Page 1


Plymouth Science Journal

terra firnna

Issue 1: Geology

03 Resurgam How and Plymouth owes so much to the geology it was create and recreated from

22 Gallery Images to understand

10 Not Just a Pretty Face The significance of our stones

30 Odyssey Activists Do something with your life

16 Special Report Death from below

34 A Day in the Life The story of people attempting to manage this environment



The geology of Plymouth has provided its people for centuries. But in return humans have impacted it hugely, leading to an unknown future.


We know neighboring areas such as the Jurassic Coast to be rich in Geological history dating back over 180 million years. Yet Plymouth is instead overlooked in its entirety. For the past it details can arguably have a greater significance in allowing us to unravel not just the history of the land but that of us, the people. Land gives rise to life, however it will be its people that decide the form one shall take. Thus we are the land. The outcrop of Mt. Battern begins this chronicle of life. It being the earliest known trading post to continental Europe, within the Bronze Age. Hence it was the South West’s ancient, yet recent mining qualities that gave rise to the trade. Plymouth then offered an easily accessible outlet for the exchange of these materials. As stated this more recent excavation means there has been many deep systematic studies achieved. Without such, none of this information you read today would exist, or at least not discerned. It’s also a prevalent note of how millions of years and billions of tons of force create a rather complex and abundant land. After all Stephen King said ‘geology is the study of pressure and time.’ But for the short time humans live and learn within a piece of land, however vast or bottomless, they will always tear it apart to make something quite different, and then again very similar. As we will discover, this isn’t necessarily always a bad thing.


First respect should be owed to a material that flooded the city in its abundance. However diverse the makeup of stone is here, only a few materials will usually always offer the best qualities for shaping, cutting, and eventually building something out of. In actual fact it’s a combination of quality and affluence that makes limestone quite literally the chosen pre concrete-building block of Plymouth. The Mt. Battern Tower built in 1652 is made from the stuff. Near to it across the mouth of the River Plym, The 1667 Citadel stands, again constructed from limestone. The main gate illustrates the material, not just to be hard wearing but capable of being carved in to a palatial thing of beauty and imposing presence. Talking of presence it’s important to point out until later years only buildings of grandeur such as St Andrews Church or the Guild Hall were constructed from solid stone. This being the case in more ancient times too, whereas stone would be reserved for say a tomb or fort, most houses would be mud and wood based. The Romans would of still had a huge abundance of limestone and granite, but obviously technology limited the harnessing of it greatly. Arguably even harnessing stone was not the biggest challenge. Of course moving even a small amount would have been an almost impossible task. This led to the existence of on-site

Map detailing key positions of importance around Plymouth










quarries. Hence the building existed in a certain place sometimes because of a prime location to the quarry. Usually on top of it, as is the case with the Mt. Battern Tower. It wasn’t until much later in 1853 when the industrial revolution arrived in Plymouth that trains allowed for the quick and cheap movement of materials. Leading to a truly diverse level of built geology. Not surprisingly limestone still remained the primary foundation stone. But granite from Dartmoor was used hugely in roads, curbstones and in the old cobbled streets we still see today. In fact after the wide spread World War Two bombings many of the older buildings, such as St Andrews Church were relatively easy to rebuild with the same Jurassic limestone. Only now it was easier to obtain. During the restoration of the church ‘Resurgam’ was found wrote under the rubble, Latin for resurgence. Once again the land of Plymouth allowed for relatively quick rebuilding. Now though other, before unattainable stones were used. Including Prysten, ignimbrite, and many localized variants of granites. Such as weather Moorstone (from Dartmoor) or Hurdwick Stone (a village close to Tavistock.)

“geology is the study of pressure and time” One noticeable mistake in this article would arguably be the differentiating and separating of limestone in the pre and post concrete age. Concrete itself is made from limestone or granite. Post war Plymouth required not only the rebuilding of destroyed areas, but later posterity meant tens of thousands of new homes were erected. The land provided again. Resurgam may have been adopted to relate to the rebuilding, but concrete perhaps sums up the later expanse of Plymouth well. After all concrete comes from the Latin concretus (compact or condensed), the passive participle of concresco, deriving from ‘com’ (together) and ‘cresco’ (to grow).

Percentage build up of varying stones

It comes as no surprise then that Plymouth no longer has any functioning quarries. The last of which was the Plymstock , shutting just a few years ago. The cost of building a city came at a price to the landscape, and not just to the appearance of it. The damaging effects to the environment posed by disused quarrying are vast, the most notable being water table effects. Clearly a worrying factor for a coastal city, where many quarries lie alongside the water. At the time of construction this meant easy transport links to boats, but now their locations are less than ideal. 5

Pollution of a water system occurs usually not via direct dumping of raw materials in to a river or lake. But via soils that hold large beds of water being infected. Eventually it is this water that will flow through the table and in to larger sources. What’s positive is how organizations are in place to protect and preserve the environment. Organizations like Defra (Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs) as is the local Plymouth City Council. This has meant that places that once scarred and polluted the environment have been given back to nature, in becoming reserves or lakes. Plymstock Quarry is now flooded, in order to attract wildlife and conservation. We’ve seen how everything from our ancient history, right up to the current day has been influence or effected by the geology of Plymouth. From why people first settled for trading in the Bronze Age. To how it’s strategic position led to forts, docks and citadels being built. Then once destroyed, rebuilt and extensively enlarged. What is unclear is the future. Now that quarrying and growth has slowed. Although with keen conservation and creation of a shopping centre and expanse of the university in recent years, the future is hopeful, if uncertain.

Rob Watts


The old but still present Plymouth

Designed, written and produced by Rob Watts Page 8 Blue tit photograph property of Bird Database and ‘drumbatter’ Article information from Plymouth City Museum, Plymouth City Council and Environmental & Engineering. Geoscience, Vol. VII, No.2, May 2001, pp. 119-175 by Robert G Thomas



geogolgy magazine by rob watts