Ancient and (relatively) modern

Today I went in search of Lyme history on Monmouth Beach, west of the town.

We tend to think of Lyme Regis as being primarily a tourist town, but like most coastal settlements, it had a number of industries in the past – fishing of course – but there was also a cement works on the east end of Monmouth Beach from the early C19th until just before the first world war. After all the suitable loose boulders had been used, explosives were used to demolish the cliffs further west in Chippel Bay for raw material. This was taken to the works on a narrow-gauge track, a short section of which is still visible at low tide, along with some mystery iron cylinders, lumps of concrete and iron stanchions. I’m not sure how long this relic of local industrial archaeology will survive, as there’s a lot less now than when we first moved here in the 1980s.

I also wanted to see if the ammonite pavement was visible – sometimes it’s covered up by boulders or sediment. But I was in luck, and after a lot of rock-hopping, came to it. It’s quite a big expanse of sea-worn Blue Lias limestone, absolutely full of fossil ammonites from tiny to about 40cms across. I can’t remember much of the carbonate sedimentology course I did at Uni, but I imagine there must have been fairly calm conditions that resulted in huge drifts of dead creatures on the seabed, subsequently buried and fossilised. If you go along the beach at low tide, don’t give up before you find it – it’s quite spectacular!

There are lots of other fossils to find on the way too – nautilus, wood, crinoids, oyster shells, gryphea (devil’s toenails), and trace fossils of worm burrows, especially visible when the rock is wet. There are also some interesting gold pyrite veins as well as the usual white calcite.

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