Winspit Quarry is most famous for being a Sci-Fi filming location, but it has a 300 year history. It’s located a short walk from the picturesque village of Worth Matravers and is surrounded by expansive sea views. The area is peaceful and tranquil and popular with walkers and explorers alike.
Extraction of Purbeck stone became popular in the 18th and 19th Centuries and Winspit first opened in 1719. The rock was lowered onto sea-level platforms and then transferred to larger off-shore boats by barge. The rock was then transported around the local area and often to London where Purbeck stone was popular.
The caves and quarries in Dorset provided the perfect landing spot and hiding space for smugglers. Rumour has it that smugglers went too far at Winspit when they bound, gagged and beat a coastguard who caught them. After this unfortunate incident a permanent guard was stationed between Winspit Quarry and Chapman’s Pool about 1/4 of a mile away.
Smuggling mishaps weren’t the only tragedies to occur along this coastline; shipwrecks were frequent. The most famous of these being Halsewell in 1786. The ship was an East-Indiaman and was wrecked at the beginning of her journey from London to Madras. She lost her masts in a storm in the English Channel and was pushed onto the rocks under the quarry.
One of the ship’s crew managed to scramble up the cliff and alert quarry workers. They were then able to rescue some of the Halsewell’s crew and passengers. There were 242 men on board and 88 were saved, but only 74 survived the ordeal. These were 5 of the ship’s officers, 40 seamen and 25 soldiers. The surviving sailors had to travel back to London on foot. It was reported that the “rapacious plunderers on the sea coast… are so devoid of humanity as to stop the bodies of the dead as soon as the waves have thrown them on the shore.” However, locals did make sure the dead were given proper burials.
King George II visited the scene along with some of his family. This event inspired many poems as well as Charles Dickens’ short story, The Long Voyage, written in 1853. In 1967 three local divers from Swanage explored the wreckage and salvaged a number of items, including a cannon, cannonballs, lead shots and a mirror that can be seen hanging in St Nicholas Church in Worth Matravers.
Winspit Quarry was extracting stone from its opening in 1719 up until 1940. The quarry became a site for an air and naval base used during the war. Some of the leftover stone was transported and used to build local airfields. The quarry was abandoned in 1953 and afterwards opened to the public. The National Trust bought the site in March 2022.
The quarry has been used as a Sci-Fi filming location for television series and films alike since its closure. It feels other-worldly and remote and so is the perfect location for filming scenes not set on earth. In the 1960s and 70s it was used in the filming of the original Doctor Who series as Skaro – the planet of the Daleks.
In 2021 Disney filmed the scenes for the first series of Star Wars: Andor at Winspit, with the caves serving as Saw Gerrera’s headquarters. However Disney had to cancel filming in April 2023 when they returned to film the second series. The geologist commissioned by Disney noticed that there had been significant movement of the rocks. The safety report concluded that the caves were in imminent danger of collapse.
The quarry is located on a fairly popular walking route, and the village of Worth Matravers is worth a visit. You can park in the village car park for £2 and whilst you are there take a look at the local attraction Woodhenge. It’s an imitation of Stonehenge made from logs. Reportedly, the local publican crafted this masterpiece and the council demanded it to be taken down, but local support was so strong that they backed down and so it remains.
The walk from the car park is about 20 minutes or so, past The Square and Compass pub where they serve drinks through a hatch and have a fossil museum inside. The views are fantastic so sit outside if the weather permits it. The walk to the quarry is downhill from the village so you might want to save a trip to the pub for the way back to recuperate.
In April 2023 the National Trust erected signs warning visitors not to enter the caves or quarries due to fears of collapse and so it’s not advised to enter these at the moment. You are welcome to walk past the quarry and enjoy the cliff views and tranquillity. The National Trust say “we urge people to take the time to read warning signs and follow the instructions so they can enjoy the coast safely… we ask people not to visit Winspit Quarry until our experts are confident it is safe to visit again”.