1866; Portland quarry men and boys…theyz toils ‘n toils.

Portland is world famous for it’s quarries.

This Isle is littered with immense craters in the ground, and large roughly hewn blocks of stone tumble in seemingly haphazard piles across the almost lunar landscape.


There’s absolutely no doubt that those men and boys who slogged away day in day out in the quarries at Portland earnt their meagre wages.

However, the year 1866 saw an extraordinary feat, it involved the removal of an exceptionally enormous slab of stone…by manual labour alone.

One Wednesday morning in June, at the Kingsbarrow quarry which stood just beyond the Traveller’s Rest public house, a special ceremony was about to take place.

A group of privileged spectators had been invited along to observe this herculean feat.

Amongst the select audience was the local clergyman, Rev David Hogarth and his good lady wife, Charlotte, John Ball a Captain in the Royal Navy based at Portland, John James Patten, local mason and Master builder, Mr J Bishop, Mr Hindmarsh, Mr W Comben and various other members of the local elite.

What they were about to witness was the removal of an immense capstone from the  quarry.

The block having already been prepared in the usual way, with great wedges piercing the vein below, the heavy bars were brought in and put into place.

With that, a crew waiting patiently to one side, consisting of just 4 men and 2 boys, set about moving this immense slab of Portland stone.

This leviathan piece of limestone measured 29 foot in length, 18 foot wide, 9 foot deep. The stone alone weighed over 390 tons, but if you took the “cap” (rubbish) that sat on top of it into consideration, this small group of men and boys were attempting to move a total of over 400 tons!

Slowly, and with their every muscle and sinew of their being flexed and rippling, and sweat dripping from their faces, the crew started to work their magic on this slab of stone. Bit by bit…inch by inch, this great chunk of Portland slowly edged away from its bed…until the enormous block reached its tipping point.

While the transfixed audience watched on with baited breath, seemingly in slow motion at first, it started to slide, then with an ominous deep rumble, it was wrenched from the depths of the earth, and with a swift downward movement, the 400 ton block and its accompanying rubble hurtled down into the bowels of the quarry below.

Billowing clouds of choking white dust rose high in the air covering the onlookers in its fine particles, causing them to reach for their handkerchiefs in an attempt to cover their faces and mouths.

This achievement did not pass unnoticed, the  names of those involved in this incredible feat were noted in the local paper, (those of a local nature will not be at all surprised…all are good old Portland names.)

Many came from the same extended family, it wasn’t unusual for grandfathers, fathers and sons, uncles, cousins and nephews to be working the same quarry. With the Portland penchant for keeping it in the family, (breeding and work!) it’s often hard to disentangle them all.

The young hard working crew consisted of 17-year old Hiriam Otter, (son of Abraham Otter, a stone merchant), 23-year-old  John Otter, Henry Otter (take your pick on this one…there were a few by that name who worked in the quarries!) and John Joliffe, ( a fair few of those too.)

The two young lads working alongside the men were Robert Otter and William Hodder.

Special mention was made in the article of Robert’s father, 33-year-old William Henry Otter, seemingly a man of immense strength, but for some reason one who was not used in this task.


Portland quarrymen were a breed in their own right!


Check out what’s happening in the Portland quarries of today…


A Pinterest board of old Portland photos;https://www.pinterest.com/susanhogben/old-views-portland/
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