About the Burngate Stone Carving Centre
Keeping the Purbeck traditions alive
Burngate Stone Carving Centre is in the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset, on the world famous Jurassic Coast. We are an Educational Charitable Trust and we provide facilities and expert tuition for traditional stone carving skills for local residents and visitors.
The Centre also offers a variety of children’s and family activities in school holidays, a wide range of art and craft courses, exhibition of sculpture, local art and craft for sale and a small tearoom. We also encourage visits from schools, colleges and other groups. Our varied programme of courses and related activities enables the novice, intermediate or advanced stone carvers to develop their skills and explore their creativity. We also offer various Art and Craft Courses throughout the year.
The Centre is built on National Trust land, on the site of former quarry workings and farm buildings. We are situated right in the heart of the Purbeck, where the stone industry has shaped the not only the area’s history and landscape but many of England’s buildings, and buildings worldwide, over the centuries. The Centre has been sensitively developed to create a meeting room, two covered work spaces and a well-equipped workshop for groups of up to twenty.
The beating heart of Purbeck
Burngate’s location is an inspiration in itself: look out east over Swanage Bay to the Isle of Wight, look north to Nine Barrow and Ballard Downs. The surrounding landscape – fields, old quarry workings, and cliffs above the English Channel are designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The area is part of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that reaches from Exmouth, Devon to nearby Swanage.
The Isle of Purbeck has centuries-old tradition of stoneworking and many local families can list long lines of quarrymen in their family trees.
The Burngate Stone Carving Centre has strong links with the Purbeck quarries and as well as members of the Ancient of Purbeck Marblers and Stone Cutters, 80 highly skilled quarrymen and women and stone carvers.
Purbeck stone in all its types has been used by masons, sculptors and builders since Roman times and to this day, is used in modern construction projects, as well as in building conservation. The much-prized decorative Purbeck ‘marble’ embellishes English medieval abbeys and cathedrals such as Durham, York, Wells, Salisbury, Westminster (including the newly restored Cosmati pavement) as well as the Temple Church, Inner Temple, London.
Close by, Corfe Castle and many local villages were built in the local stone and in the nineteenth century, Purbeck stone was shipped from Swanage to pave London, founding the fortune of John Mowlem and George Burt.
Behind the centre lies the ‘underground’ (the local term for mine) for the quarry, which is mostly hidden by the bushes and trees. At the top of the ‘slide’ (the name given to the slope that connects the underground to the ground level) would have been a capstan that helped pull the stone up to the surface. We are lucky enough to have been donated an original capstan by a local person from Acton. The mine is also home to a variety of species of bats, including the Greater Horseshoe.
Note: Access to the mine is strictly prohibited and disturbing the Greater Horseshoe protected species of bats is a criminal offence. Undergrounds are extremely dangerous places, especially when they haven’t been maintained for decades.