Jurassic Stones - Weymouth Relief Road

Jurassic Stones - Weymouth Relief Road


In preparation for the sailing events of the 2012 Games being hosted by Weymouth and Portland, Dorset County Council built a major new relief road from Dorchester to Weymouth. The building of a new road involves the creation of new landscapes and new vistas that will be appreciated by thousands of motorists each day. Due to the scale of the relief road and the unique opportunity it presented, it was proposed in the Weymouth and Portland Commissioning Plan for 2012 that public art should play a part in helping to make the relief road an attractive and engaging approach to Weymouth. Two artists were appointed to develop proposals for permanent artworks that would visually enhance the journey and to develop and implement a temporary project with the Littlemoor community for whom the relief road would impact the most (see http://www.celfwaith.co.uk/node/1637 for Claire Barber's project).

Richard Harris explored the opportunities within the road scheme for integrating artwork into the newly created landscape as part of the road. Richard’s response to the site was to focus on the geology to reveal some of the material excavated as part of the road building process.

On Southdown Ridge a large amount of earth and stone was removed to create a deep cutting, and Richard Harris proposed to use around 20 of the larger stones excavated to create a field of hovering stones, elevated by tall steel poles at a key site near to their original positions within the geological strata.

The site for the work is within the landscaping adjacent to the Jurassic roundabout in Littlemoor, where motorists can take the new road over the Southdown Ridge to Weymouth. The stones will stand on mirror polished stainless steel columns rising out of still water, to reach some seven metres above the surface. The stones cluster in a shoal or dome shape 20 metres across at its widest. As you drive around them, you will appreciate their overall shape and scale, a dramatic reminder of the hidden geology beneath the ground we travel over.

As well as appealing to motorists, the sculpture will also be appreciated by pedestrians using the adjacent Littlemoor road, which is a well used route to the nearby shopping centre. The network of roads, footpaths and cycle routes that surround the sculpture will give many different views of the work, emphasising its stillness amongst the circulating traffic.

The Dorset and East Devon Coast was given World Heritage status in 2001 because the rocks in the cliffs are a unique record 185 million years of Earth’s history from the beginning of the Triassic Period 250 million years ago to the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. Every layer of rock is another page in a story of changing environments and evolving life forms. The coast is the best place to see this record as erosion has sliced through the rock layers making them easy to study. Inland it is harder to investigate the rock layers but it is very easy to appreciate their impact on the landscape.

The Weymouth Relief Road cuts through rocks that formed between 160 and 65 million years ago, all of which can be seen along the coast. The hard limestones form the hills and ridges and the soft clays form the vales. The Southdown Ridge is formed by a sequence of hard limestone bands with softer rocks between them known as the Corallian. The Corallian formed during a time of fluctuating sea levels when the climate here would have been similar to that found in the Bahamas. The stones that Richard Harris chose to use for his sculpture come from near the middle of this sequence.

These odd shaped boulders are examples of what geologists call 'concretions'. They come from a layer of sandstone known as the Bencliff Grit that formed about 155 million years ago during the Jurassic period. Very soon after the layers of sand were laid down minerals started to concentrate around fragments of plant or shell within the sediment. Slowly these minerals started to fill up the spaces between the grains of sand around these fragments forming very hard 'lumps' within sandstone. When we look at the Bencliff Grit today we find it is mostly a very soft sandstone that easily crumbles apart in your hands but contained within the layers of soft sandstone are these very hard concretions of various shapes and sizes.

The commission was funded by Arts Council South West, Dorset County Council and Weymouth and Portland Partnership.