pound Street (337921). Arber thought that this might be at about the level of the Stellare beds. The hillside which now contains Lister Gardens and which lies between Langmoor Gardens and the Cobb hamlet has been so unstable in the past that little building has been done on it Arber (1973) . The house called the Wings, in which Jane Austen stayed (See Interesting Information on Jane Austen ) , was in Stile Lane towards the foot of the slope which became so unsafe in the nineteen-forties that the house had to be demolished.

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Cliff House, above Marine Parade

During the winter of 1961 to 1962 a property developer excavated land in the grounds of Cliff House (338919). The foolish plan was to build 20 houses and flats on the slopes below the house. This is the site of an old cliff, and Cliff House itself had been constructed on the terrace level presumably formed by the Birchi nodules horizon (Arber, 1973) . The Victorians, had, apart from the House and the Cottage, not built on these hazardous slopes, which were no more secure than the eastern side of Black Ven.

A site investigation of the area had identified some shallow failures which had occurred in 1960. These were relatively small and were down on the lower slopes above Marine Parade. It was thus proposed to reprofile these lower slopes to a gradient of 33% and install under-drainage Lee (1992). A cross-sectional diagram in Lee (1992) figure 41, p. 84 seems to suggest that the reprofiling would, in fact, unload the toe of the whole slope and it is surprising that this was not appreciated at the planning stage. Indeed, at that time the scheme was welcomed by Lyme Regis Borough Council as an expected cure to the persistent slippage of mud onto Marine Parade (Lee, 1992). Planning permission was, therefore, granted and 20,000 cubic metres of material was removed from the slope!

The collapse of Cliff House and the tilting of Cliff Cottage, Lyme Regis, Dorset, as a result of a landslide in February, 1962

Only a few days after this major excavation finished, on the morning of the 12 February, movement was noticed with cracking and heaving in some nearby houses. Movements continued through the evening of the 12 February Lee (1992) and at 9 pm that day the whole slope failed. Cliff House, which was standing empty, moved 3.2 m nearer the sea and was back-tilted and ruined, as shown in the old photograph above (courtesy of John Morris). Other houses were extensively damaged. The unwise development plans were rapidly aborted.

A mudslide in 1962
from the Cliff House and Cliff Cottage area, Lyme Regis, Dorset, over the Marine Parade and onto the beach

The lower part of the slip was mainly a mudslide. As shown in the photograph above, this poured down on to the Marine Parade below and then onto the beach. The mud-slide was not merely a surface flow. The back-tilting of Cliff Cottage and Cliff House resulted from movement of rotational shear type. Above the terrace a large back-scarp appeared, cutting Stile Lane Arber (1973) . See the cross-sectional diagram is in Lee (1992) figure 41, on page 84 for information on the structure of the landslide.

After the slip had taken place, the ground between Cliff House and Marine Parade was again regraded to 33% and a number of trench drains were installed. A 5m. concrete retaining wall was constructed along Marine Parade. A 3m to 4m deep perimeter drain and 150m long sheet-piling retaining structure were put down to support Cobb Road which had been affected Lee (1992).

Where the Cliff House site adjoins Cobb Road there has been a problem of instability for more than 50 years. A house which stood there, to the west of the road (337918), had become very twisted when I saw it in about 1960. Eventually it had to be demolished. Arber (1973) noted that thirty metres above its site is Pine Walk and that houses were built on its seaward side. In 1970 a slip developed beyond the southernmost of those.

Not being safe for building, the main landslip area has been laid out as as the Lister Gardens, named after Lord Lister. Further small scale movement has since occurred, breaking the paths in the Gardens Arber (1973) . The whole area, especially along Cobb Road and in Lister Gardens was said by Lee (1992) to still being showing signs of slope movement at that time. The detachment of part of the Shales-with-Beef and the Black Ven Marls on the deep curved shear surfaces, as shown by Lee, is reminiscent those at Barton-on-Sea, another notorious area for landslides, and another place with Civil Engineering failures.

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LANDSLIDES continued:

Civil Engineering Works on Langmoor and Lister Gardens in 2006 and 2007.

Civil Engineering works at Langmoor and Lister Gardens, Lyme Regis, Dorset in April 2006

Stabilization work in progress at the western end of the landslide area above Marine Parade, Lyme Regis, Dorset, April 2006

Stabilisation works on the east side of Cobb Road, Lyme Regis, Dorset, April 2006

Stabilisation of Liassic clay slopes on the east side of Cobb Road, Lyme Regis, Dorset, by use of steel piles

More recently, in 2006 and 2007, major civil engineering works have taken place at the Lyme Regis seafront. The clay slopes of both Langmoor Gardens and Lister Gardens have been stabilised with large numbers of steel piles filled with concrete. The promenade and sea-wall have been modified and the beach artificially enlarged by much addition of pebbles.

Construction of a new, large groyne on the beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, containing a drainage culvert for removing water from the slipping clay slopes above the Marine Parade

Construction of an additional sea wall and a sand beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset

A photograph above shows the construction of a new groyne which contains a drainage system for removing water from the slipping clays slopes of the gardens above the Marine Parade. It also has the purpose of retaining the sand which is being dumped on the beach to the west of it, as shown in another photograph. Thus, the plan is to have a good bathing beach which should not loose too much sand because of the dual purpose groyne with its concealed culvert. As shown in a photograph a second and outer sea wall is under construction to provide additional sea defence protection to the gardens above.

As a sea-defence construction it is unusual in having so many piles extending deep down from the unstable Black Ven Marls into the more secure Blue Lias. Gamma ray logging has been used to determine the stratigraphical position (Katherine Broom, personal communication 2006). The work has been planned in great detail and very heavily engineered. No doubt there has been great effort to avoid a repetition of the failure of the previous stabilisation works just here.

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Marine Parade

Lyme Regis, Dorset

As noted above, the area of Marine Parade in front of the Langmoor and Lister Gardens has in the past been at threat of damage. The southwestern part at the end of the Garden and towards the Cobb has had problems. The notice above was photographed in 2004, at a site at which there had been longstanding difficulties. It gives an indication of strong local feeling about landslides. This site has now been dealt with in quite dramatic fashion by building the concrete fortress shown by the photograph below. Piles have been used to effectively bolt the weak ground of Saurian Shales and Shales-with-Beef into the strong Blue Lias limestones and shales.

A concrete fortress against landslipping of the Shales-with-Beef at Marine Parade, Lyme Regis, Dorset, May 2008

Sea defences and artwork at Marine Parade, Lyme Regis, Dorset, March 2011

New Artificial gravel beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, March 2008

A huge artificial beach of flint pebbles has been constructed in front of the Marine Drive at Lyme Regis. It is suprisingly large, but presumably provides a heavy weight on the toe of potential landslides from the Saurian Shales and the Shales-with-Beef. Back in the early part of the 19th century this area provided good exposures of the Saurian Shales which are brought down into a syncline on the sea front of Lyme Regis. They are not usually accessible now and it is much more difficult to find saurian remains. However, the beds are still there under the gravel and Paddy Howe, the Museum Geologist of Lyme Museum, has told me (personal communication, 2008) that ichthyosaur remains were discovered in a trench during the excavation works on the beach for a sea defence groyne.

Although this "Bognor Beach" seems aesthetically strange for Lyme Regis, it should be noted that in totally natural conditions there probably would have been a pebble beach here, anyway. The varied pebbles of Upper Greensand Chert, some flint, and some Liassic limestone would have travelled northeast from Chippel Bay and Monmouth Beach into this area. The wall of the Cobb now prevents this from happening, and the natural (whiter) pebbles accumulate on the western side. Thus the sea front of Lyme Regis would have had some pebbles, but not on this large and uniform scale.

It should be noted that the large pebble beach affords some partial protection against the next 1824-type extreme hurricane. It is hardly likely to prevent major damage by the hurricane, but it may reduce the effects to some extent. The subject of this type of storm is discussed further down.

Obviously, buildings are the usual cause of sea defences. Construction on unstable clay is not a good idea, but once the houses are there then some type of sea defences become almost inevitable. Consider now, what type of coast might be produced if Church Cliffs, further to the northeast, are fully defended. That area, though, has suffered to a large extent from the unwise quarrying of stone from the ledges in front of it ().

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The 1824 "Great Gale" - Extreme Hurricane

(See also Chesil Beach - Storms and Hurricanes)

For a full and interesting account of the historic aspects of the 1824 storm surge and hurricane it is important to read the key paper of Le Pard (1999) - "The Great Storm of 1824". Some notes which follow are based partly on this work and partly on a number of other publications and websites which are given below.

On Monday evening, the 22nd November, the wind was blowing at hurricane force from the south. The Customs Officer at Lyme Regis noticed anomalies with the tidal level (Le Pard, 1999). This was a time of Spring Tides. At 1 am on Tuesday 23rd November the tide was apparently rising when it should have been low water. At 3 am, five hours before high water the level was at the Neap Tide high - probably about 1.5 m. In other words it was about a metre or so higher than would have been expected. (Law, 1975) has stated that amplitudes of 0.6m to 0.9 metres (2 to 3 feet) would appear to be readily attained in the English Channel. However, there seems to have been a rise well above this level.

Before 4 am "the sea had risen to great height" George Roberts quoted by Le Pard (1999)). The seawater was breaking over the Cobb and it was an emergency with rescues taking place.

There is an eyewitness account from Mary Anning in a letter to Miss Bell (Pierce, 2006, after Johnson, A Memoir of Miss Frances Augusta Bell)

"Oh! My dear Fanny, you cannot conceive what a scene of horror we have gone through at Lyme, in the late gale: a great part of the Cobb is demolished, every vessel and boat driven out of the harbour, and the greatest part destroyed; two of the revenue men drowned, all the back part of Mrs England's houses and yards washed down, and with the greater part of the hotel [England's hotel at the Cobb], and there is not one stone left of the next house: indeed, it is quite a miracle that the inhabitants saved their lives. Every bit of the walk, from the rooms to the Cobb, is gone; and all the back parts of the houses, from the fish-market to the gun-cliff, next the baths. My brother lost, with others, a great part of his property."..

"All the coal cellars and coals being gone, and the Cobb so shattered that no vessel will be safe there, we shall all be obliged to sit without fires this winter; a cold prospect you will allow."

A notable aspect of the storm was that the crew of the Unity were rescued. The ship was dragged out of the Cobb by the storm with the crew clinging to the rigging. She was driven into Black Ven and the crew were rescued from the rigging driven against the cliff (I am not sure just where this was; it might have been in the Spittles area).

Obviously, there is a problem about what happens when the next one-in-250 year hurricane arrives. It might produce some gross changes at Lyme Regis such as partial destruction of the Cobb, as happened in the1824 "Great Gale". However, even if the landward end of the Cobb was substantially broken through the threat would be less to this newly defended area than to the Monmouth Beach region. The abnormally large shingle beach, now backed up against the artificial feature of the Cobb, could be released and driven by the prevailing longshore drift through to the Marine Parade area in such circumstances. Erosion then might be drastic at Monmouth Beach, and its old degraded cliff. It is not clear as to what would happen at the Marine Parade and Gun Cliff areas, although both have received sea defence protection. Probably the main question is just which buildings are sufficiently high to be above a possible storm surge of 3 metres or more above high tide level. Some people may be unconcerned because so great a hurricane is a very infrequent event. However, it does happen and, of course, it will happen again.

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Lyme Regis Coast Protection Works - Phase 2

For more information on Phase 2 see the West Dorset Distric Council Website at:
Lyme Regis Coast Protection Works. An example extract from the article is given below:

"The Lyme Regis Coast Protection Scheme was initiated by West Dorset District Council in the early 1990s. It aims to provide long-term coast protection for the town and to reduce damage and disruption caused by landslipping, through a long-term programme of engineering works. Phase 1 of the scheme, which includes a new sea wall and promenade next to the mouth of the River Lim, was completed in 1995. Urgent stabilisation work was carried out in several locations during winter 2003/2004. Detailed designs have been drawn up for a 17 million Phase 2 scheme to protect the foreshore along the main frontage from the sea and to stabilise the land behind. Construction works on Phase 2, for the town frontage and gardens, commenced in April 2005 and should be completed by April 2007. West Dorset District Council has also been carrying out preliminary studies and preparing conceptual designs for economic and environmentally acceptable coast protection works for other areas of the town. Emergency stabilisation work has taken place recently in critical areas to provide short-term protection while the main schemes are being developed. Funding from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has now been received for the start of the preliminary design study relating to Phase IV - the Church Cliff and East Cliff area on the eastern edge of Lyme Regis. This scheme will be of a similar magnitude to Phase II and the preliminary design will aim to develop a solution to protect the coast, property and the natural environment which makes this area so attractive to locals and visitors alike and to enable a bid to be made for coast protection funding."

See also the download available from the Dorset County Council webpage. This provides more information on coast erosion and landslides. This is a short but very useful pdf file: DCC, Engineering Division - Notes on Lyme Regis Environmental Improvements Preliminary Studies. Small example extract: "The beaches are in long-term decline and are now a small fraction of their original volume. The decline is part of a natural process of fragmentation of the beaches along the West Dorset coastline which has been exacerbated and complicated by the building of structures such as the Cobb and the sea walls. There is no longer any natural supply of beach-forming shingle... The seabed and shore platform in front of the sea walls have undergone considerable erosion and lowering over the last two centuries, such that the sea walls exposure to wave attack has increased. The connection of the Cobb to the mainland in the 1750s has resulted in the interruption of the west to east longshore drift and the substantial build-up of Monmouth Beach on its western side. There has been little sediment input to Monmouth Beach since the 1840s when the Humble Point landslip interrupted longshore transport. The growth of Monmouth Beach at the Cobb has therefore been at the expense of the western end of the beach..." [continues - now see the full article for more information]

See also the following webpage of the Jurassic Coast, Doset and East Devon World Heritage Site:
Lyme Regis case study: Historical Development.
This contains a good summary of events from 1723 to the present and is illustrated with photographs. Landslides from 1902 to 2000 are listed.

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Church Cliffs and East Cliff

Please go to the Lyme Regis to Charmouth webpage for photographs and more information.

(see also the Dorset County Council webpages mentioned above)

Geological map - east of Lyme Regis

Groynes and sea-wall at Church Cliffs, Lyme Regis, Dorset

The cliffs east of Lyme Regis, as seen from the shore and including Church Cliffs, are discussed in the Lyme Regis to Charmouth webpage. This has long been an area of erosion. The Blue Lias is being cut back by the sea, as happens also to the west of Lyme Regis. The problem here is that the Church and various houses are close to the cliff top, as shown on the old map above. As shown in the photograph there are some sea-defences and a recent feature has been the addition of two large plastic drainage pipes removing water from the cliff.

There has been a record of a recent problem with property on the cliff top here. See the website: Town Dwelling in Landslide Anxiety . Here are some brief extracts from the article dated 8 January 2003, but it is recommended that the complete website should be consulted.

"After spending ten years doing up their house and garden on Church Cliff, Derek Hallett and his partner Susanne have seen half the garden fall down the cliff. About his property, Mr Hallett said: "It's probably valueless now, you know, it's not money down the drain but down the cliff. A three-tier landslip warning system - similar to that employed by the Environment Agency in relation to flooding - has been set up by the District Council.
Level 1: Landslip Watch detailed observation of areas where monitoring has indicated a landslip is possible imminently.
Level 2: Landslip Warning informing occupants in areas where landslips are expected to occur and may affect their properties.
Level 3: Severe Landslip Warning informing occupants where landslips will occur and will affect their properties.
The Council has moved to Level 1 (Landslip Watch) in many areas of the town."

See also:
Town Fears More Landslides - BBC,
Lyme Regis Environmental Improvements.

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The Curi-man and others,

Before we look at the Liassic strata in detail it worth briefly considering the history of geology here. Amongst the fossil collectors of the past in this area Mary Anning is the most notable. The Reverent William Buckland who studied scientifically fossils from Lyme Regis is referred to below. Many others were involved with these famous cliffs.

Even in the 18th Century, before Mary Anning, there were collectors in the region. Woodward (1911) noted some of the early interest. W.G. Matton, in his Observations on the Western Counties of England made in 1794 and 1796), remarks of Charmouth, near Lyme Regis, that " The cliffs which are chiefly composed of indurated marl, abound with madreporae, ammonitae, belemnitae, and skeletons of fishes and other animals in a fossil state. The ludus helmontii (septarium) is common here, and it is difficult to persuade the vulgar that it is not a fossil turtle. All curious productions of this nature are diligently collected by a man living at Charmouth, who is generally known throughout the county by the name of the Curi-man".

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Mary Anning

Mary Anning's grave at St. Michael's Church, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Woodward (1911) has summarised the work of Mary Anning (Lang, 1935; 1936; 1939 ) the celebrated early discoverer of Liassic vertebrates and other fossils in the Lias of this Lyme Regis area. Mary Anning is very well-known for her early fossil finds (and, incidently, she is the person referred to in the tongue-twister " She sells seashells on the seashore "). The following comments are from Woodward.

" Although the occurrence of fossil bones of large dimension had been known to occur in the cliffs of Dorset, as well as in other parts of England, it was not until 1911 that the first great Saurian from Lyme Regis was brought into scientific notice. Some account of the remains was published in 1814 by Sir Everard Home, and five years later he gave the name Proteo-saurus; but it was afterwards ascertained that Koenig had, in 1818, described the same genus under the name Ichthyosaurus, and consequently the name was adopted. The Dorset specimen was obtained by Mary Anning, of Lyme Regis, daughter of a cabinet-maker, who had been accustomed to add to his earnings by the sale of fossils, which were displayed on a table in front of his shop.

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a child when here first fossil treasure was obtained at Lyme Regis. Her father had died in 1810; and the support of the family depended on the sale of fossils, which were purchased by visitors and by passengers who passed through the town on coaches. Although in no sense a scientific worker, she did much to advance knowledge by her diligence and aptitude in collecting specimens. In 1821 she obtained remains of another reptile, described by Coneybeare under the name Plesiosaurus; and in 1828 she obtained, for the first time in this country, the Pterodactyl, of which the species described by Buckland is now known as Dimorphodon macronyx "

It should be noted that in the early 19th century fossil collecting was much easier than at present, but identification of specimens was much more difficult. It was easy for Mary Anning to find good fossils for several reasons.

Firstly, very few people were searching in those days and she was one of the first to mine the area for such valuables. Now there are amateur collectors, professional fossil collectors and academic researchers all wandering over the cliffs and ledges with keen eyes.

Secondly it was much easier to travel over Black Ven and the Spittles than it is now. People walked much more regularly and further and were accustomed to this. Travel on horseback is also quite quick in relatively undeveloped country without the nuisance of roads and traffic and barbed wire fences. In any case, there was regular horse travel along the cliff tops because it was the task of the Riding Officers (Preventative Officers - Customs Men) to patrol the cliffs on horseback. Thus there would have been worn horse trails or bridleways. In addition there would have been the possibility of boat transport from Lyme Regis to neighbouring parts of the coast, particularly since boats were used in relation the coastal cement quarrying industry.

The countryside, and particularly the coast, has changed greatly since Mary Anning's day. Grazing by rabbits and other animals and different climatic conditions meant that the coast around here was not then covered in dense and impenetrable vegetation. Bushes and brambles have flourished in the last 50 years of a perhaps warmer and wetter climate (Golden Cap is hardly golden now!), and the landslipped cliffs are becoming impenetrable jungles. Look at the old pictures of the cliffs in the Lyme Regis museum to appreciate just how barren they once were. Apart from the relative lack of vegetation there was a road on the upper cliffs from Lyme Regis to Charmouth. The Spittles Lane on the lower cliff may also have continued most of the way to Charmouth.

Thirdly, there were good exposures at Church Cliffs and even at the seafront at Lyme Regis. The Saurian Shales descended southwestward in Church Cliffs and were exposed in places in front of Lyme Regis town and the site of Marine Parade. They were also accessible in the area of the Cement Works to the east of the Cobb, and present at Canary Ledges. They are not well-exposed now.

Fourthly, much quarrying of shore ledges for cement were taking place on both sides of Lyme Regis, but particularly at Church Cliffs.

All these factors made fossil collecting much easier then than now. However, the now readily available books, publications and even websites did not, of course, exist. Mary Anning needed contacts with distinguished geologists like Buckland and De La Beche. Anyone can identify a common fossil now without consulting a geologist.

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A Field Trip at Lyme Regis in 1889

18th April, 1889. "The Members of the Geologists' Association assembled at the Waterloo Station in time for the 2.40 p.m. train on Thursday, and journeying as far as Axminster, arrived at eight o'clock, about an hour after the appointed time. A brake and an omnibus, each with three horses, awaited the party, and as "shades of night were falling fast", an immediate start was made. Proceeding into the little town of Axminster, and beneath an archway through the yard of the George Inn, the vehicles were driven at a rapid rate through the narrow street that leads into the Lyme road. It seemed like a revival of old coaching times, and as the foremost carriage was driven full gallop down the hill, the Director, Dr. Horace Woodward, mildy inquired if no brakes were used in these parts.
- "Yes, surely," answered the driver. - "You used no brake coming down that hill," said Woodward. - "That worn't a hill!" was the somewhat gruff reply.
Subsequent experience proved that there were many far steeper hills, and especially the final descent to the Three Cups Hotel at Lyme Regis, which the Members reached safely soon after nine o'clock."
(based on Woodward, 1889)

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I am very grateful to the helpful staff of Dorset County Council and to the civil engineers who have very kindly assisted by providing information to students and myself on various field courses to Lyme Regis in the past. I am very much obliged to Katherine Broom for help over the years. I thank Paddy Howe, curator of Lyme Regis Museum for information on saurian remains. I am particularly grateful to John Morris of Lyme Regis for old photographs of the 1962 landslide at Cliff House.

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Other Webpages on the Lias and Lyme Regis Area

Lyme Regis, West to Seven Rock Point

Lyme Regis, East to Charmouth

Lias Fossils

Lyme Regis, Lias Bibliography

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Internet Links on the Lias and Lyme Regis Area

Lyme Regis. General information on the town

Lyme Regis, Dorset, England. General information on the town.

Lyme Regis. General information on the town.

West Bay, Bridport, Upper Lias Field Trip. A higher part of the Liassic succession further east along the coast.

The Monmouth Rebellion. Historic information relating to the invasion of rebels at Lyme Regis and subsequent events.

Lyme Regis (Mary Anning).

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Go east to Lyme Regis - East to Charmouth (with Black Ven)?

Go west to Lyme Regis - West, Chipple Bay to Seven Rock Point?

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Copyright © 2017, Ian West, Catherine West, Tonya Loades and Joanna Bentley. All rights reserved. This is a purely academic website and images and text may not be copied for publication or for use on other webpages or for any commercial activity. A reasonable number of images and some text may be used for non-commercial academic purposes, including field trip handouts, lectures, student projects, dissertations etc, providing source is acknowledged.

Disclaimer: Geological fieldwork involves some level of risk, which can be reduced by knowledge, experience and appropriate safety precautions. Persons undertaking field work should assess the risk, as far as possible, in accordance with weather, conditions on the day and the type of persons involved. In providing field guides on the Internet no person is advised here to undertake geological field work in any way that might involve them in unreasonable risk from cliffs, ledges, rocks, sea or other causes. Not all places need be visited and the descriptions and photographs here can be used as an alternative to visiting. Individuals and leaders should take appropriate safety precautions, and in bad conditions be prepared to cancell part or all of the field trip if necessary. Permission should be sought for entry into private land and no damage should take place. Attention should be paid to weather warnings, local warnings and danger signs. No liability for death, injury, damage to, or loss of property in connection with a field trip is accepted by providing these websites of geological information. Discussion of geological and geomorphological features, coast erosion, coastal retreat, storm surges etc are given here for academic and educational purposes only. They are not intended for assessment of risk to property or to life. No liability is accepted if this website is used beyond its academic purposes in attempting to determine measures of risk to life or property.

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Dr Ian West, author of these webpages

Webpage - written and produced by:

Ian West, M.Sc. Ph.D. F.G.S.


at his private address, Romsey, Hampshire, kindly supported by Southampton University,and web-hosted by courtesy of iSolutions of Southampton University. The website does not necessarily represent the views of Southampton University. The website is written privately from home in Romsey, unfunded and with no staff other than the author, but generously and freely published by Southampton University. Field trips shown in photographs do not necessarily have any connection with Southampton University and may have been private or have been run by various organisations.