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Kimmeridge main street - - 251704.jpg
Kimmeridge main street
Kimmeridge is located in Dorset
 Kimmeridge shown within Dorset
Population 90 (2013 estimate)
OS grid reference SY916798
Civil parish Kimmeridge
District Purbeck
Shire county Dorset
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town WAREHAM
Postcode district BH20
Dialling code 01929
Police Dorset
Fire Dorset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament South Dorset
List of places

Coordinates: 50°37′04″N 2°07′11″W / 50.6178°N 2.1198°W / 50.6178; -2.1198

The "nodding donkey" oil pump beside the cliff west of the village

Kimmeridge /ˈkɪmərɨ/ is a small village and civil parish in the English county of Dorset. It is situated just over half a mile (1 km) inland on the Isle of Purbeck on the English Channel coast, 4.5 miles (7.2 km) south of Wareham and about 7 miles (11 km) west of Swanage. It lies within the Purbeck administrative district of the county, and in 2013 the estimated population of the civil parish was 90.[1]

On the coast south-west of the village lies the roughly semi-circular Kimmeridge Bay, which is backed by low cliffs of soft shale. Beneath the cliffs there is a large wave-cut platform (known as The Flats) and a rocky shore with rock pools and attendant ecology. Kimmeridge Bay is a surfer and diver area.


In the Iron Age and during the Roman occupation, ornaments and other objects were made from the black bituminous shale—known as blackstone or 'Kimmeridge coal'—that occurs in layers within the Kimmeridge clay that covers most of Kimmeridge parish. Armlets were manufactured from the shale using a lathe, which produced waste in the form of hard black discs; these have been discovered at several sites, and were thought by 18th-century antiquaries to be coins and therefore called 'coal money'.[2][3] The Romans also used the shale as fuel for boiling sea water to produce salt.[3]

In the medieval period there were three settlements within the parish: Kimmeridge, Little Kimmeridge and Smedmore. These each had their own rectangular strip of land stretching between the coast and Smedmore Hill. Only Kimmeridge survives as a settlement of any size.[3]

In the mid 16th century Lord Mountjoy attempted to make alum here and acquired a patent to do so, though the enterprise was unsuccessful. In the first half of the 17th century Sir William Clavell made several unsuccessful efforts to turn Kimmeridge into an industrial venture. He tried boiling seawater to make salt, using the shale as fuel like the Romans had done. He then followed in Mountjoy's footsteps and founded an alum works, though he failed to secure a patent and ran foul of alum merchants in London who had sole rights (granted by Charles I) to produce alum in England; the merchants took Clavell's property and demanded £1000 per year, then destroyed the works and stole Clavell's cattle. Clavell took legal action but was unsuccessful. He then tried to turn Kimmeridge into a port, and finally tried to manufacture glass, but both these failed; the pier which he built for the port became ruinous and was destroyed by a storm in 1745.[4]

Clavell had Smedmore House built less than a mile south-east of Kimmeridge village; referring to it as his "little newe House", he moved into it on its completion in 1632. Previously Clavell lived at Barnston Manor, near the neighbouring village of Church Knowle.[4]

In the mid 19th century the shale was used a source of oil, and in 1847 an Act of Parliament enabled causeways, inclined planes and tramways to be built so the shale could be transported to Weymouth for processing into various petroleum-based products, including varnish, pitch, naptha and dyes. Gas was also extracted from the shale, though like the oil it burned with a strong sulphurous smell, which limited its suitability as a domestic fuel and prevented fulfilment of a contract to supply gas to Paris for lighting.[4]

In 1959 an oil well was installed above the cliffs west of Gaulter Gap, overlooking Kimmeridge Bay. Comprising a nodding donkey-type pump that lifts crude oil from several hundred feet below the surface, in its early years it pumped more than 100,000 gallons per week, resulting in a total of 200,000 tonnes between 1961 and 1974.[4]


Kimmeridge village is sited beside a small stream on a roughly southwest-facing slope between the English Channel coast less than 1 mile (1.6 km) to the southwest and a curving line of hills immediately to the north and east.[5] Measured directly it is about 7 miles (11 km) west of Swanage, 4.5 miles (7.2 km) south of Wareham and 15 miles (24 km) east of Weymouth.[6] Kimmeridge civil parish covers land south and east of Kimmeridge village; it is bounded by the village stream and the copses of Higher and Lower Stonehips to the northwest, Smedmore Hill and the summit of Swyre Head to the northeast, field boundaries beyond Swalland Farm to the southeast, and the coastline between Rope Lake Head and Gaulter Gap to the southwest.[5]


Kimmeridge village stands on Jurassic shale cliffs, and gives its name to the Kimmeridgian, the division of the Jurassic period in which the beds were laid down, because of the quality of the cliffs and the fossils they yield. It is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site because of the quality and variety of geological landforms along the coast. A Jurassic Coast Visitor Centre is situated in Kimmeridge.

The bay is also the type locality for the Jurassic age Kimmeridge Clay formation, which is well represented in southern England, and provides one of the source rocks for hydrocarbons found in the Wessex and North Sea Basins.

Oil field[edit]

Main article: Kimmeridge Oil Field

On the cliff west of the village is the Perenco "nodding donkey" oil pump which has been pumping continually since the late 1950s, making it the oldest working oil pump in the UK. The well currently yields around 65 barrels per day (10.3 m3/d) from the Middle Jurassic strata that lie around 1,150 feet (350 m) below the cliff.[7][8] The well has been operating for this long because it has tapped into a network of connected reserves; however the yield is decreasing year on year. The oil is transported by tanker to the Perenco site at Wytch Farm from whence it is piped to the main refinery on Southampton Water.[7]

A panoramic view of the village from the north, looking towards the English Channel coast, which forms the horizon. The slopes of Smedmore Hill are to the left, and the Clavell Tower can just be seen on the step-shaped hill above and to the right of the village. The small parish church is on the left edge of the main cluster of buildings.

Notable buildings[edit]

Within Kimmeridge parish there are twenty-five structures that have been listed by Historic England for their historic or architectural interest. None has been listed as Grade I, but Smedmore House is Grade II*.[9]

Along the shore immediately eastwards of Kimmeridge Bay (above Hen Cliff) is a folly known as Clavell Tower which inspired P.D. James's novel The Black Tower. It had been in danger of falling down the eroding cliff, so recently the tower was dismantled and then reassembled 115 feet (35 m) further back from the cliff edge. The tower is available as a holiday let.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution stationed a lifeboat at Kimmeridge in 1868 but it was removed in 1896.[10]

The parish church was mostly rebuilt in 1872, though it has 12th-century origins; the south door and parts of the west wall of the nave are still original. The south porch is early 13th century and the bell-cote is 15th century.[3]


Kimmeridge Bay is a surfing area which breaks infrequently due to its lack of exposure to Atlantic swells, but can produce walls of water when it is 'on'. Below the cliffs to the East is 'The Ledges', with slow left- and right-hand breaking waves; the right-handers can spiral for 70 yards (64 m) or more into the bay. To the West is 'Broad Bench', within the Ministry of Defence firing range and only accessible when the ranges are open to the public.

A 360 degree view in Kimmeridge Bay, showing The Flats - a wave-cut platform.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Parish Population Data". Dorset County Council. 20 January 2015. Retrieved 13 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Hyams, John (1970). Dorset. B T Batsford Ltd. pp. 85–6. ISBN 0-7134-0066-8. 
  3. ^ a b c d "'Kimmeridge', in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 2, South east (London, 1970), pp. 132-135". British History Online. University of London. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d Gant, Roland (1980). Dorset Villages. Robert Hale Ltd. pp. 211–213. ISBN 0-7091-8135-3. 
  5. ^ a b Ordnance Survey (1981), 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Map No.15 (Purbeck)
  6. ^ John Bartholomew and Sons Ltd (1980), National Map Series, Sheet 4 (Dorset), ISBN 0-7028-0327-8
  7. ^ a b "Wytch Farm". BP plc / Retrieved 8 October 2015. 
  8. ^ Natural England - England's Geology - Dorset
  9. ^ "Listed Buildings in Kimmeridge, Dorset, England". Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  10. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). Handbook 2009. Shrewsbury: Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society. p. 59. 

External links[edit]