The strata of the Purbeck Limestone Group

Caution: this page is a very tentative and incomplete attempt to reconcile the terminology of this very complex group of strata, as an aid to identification of stone used for ancient artefacts. It probably contains many errors, and readers should use it with caution !

The description is based on the type-locality, Durlston Bay, Swanage. Columns 1-3 refer to the numbering, description and thickness given by Clements 1993; column 4 to Bristow 1857 as reprinted in Damon 1884; column 5 to the specimens displayed at Langton Matravers Museum.

I have used the traditional but informal division into Upper, Middle and Lower Purbeck, but my more detailed stratigraphical terminology is basically that of Clements (1993), who recognises two Formations and fifteen Members within the Group.

In column 6, "S" means I have a sample from the type-locality; "S ?ident", uncertainty whether the sample is really from the bed with this DB number; "P" means that I have a photograph, "Pf" that the photo shows a fossil; numbers after a photo reference indicate film and frame. "Rockfalls" means that my study of the type-locality was impeded by fallen material. Numbers preceded by "WB" relate to Ensom's section of the Purbeck Beds at Worbarrow Bay.

Ellipses (...), or gaps in the numbered sequence of strata, indicate that beds have been omitted from this list. if Rockfalls are not mentioned, omitted beds are mostly shales or other soft material that are probably not of interest as workable stone. The main exception is the Cypris Freestones Member and below (Lower Purbeck), which includes important workable stones that are not well displayed at the type-locality, and must be studied at locations farther west.

For the appearance of some beds of the Purbeck Limestone see the website of WJ Haysom and Son and Lander's Quarries.
There is also a stone catalogue at Archaeology Data Service (you may need to enable cookies and javascript).

The common fossils of the Purbeck Limestone group are gastropods, bivalves and ostracods; follow this link for details.


Upper Purbeck

Upper Purbeck. Photograph, general view

DB Clements' description metres Bristow-Damon Langton Mus. Notes
Upper Cypris Clays and Shales Member
... ...
244b Upper PM = Blue Marble; Viviparus limestone 0.76 91 S, Photo, 2002-04:5.18
... ...
241 Lower PM = Red Marble; Viviparus limestone 0.81 89 1a, Red PM S, Photo, 2002-04:5.13
239 Unio Bed 0.30 87 S
237 Green Marble; Massive Viviparus biosparite 0.30 85 1b, Green PM S, Photo, 2002-04:5.12
... (shales etc.) ... 84
225 biosparite 0.15 S, P 2002-04:5.11
224 shales with thin limestones 0.53
Unio Member
223 Greenish biosparite 0.15 83 S, Pf. My photo 2002-04:5.14 shows a fossil found in the upper surface of this bed which is so far unidentified. Suggestions welcome.
221 complex, incl. Crocodile Bed, bottom limestone cemented to bed below 0.38-0.53 81-79 S, P 2002-04:5.10 upper surface of bed.
Broken Shell Limestone Member
220 Broken Shell Limestone; Massive shell-fragment biosparite 2.90 78, Soft Burr 2, Burr S, `Soft Burr' appears to be a wrong name, the result of confusion with the basal Purbeck limestone which is so named, or else with the Dirt Bed `burrs'; see Damon 1884 p.115, Strahan 1898 p.115 on the Purbeck beds in Portland. P 2002-04:5.9

Middle Purbeck, upper part

DB Clements' description metres Bristow-Damon Langton Mus. Notes
Chief Beef Member
219 Shales with beef 0.46 77 S, P 2002-04:5.8,22
218 Lt grey biosparite 0.23 76b S, P 2002-04:5.20,22
... ... Rockfalls
Corbula Member (part-marine)
189-8 Bivalve biosparites 0.16 70 Not seen
... ... Rockfalls
184-3 Pinkish biospar/micrite, Toad's Eye (183) 0.36 68 ?Not seen
... ... Rockfalls
178 Pinkish cream shell biosparite 0.67 S ?ident., sandy thin-bed limest, surface crystals
... ... Rockfalls
154 Rough-bedded bivalve biosparites and shales 0.66 59 S ?ident., 2 chips
Scallop Member (part-marine)
153-44 58, White Roach 3, Rag? Rockfalls
Intermarine Member (Upper Building Stones)
145 shale 0.10
144-141 Laning Vein 2.20 56-57 4, Lannen Vein 3 S, P 2002-04:5.25
140e-b shales and limestones c.0.60
140a Royal Limestone 0.30 55 5, Royal S ?ident., cream shelly biosparite with green seam
... ... 6, Freestone? Rockfalls
For a picture of a cliff section of the lower Intermarine and Cinder Members in Durlston Bay, follow this link
133 Red Rag 0.74-0.79 54, Red Rag 7, Rag Mead? S, 2 chips, coarse bivalve biosparite
132 calcareous mudstone 0.30-0.25 53, Green shaly Marl
131 Under Rag 0.69-0.76 52, Under Rag S, coarse bivalve biosparite
130 mudstone 0.48-0.43 51, shales 1'9''
Freestone Vein 16':
129 calcareous mudstones 1.63 ?50h-i, Shingle Rockfalls
128 mudstone/micrite 0.23 ?50g, Underpicking Rockfalls
127-6 sandy, muddy, calcarenite biosparites 0.33 ?50f Lower Shingle, rubbly limestone Rockfalls
125 massive biosparite 0.79 ?50e, Crab ?8, Grub Rockfalls. Ensom 1994 citing El-Shahat and West 1983 identifies DB125-121 with the inland `Freestone Vein'
124c `shaly' biospar/micrite 0.09 Rockfalls
124b calcareous shale 0.05 Rockfalls
124a rough bedded limestones; incl. bivalve biosparites 0.30 ?50d, Roach, hard shell-limestone ?9, Roach Rockfalls. Delair 1980 identifies `Pink Bed' of the Roach as Damon's bed 50d
123 massive biosparite with scattered sand-grains 0.23 ?50c, Sugar bed ?10, Thornback Sugar = Thornback acc. to Delair and Lander 1972; S, 2 chips, shell and shiny grains
122 Rubbly sandy biomicrite 0.18 ?11, Whetson S, 2 chips, shelly
121 Massive bivalve biosparite, weathers to `micrite' 0.48 ?50b, Freestone, compact sandy grey limestone ?12, Freestone S, crumbly, several bits, rough shelly texture; identified tentatively as the Freestone by El-Shahat and West 1983
120 Cream, thinly bedded calcarenites 0.41 S, chip, ?sand-grains
119 Dark grey ostracod shales grading into biosparites 0.43 S, chip, ?shelly
118 Massive looking hard limestone, thin laminae, ostracod seams weather proud 0.30 ?50a, Blue bed S, 3 small pieces
5.45 total = c.18' Bottom of Freestone Vein
117 calcareous clays 0.11
116b Cream (bio)micrites 0.56 ?49, Lias, 2'11" WB123 = DB115-117, Ensom 2002b p.223
116a Thin-bedded biospar/micrites 0.20-0.15 ?48, Lias Rag, 2'4" S, hand-size and smaller chip
115 Shales and clays 0.43 47 Dark sandy Marl 1'4"
114 Interbedded thin limestones and shales 0.94 46, Laper 3'0" 13, Laper Downs Vein = Laper = Bristow 46 acc. to Delair and Lander 1972; S, cf. roofing-stone
(14, Grey Bed)
113 Massive limestone with chert near top, crowded with small lamellibranchs 0.56 45d, Shell-limestone 2'9" 15, Downs Vein Not Tombstone bed (Arkell 1944); Downs Vein (Salisbury 2002, Ensom 2002b p.223); S, shelly
112 Shales and limestones 0.23 45c-a, marl, limestone, shale 9" 15, Downs Vein?
Picture of cliff section of the lower Intermarine and Cinder Members in Durlston Bay, May 2002: large (300K) small (77K) © John Palmer, 2002-04:5.23 (east) and 2002-05:6.5 (west)
Cinder Member
111 Massive Praeexogyra distorta shell bank 2.95 44-43 16, Cinder S, P 2002-04:5.23, 2002-05:6.4, 5


Middle Purbeck, lower part

DB Clements' description metres Bristow-Damon Langton Mus. Notes
Cherty Freshwater Member (Lower Building Stones)
110 Dk grey shales 0.41 WB118 approx. (Ensom 2002b p.223)
109 Shales 0.038
108 Feather Bed, cream bivalve biosparite, Thalassinoides on base of bedding planes 0.61 42, Feather or Button 17, Button Feather Bed, Salisbury 2002; S, taken from a bed adjacent to Thalassinoides
107 micrites grading softer downwards 0.14
106 Thin bedded biosparites 0.08
105 Calcareous mudstone 0.24
104 Calcareous clays 0.19
103 Massive limestone with chert near base, footprints on underside 0.25 36, Cap 18, Cap Cap = DB103 acc. to Ensom 1986 and Ensom 2002b p.223. DB103 = WB117 acc. to Ensom 1994 (p.80 and fig.2). See note at end.
102 Shales with thin sandy biosparites at base c.0.46 35, Sly 19, Sly Sunnydown Sly bed, and approx. WB116: Ensom 1987 fig.1, Ensom 1988 corrected by Ensom 1989, Ensom 2002b p.223, Salisbury 2002
101 Cream weathering biospar/micrites, bivalves, gastropods 1.40 34 Here or below: 20, Five bed (or Six bed); 21, White; 22, Brassy; 23, Tompson (Tombstone) New Vein acc. to Ensom 1987 fig.1, and to Salisbury 2002; S with shell-fragments
100 Gypsiferous shale 0.057
99 Muddy biosparite/micrite 0.057
98 Dark shale 0.09-0.20
97 Flint Bed; very hard biomicrites with ... chert nodules, silicified fossils 0.84 31 S, weathered, with chert; P 2002-05:6.3, 4 have this bed at beach level
96 Firm shales
95 V. hard, brittle micrite
... ...
92 dark grey/green shale with celestine 0.25 top 10" of 27 Correlation after Clements 1966; Fern Bed, Salisbury 2002; P 2002-05:6.2 shows this bed at bottom of cliff, LBS above
... ...
89 Firm/hard clays/micrites
88 Soft calcareous shales
87 Hard biosparite, micrite intraclasts 25
Marly Freshwater Member
86 clay/micrite 24 P 2002-05:6.1 shows this bed at bottom of cliff and up to DB111
85 clay/micrite
84 argillaceous micrite
83 Mammal Bed; a Dirt Bed; Carbonaceous, calcareous shale and clay 21
82 Micrite, biosparite below
81 Micrite/clay
... ...
75 Dark brown shale grading down to clay 20

Note to DB103: DB103 = WB117, so DB104-110 correlate only with the shaly WB118, as WB119 is the base of the Cinder Member. Where Ensom (1986, 1988) says DB103 = WB112 he is making a mistake, as explained in Ensom 1989. Ensom 2002b p.223 says DB102-110 = WB116-118.

Lower Purbeck

DB Clements' description metres Bristow-Damon Langton Mus. Notes
Soft Cockle Member
74 Hard to v. firm fossiliferous micrite 19
... ...
43 Clay with selenite and gypsum masses 13
Hard Cockle Member (Clements puts `?')
42 Laminated clay
... ...
34 Rough hard limestone
Cypris Freestones Member (Clements puts `?')
33 Calcareous clay
... (Micrites, calcareous clays, shales, sandstones) ... These beds correlate with the building stones of Upwey, for instance
17 (Micrites and biosparites with argillaceous partings)
16 (Between clay and micrite)
... ...
11 Thin-bedded biomicrites and fossiliferous pelsparites
10 Broken ostracod biomicrites and micrites Lowest bed visible at Durlston Bay (Clements)

Parts of Lower Purbeck not visible at Durlston Bay

Described from an exposure at Kingbarrow Quarry, Portland by Strahan 1898 p.115. The numbering of beds is Strahan's; his measurements have been converted from feet and inches. Most of these strata can be seen at the adjacent site of Tout Quarry, which is shown in this photograph.

No. Strahan's description metres Notes
Broken Beds Member (also seen e.g. at Durdle Door)
(none) Platy or laminated limestone, broken and weathered ('shifting rubble') 1.8 ? = Broken Beds
13 Massive laminated limestone ('hard slate') 1.2 Also called 'Slatt', Arkell 1944 p.163
12 Hard-streaked stone ('bacon-tier') 0.6
(none) Greenish clay, about 0.05
11 Fine-grained argillaceous limestone, drying very white; used for holystone ('Aish-tier') 0.6
Caps and Dirt Beds Member
10 Tufaceous limestone, used for building in the Island, chiefly in chimneys ('burr') 0.4 Wimbledon 1987 p.132 identifies this stratum as the top of the Cap and Dirt Beds. It is also called 'Soft Burr' (Arkell 1944 p.163) and is not to be confused with the Broken Shell Limestone of the Upper Purbeck, which is also called 'Burr'.
9 Dark carbonaceous clay with fragments of limestone and wood ('top dirt-bed') 0 to 0.3
8 Tufaceous limestone ('gristle'); in the lower part traversed by holes ('chaff-holes') 50--200mm diameter and 1.5--1.8m long, sometimes branching and filled with fossil-wood ... ('top-cap') 0.6 Also called 'Top Cap', Arkell 1944 p.163
(none) Carbonaceous clay and gravel ('lower dirt bed') 0.08 to 0.15
7 Hard brown tufaceous limestone ... ('skull-cap') 0.3 to 0.6
(none) Carbonaceous parting; sometimes a chert-band with Ostracoda ('dirt') 0 to 0.05
Below here is the Portland Stone Formation.

There are many other descriptions or sections of the Purbeck beds, including
Fisher O 1856;
Hutchins ed.3 p.685;
Mason NJ 1984

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