Chiswell Earthworks

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Chiswell Earthworks

Chiswell Earthworks is a land sculpture, located on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It is found above Chesil Beach's most southerly part Chesil Cove, at the end of the promenade sea wall, towards West Weares. It was created by John Maine RA, between 1986 and 1993.[1]


Chiswell Earthworks (bottom left) seen from Tophill.

The Chiswell Earthworks land sculpture was built after a suggestion was made by Margaret Somerville, a Portland local and owner of the Chesil Gallery. It would suggested that a sculpture should mark the celebration of the completion of the Chesil sea defences and sewerage system, which had heralded a renewed confidence and revitalisation of the village Chiswell, which was often prone to flooding and sea storms. Somerville had stated "We thought we'd like to have a sculpture made for Chiswell and I didn't know how to go about it at first. Then I heard of Common Ground who had just started their New Milestones project in Dorset so I went to them and said can you help?"[2] As a result, the project became one of the Common Ground's New Milestone projects and was commissioned in 1986 by the Chesil Gallery together with the Portland Town Council. Somerville would work with Common Ground to offer a sculptor's residency during 1987.[3] The project was funded by ARC Southern, The Elephant Trust, The Henry Moore Foundation, The European Year of the Environment, South West Arts, Weymouth & Portland Borough Council, Dorset County Council, the Chesil Gallery and a number of private individuals.[4]

John Maine RA, a sculptor with international reputation, was asked to undertake the commission. This was in part due to the fact that Maine often used Portland stone in his work and would employ Portland masons to assist with his own public commissions. The project followed not long after Maine's completion of Arena, a circular Portland stone sculpture on London's South Bank. Maine firstly decided on a site for the project, and ended up choosing a grassy area of hillside above the Sea Wall where Chesil Beach ends. Drains were laid to dry out the boggy slop before the drystone walling could commence and in turn this helped retain the unstable coastal hillside.[4] Early designs of the sculpture were shown in Chesil Gallery before being finalised.[2]

Over the following years, five walls were designed to highlight the various strata of Portland quarry beds. The higher walls were constructed of Slat and Topstone, and in descending order, the lower walls were made of stone layers found naturally in Portland quarries, Roach, Whitbed and Basebed. The two top walls were built by a Manpower Services team, under Maine's direction, whilst the lower walls were built by Maine, his student assistants, local volunteers, a Community Programme team and at times a group of Young Offenders from the local YOI (HM Prison Portland). For each type of stone, a different method of working and construction was needed, and this paid homage to the quarrymen, masons and wallers who have worked for generations with Portland stone. Each wall was created to have a wave-like pattern whilst supporting undulating platforms of earth, which was designed to suggest the changing form of the beach as the sea breaks upon it at Chiswell.[4] In relation to the newly created Prudential Art Awards, where Common Ground's New Milestone was shortlisted based on the Chiswell work, BBC2 arts magazine programme The Late Show visited the Chiswell Earthworks during its construction in 1989, to observe the work in progress, and this short documentary was broadcast around the time.[2]

Many local people believed that the project and sculpture would never see completion. However, an exhibition titled "Henry Moore and the Sea" was held at the Chesil Gallery in 1993 to mark the completion of the sculpture during the summer of that year. In total the sculpture took £250,000 to complete.[5] In March 2002, some minor repairs to the Chiswell Earthworks were carried out.[4] Today the work is maintained by the Chiswell Community Trust, who also commissioned a short film by Tom Maine in 2009, which charted the process of the sculpture from 20 years earlier.[6][7]

Since completion, the earthworks have been highly praised internationally, gathered various awards, and is often used by local people as well as for hosting various local events. The Chiswell Community Trust received a Green Pennant award for both the earthworks and the nearby Chiswell Walled Garden - an award for the best community-run parks in the country. Judges had considered that both sites stood out and were impressed by the excellent facilities and well-managed green spaces, signs, amenities and dedication of local people. As reported in a Dorset Echo article of July 2009, it was the fifth consecutive year in which the earthworks received the prestigious environmental award from the charity Keep Britain Tidy, GreenSpace and British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. The judges had commented that it was "a unique site" and well maintained, thanks to a partnership between Chiswell Community Trust and Community Service Unit 19, Wareham.[8]

Later recollections[edit]

Sue Clifford of Common Ground stated in the short 2009 film by Tom Maine that[9]

In the video, John Maine RA spoke of the project, stating[9]

For the 1989 BBC documentary on the project, Maine spoke of the project and the idea behind it,[2]

During the BBC documentary, Sylark Durston, a retired local master stonemason had stated[2]

A volunteer, Michael Taylor, also stated[2]


  1. ^ "Welcome to Chiswell". Retrieved 2013-03-19. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "1989 Earthworks Title 1". YouTube. 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2013-03-19. 
  3. ^ "New Milestones - Chiswell Earthworks". Retrieved 2013-03-19. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Chiswell Earthworks". 2003-05-24. Retrieved 2013-03-19. 
  5. ^ "Southern Chesil". Retrieved 2013-03-20. 
  6. ^ "Earthworks - Artists' Laboratory - Exhibitions - Royal Academy of Arts". Retrieved 2013-03-19. 
  7. ^ "Chiswell Earthworks - Portland". Pop Up Dorset. 2012-08-16. Retrieved 2013-03-19. 
  8. ^ "Weymouth and Portland green gardens fly the flag (From Dorset Echo)". 2009-07-31. Retrieved 2013-03-19. 
  9. ^ a b "Earthworks - Artists' Laboratory - Exhibitions - Royal Academy of Arts". Retrieved 2013-03-19. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°33′26″N 2°26′49″W / 50.5572°N 2.4469°W / 50.5572; -2.4469