Portland Bill

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For the children's television series, see The Adventures of Portland Bill.
Portland Bill

Portland Bill is a narrow promontory (or bill) of Portland stone at the southern end of Isle of Portland, and the southernmost point of Dorset, England. One of Portland's most popular destinations, the popular attraction Portland Bill Lighthouse is found in the area. Portland Bill is also noted for its rough coast.[1]


The rocky promontory of Portland Bill has often been regarded as one of the greatest navigational hazards in the Channel. A treacherous race, which can run at 10 knots in spring tidal streams, are created as tide and current clash as they round it. The dangers are worsened by the Shambles, which is a two mile long sandbank that lies south-east of Portland Bill and whose depth reaches a mere 11 feet in two places at low tide. It is likely that the Romans would light beacon fires on Branscombe Hill above Bill Point to warn sailors, as well as on Verne Hill, but the lack of local fuel prevented any regular light being established. Ancient fires probably served more as signals than as general lights. As a result the island coast has been the graveyard of countless ships from the earliest times, before any lighthouses were built.[1]

Piles of stone at Portland Bill from ex-quarrying in the area

The area of Portland Bill was used for quarrying until the early 20th century. The Portland Bill Lighthouse was built with stone from these quarries. There is still evidence of quarrying tramways. The storms of January 1990 ripped out an area of cliff top to reveal old rails from the Victorian tramway where it curved round to meet Portland Bill's Red Crane.

No road reached Portland Bill until one was built between the World Wars; visitors originally had to use a rough track. A few houses are found in the area, largely around the Old Lower Lighthouse. This is one of the most remote settlements in South Dorset.

The Ministry of Defence Magnetic Range is at Portland Bill, where tests can be performed away from stray electric and magnetic fields. It was built during the 1960s. Close to this range is Portland's main Raised Beach, created during a warm inter-glacial period 200,000 years ago when sea levels were about 15 metres above present levels.[2] The NCI Portland Bill Lookout Station is located half a mile north of the tip of the Bill.[3]

The total eclipse of the Sun in August 1999 passed one kilometre off Portland Bill. Thousands of people travelled to the area for the experience.[4]

The area has many beach huts, which is due to modern planning regulations being introduced after the huts were built.[5] The huts often sell for prices around £30,000.[6]

East of Portland Bill is Cave Hole, a large cave with a blow hole and a wooden crane. Along the road leading from the Bill to Southwell village is the Culverwell Mesolithic Site and an ancient strip field system.

Portland Bill Lighthouse


The Bill is an important way-point for coastal traffic, and so three lighthouses have been built to protect shipping, in particular from its strong tidal race and shallow reef. Both Portland Bill and Chesil Beach are the location of many sunken vessels that failed to reach Weymouth or Portland Roads. The "Portland Race" is caused by the meeting of the tides between the Bill and the Shambles sandbank about 3 miles south-east, and strong currents often break the sea so fiercely that from the shore a continuous disturbance can be seen. The lighthouses guided vessels heading for Portland and Weymouth through these hazardous waters as well as acting as a waymark for ships navigating the English Channel.[7] The Bill's three lighthouses are the only built on the island, except for the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, located at Portland Harbour.

The most recent lighthouse is the distinctively white and red striped Portland Bill Lighthouse, which was built in 1906 and is 35 metres (115 ft) high. A popular tourist attraction, tours of the lighthouse are operated by Trinity House, whilst a visitor centre/gift shop is also open during peak season. Due to the construction of the lighthouse, both other lighthouses became disused. The Old Lower Lighthouse became a bird observatory whilst the Old Higher Lighthouse became the home of Marie Stopes, and today remains a holiday let.

Pulpit Rock

Trinity House Obelisk and Pulpit Rock[edit]

Near the lighthouse are the Trinity House Obelisk and Pulpit Rock, both popular tourist attractions. Pulpit Rock is an artificial stack of rock which was left in the 1870s after a natural arch was cut away by quarrymen at the surrounding quarry.[4] A natural solitary rock is also located 500 metres north-east of Portland Bill and has slowly eroded over time, where today it remains a stack.[5]

At the southern tip of Portland Bill, near the current lighthouse, the 7 metre tall white stone obelisk, built in 1844, acts as a warning of a low shelf of rock extending 30 metres south into the sea.[8] The obelisk was saved from threatened demolition in 2002 and once had a viewing platform which is now demolished.[4]

Red Crane[edit]

An old wooden crane, known as Red Crane, was once on the cliff edge at Portland Bill, where it was often used to lower fisherman and their boats into the sea. After being destroyed by vandals, the crane was replaced by a steel crane.[4] Another crane, the Broad Ope Crane, is located further east of Portland Bill, near Cave Hole.

Lobster World[edit]

During the mid-1980s, plans were submitted to build Lobster World close to the coastguard cottages. The plan was strongly opposed by local people, but despite this, the tourist attraction opened in 1986. Lobster World was a breeding centre for lobsters to be released into the wild. The attraction was not a commercial success, and in 1989 it was converted into a luxury four-bedroom house and put on the market for £180,000.[2]

Commercial business[edit]

Aside from the Portland Bill Lighthouse gift shop and lighthouse tours, there are a few commercial businesses in the area, including a restaurant, a pub and a B&B.

The Lobster Pot Restaurant lies close to the lighthouse, and was established in 1952. In 2011, 2CR fm (now Heart fm) voted the restaurant's scones the best in the South region.[9] The Cosy Cafe once sat next to the restaurant, where it was a familiar landmark at Portland Bill. In October 2002 a planning application was submitted to demolish the cafe and by early next year it was gone.[10]

Grade listed features[edit]

Portland Bill has a number of buildings which are Grade Listed.

The current Portland Bill Lighthouse, along with its boundary walls, have been Grade II Listed since May 1993.[11] The Old Lower Lighthouse, now the Bird Observatory, including its boundary walls and coastguard house, became Grade II Listed in September 1978.[12] The Old Higher Lighthouse, its four cottages and boundary walls have been Grade II Listed since September 1978.[13]

Located close to The Lobster Pot, a 19th century Fisherman's hut was designated Grade II in May 1993. Erected in two units, forming one rectangular unit parallel with coast, it is a rare survival of its kind on the island.[14] Red Crane is part of the now-disused Portland Bill stone loading quay - which has become a scheduled monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, because it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance.[15]

The surrounding fields between the Bill and Southwell are made up of an ancient strip field system, once found all over the island before quarrying continued to destroy them. These particular fields remain untouched from housing or quarrying. The nearby Culverwell Mesolithic Site is a Mesolithic settlement, located along the Portland Bill Road which leads from the village of Southwell to Portland Bill. The site is said to be circa 7500-8500 years old and has also become a scheduled monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. This includes surrounding fields, also relating to the Mesolithic period, and these fields lead across to the coastline. A separate patch is also included a little further north.[16] Aside from the fields attached to the Culverwell Site, two separate open fields have been also been scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. One field is found just south of Southwell village along the Portland Bill Road, and another is located around the Old Higher Lighthouse, heading inland.[17]

World War II[edit]

In close proximity to the Old Higher Lighthouse is Lloyd's Cottage. This was the site of a World War II or later radar station.[18] On the cliff-edge, between the Lobster Pot restaurant and Red Crane were three Second World War light anti-aircraft gun emplacements. However no traces of these remain today.[19][20][21] Further along, past the Old Lower Lighthouse and around Cave Hole area, was a World War II emergency coast defence battery on the cliff-edge. The battery was constructed in 1940-41 and consisted of three 6-inch guns. It was manned by the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation (Royal Marines). The structure has since been demolished.[22]

At a field known as Sturt Common, which is located between The Pulpit Inn and the Old Lower Lighthouse, was a World War II anti landing obstacle. This structure consisted of stone boulders placed at intervals across the common, which were laid out in 1940-41. A field visit in 1997 found the structure had been demolished, and no traces remain.[23]

One field along the Portland Bill Road contains the remains of an air raid shelter from the Second World War.[24] Another two are both located within the Portland Bill's main area of settlement.[25][26]

Along the Portland Bill Road, around the Culverwell area, a World War II check point was constructed in 1940-1941 and comprised a barbed wire and wood barrier. The check point required that passes/identity cards were to be shown. The barrier had been removed before the end on the war, and today there remains no traces of the structure.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  2. ^ a b "North of Portland Bill, Portland, Dorset". Geoffkirby.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  3. ^ "File:Coastguard station, Portland Bill - geograph.org.uk - 1702400.jpg - Wikimedia Commons". Commons.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Portland Bill, Portland, Dorset". Geoffkirby.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  5. ^ a b "Lower Lighthouse, Portland, Dorset". Geoffkirby.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  6. ^ "beach huts at Portland Bill". Nicktadd.com. 2010-04-04. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  7. ^ "Portland Bill Lighthouse". Trinityhouse.co.uk. 1996-03-18. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  8. ^ "LITTLEDART Portland Bill Lighthouse Dorset England". Littledart.co.uk. 1996-03-18. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  9. ^ "The Lobster Pot". Lobsterpotrestaurantportland.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  10. ^ "Portland Bill, Portland, Dorset". Geoffkirby.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  11. ^ "1280498 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  12. ^ "1280466 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  13. ^ "1203104 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  14. ^ "1280495 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  15. ^ "1002388 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  16. ^ "1002406 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  17. ^ "1002729 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  18. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1413237&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=5&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  19. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1413282&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=7&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  20. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1413283&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=7&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  21. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1413284&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=7&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  22. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1425448&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=25&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  23. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1420318&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=27&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  24. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1413184&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=2&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  25. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1413185&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=2&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  26. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1413238&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=5&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  27. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1420408&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=19&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0

External links[edit]


Coordinates: 50°30′52″N 2°27′26″W / 50.51444°N 2.45722°W / 50.51444; -2.45722