"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Thursday, 30 June 2016

East Devon - Day 4 Monday, 20th June - Beer Quarry Caves, Branscombe and Saint Winifred's Church

It rained most of Monday morning but had eased off towards lunchtime so we set off for Beer to visit the Beer Quarry Caves. The caves have a 2000 year old quarrying history beginning with the Romans through Saxon and Norman times up until the last century. The caves are vast and quite awe-inspiring with vaulted roofs and supporting stone pillars resembling a cathedral in places. The tour which lasts about an hour is very interesting and you can hear stories of local quarrymen who worked 14 hours a day underground in dreadful conditions for a mere pittance. You are shown the methods used to extract and transport huge blocks of the Beer Stone. The whole quarry cavern complex must be huge as we were told the tour only covered about three per cent of the total area. We were counted in and out and told not to wander off or leave the party - apparently one visitor had decided to explore on his own and ended up being lost for 18 hours. Not a pleasant experience as it is cold and damp down there and there is just minimal lighting in the area you walk round. The caves were also once used by smugglers to store contraband and there are rumours of a secret passage from the quarry to the cliffs although no-one has yet found it!

Beer Stone is a crystalline granular limestone formed around 120 million years ago when sea-shell fragments drifted to the sea-floor and were mixed with clay and sand. The stone was in great demand by stone masons as newly quarried it is soft and easy to carve hardening on exposure to air. It is durable, fine-textured and a lovely creamy colour. It was used in the construction of many famous buildings, for example Exeter, Winchester and St Paul's Cathedrals, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and many local churches in East Devon.

Lots of Hart's Tongue Ferns along the paths to the cave.

On the way to the entrance

You are allowed to take photos and use flash (but I never find flash works very well in large areas) so the few photos taken are poor. The first two were taken by D with the Canon Bridge

Part of the caverns

and a quarry man's signature. One wall was totally covered with inscriptions and signatures by workers over the centuries but it was just too far away to get a photo.

One of the passageways - and no, we didn't go down this one!

Due to lack of photos I've taken pictures of a few postcards I bought.

The caverns are used by bats

A window made of Beer stone from a medieval church is on display in the museum along with tools used by the workers and stone masons.

One of the caves

Workmen in the early 1900's outside the caves

The Chapel which was used as a place of worship by Catholics at times when they were persecuted for their religion.

After lunch we drove to the very picturesque village of Branscombe which we visited very briefly a few years ago when we were staying near Lyme Regis.

The first six photos were taken by D as, while the family walked down to the village, I visited Saint Winifred's (some of you may remember when we were here last I only had about 10 minutes in the church and I was determined to return!!)

This is Beehive Cottage which I fell in love with during the Dorset holiday but failed to get a photo on that occasion. This was taken through the car window as we drove past but it is better than nothing!

A few more views of Branscombe

Saint Winifred's

The church is one of the oldest, most interesting and architecturally important parish churches in Devon. There is clear evidence in the building of 3 main periods of church building in England and fortunately there was no modernisation in later periods. There are remnants of a church building from Saxon times and stones showing the characteristic Saxon herring-bone pattern. The Norman church may have been built on the Saxon foundations. The tower and nave are Norman. In the 13th century transepts were added and the nave lengthened and the chancel was built in the early 14th century.

Churchyard - old graves, tombstones and the inevitable lichens.

This ancient stone coffin is by the South Porch. Legend tells that Branscombe is the final resting place of Saint Brannoc - a 4th Century Celtic martyr (Branscombe may well have got its name from the saint). A 15th century writer described a stone coffin that contained the body. But other writers have suggested that only the saint's arm was buried here and this was removed to Dorset in 933 AD.

This is a fragment of an ancient rood - found in the vicarage woodshed!! It may be part of the original rood which would probably have been broken up during the Reformation.

Fragment of a medieval wall painting (unfortunately, somehow I managed to miss the main one!). I also missed the pilgrims' marks in the porch :(

The three tier pulpit is late 18th century. The lowest level is where the Lesson is read, the middle one is for prayers and the top for the Sermon.

Sedilia and Piscina

15th century stone font

115 kneelers were hand embroidered mainly by local ladies in a 13 year project between 1992 and 1995.

Elizabethan Oak gallery may have been a gift from a wealthy patron. It would have been used by musicians or possibly by the benefactor and his family.

This exterior stone stairway provides access to the gallery - it is believed to be the earliest example of its kind in England.

This Purbeck Marble floor slab has a Maltese Cross of a very rare design and indistinct letters with a 15th century date. The inscription reads "Orate-p-aia John Hedmunt" - Pray for the soul of John Hedmunt.

External sundial

After visiting the church, while waiting for the others to return, I sat on a bench by the church gate looking at the view

and wild flowers and insects.

It is a shame the Flower Festival started on the day we went home!

I would have liked to visit the beach but as usual we had run out of time.

Reference: "Beer Quarry Caves Out of the Darkness - a brief history and description of the Old Stone Quarry, Beer" by John Scott and Gladys Gray

A Guide to the The Church of Saint Winifred, Branscombe by Ronald Beanscombe Illustrated by Angela Lambert