West, Ian M. 2017. Hurst Spit, Barrier Beach of the West Solent, Hampshire, and Milford-on-Sea: Geology of the Wessex Coast. Internet site: www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/Hurst-Castle-Spit.htm. Version: 17th January 2017.
Hurst  Spit Field Guide
Ian West,
Romsey, Hampshire

and Visiting Scientist at:
Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences
Southampton University,
Webpage hosted by courtesy of iSolutions, Southampton University
Aerial photographs by courtesy of The Channel Coastal Observatory .

Click here for the full LIST OF WEBPAGES

Related Guides: |Solent Estuaries - Introduction |Solent Geology Bibliography - General |Solent Geology Bibliography - Topics, Alphabetically |Lepe Beach |Wight - Isle of Wight Geology - Introduction |Needles - Isle of Wight Geology |Lymington-Keyhaven |Chesil Beach Storms and Sea Defences |Hordle Cliff and Milford-on-Sea |Barton and Highcliffe Coast Erosion

External Hurst Spit website - Web Cams at Hurst Spit Vision Link - Hurst Castle.

Go back to top


[4th April 2014 - correction made; no video]




Hurst Spit - New Erosion


Go back to top

 Hurst Spit, Hampshire  Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Go back to top

The landward part of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, after storm damage on the night of 14th-15th February, 2014


Storm damage, including washover gaps, at Hurst Spit, Hampshire, on the 15th February 2014, after a night of severe storm waves, 14-15th February


Machines start to repair washover gaps from storms at Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 24th February 2014


Washover fans at the back of Hurst Spit, at the channel of Mount Lake, 24th February 2014


More washover fans at the bend in Hurst Spit, Hampshire, seen after the St. Valentine's Day storm, 2014


A marker post shows the extent of beach-lowering at a washover gap on  Hurst Spit, Hampshire, after the St. Valentine's Day Storm, photograph 24th February 2014


The rebuilding of the  Hurst Spit causeway, with dumped, rather earthy gravel after the storm of 14th-15th February 2014


Erosion adjacent to the castle of Henry VIII near the end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 24th February 2014


Damage and potential undercutting of the Castle wall, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 24th February 2014


A columella of Clavilithes macrospira, present in the narrow band of shingle, seaward of Hurst Castle, near the old castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 24th February 2014


Comparison of the southeastern end of  Hurst Spit, Hampshire, as shown by the old pier, 2003-2014, with erosion indicated


Gravel trucks at the end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, supplying gravel to the area near the lighthouse, 24th February 2014


Go back to top


New Cliff Erosion at Milford-on-Sea

For more on this topic (but including these photographs), please go to:

Coast Erosion east of the White House, Milford-on-Sea.


New erosion just west of the White House, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire with Hurst Spit in the distance, 15th February 2014


a new, small, cliffed embayment west of the White House, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, revealing Headon Hill Formation and Pleistocene gravel, 15th February 2014


A new cliff with Pleistocene gravel of a low terrace, exposed west of the White House, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, 15th February 2014


Good exposure of the Headon Hill Formation, after the storm of 14-15th February 2014, west of the White House and near Paddy's Gap, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire


Go back to top

Beach Huts Destroyed or Damaged


Very unfortunately for the owners or for the renters, many beach huts were either damaged or destroyed at Milford-on-Sea. Surprisingly the concrete ones proved to vulnerable, in addition to timber huts. The concrete huts have been places at a relatively low level and there significant quantity of protective beach in front of them, except at low tide. Ideally they should have been higher and further back from the sea wall. That would not have stopped all flooding, but it might have avoided the smashing up by waves. I do not know why they are so low, but probably this corresponded to some former level of the former shingle beach here.

Beach huts at Paddy's Gap, west, Milford-on-Sea, near Hurst Spit, Hampshire, damaged by storm action on the 14th-15th February 2014


Beach hut debris swept up together by the sea at Paddy's Gap, Milford-on-Sea, after the storm of the 14th to 15th February, 2014


A concrete beach-hut smashed by the sea at Milford-on-Sea, near Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 15th February 2014


A prescient notice on a concrete beach hut damaged by storm waves, Milford-on-Sea, near Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 15th February 2014


More concrete beach huts smashed at Milford-on-Sea, near Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 15th February 2014


Beach hut debris, including plastic chairs, have been transported by the St. Valentine's Day Storm along Hurst Spit, Hampshire, even to the southeastern end


About 600 beach huts have been damaged or destroyed on the nearby south coast of England during the St. Valentine's Day storm. The stretch of coastline managed by New Forest District Council, which includes Milford on Sea and Barton on Sea, has had 40 huts destroyed and 100 damaged. (from report on BBC News online, 19th February, 2014). Of course, beach huts are normally placed near the sea and often at the foot of cliffs. With the possibility of global warming and more storms they inevitably carry increased risk of destruction. Records might be useful indicators of storm intensities, if statistics are retained.


Overwash Debris


The promenade at Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire,with debris from smashed beach huts, after the storm of the 14th-15th February, 2014


Washover seawater on the green behind the promenade at Milford-on-Sea, near Hurst Spit, Hampshire, with a visitor, 15th February 2014


[picture - Prime Minister, David Cameron, follows]
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, visits Milford-on-Sea, near Hurst Spit, Hampshire, to see the effects of  some sea flooding as result of a bad storm, overnight, 14th-15th February 2014


Overwash debris from storm waves on the grass area between the sea front and housing at Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, 15th February 2014


Storm action, overwash and pebble-throwing at the landward end of Hurst Spit, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, old photo January 2007, for comparison


At Milford, adjacent to the western end of the rock armour, storm waves have caused washover and thrown pebbles at the white building, St. Valentine's Day Storm, 14th Feb 2014


Go back to top



A minor storm, St. Jude's Storm, struck the bank on the night of the 27th -28th October 2013. This gave the beach a mild test. Wind speed at the Needles reached 95 mph but it was not a true hurricane like the "Great Gale" with a great storm surge (about 3 metres in Dorset), as on the 22-23rd November 1824. The 1824 event drove Hurst Spit at Milford back 40 metres in a day. There will probably be adequate warning and evacuation when the real hurricane comes, but the the effects will be numerically less than at the low parts of Weymouth and Sandbanks (and possibly Portsmouth). The hurricane of 1703 seems to have been of similar strength but more over the land. Photographs here show the consequences of St. Jude's Storm, although they are relatively small with some erosion and some limited washover of the bank.

Further damage occurred after another storm, notable for very large storm waves, took place on the night of the 6th to the 7th January 2014. A photograph taken after this is shown further below.


Hurst Spit, Hampshire, a comparison between 2011 and 2014, looking towards the bend, and showing increased cliffing and substantial loss of the front beach material


Erosion on the seaward side of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, seen after the storm of 6-7 January, 2014


Stormy conditions and white water at Hurst Spit, Hampshire, twelve hours before the approach of Storm St. Jude, 27-28th October 2013


[Insert - 2016]

For comparison a photograph of the location shown above, but much later, on the 28th January 2016, is provided directly below. The main significance is that there has been some loss of shingle here. This is not surprising; natural supply is cut off by sea defences further west and by the White House.

The landward end of Hurst Spit, at Milford-on-Sea, shown as at 28th January 2016, and with some depletion of residual shingle and some small-scale erosion

[End of Insert]


The bend in Hurst Spit, in 2002, before the top bank was reduced in width by storm erosion


Washover effects at the bend in Hurst Spit, Hampshire, that were the result of the St. Jude's Storm, October 2013


Small washover channels at the back of the (now) artificial shingle bank, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, after the St. Jude's Storm of late October 2013


Development of a double shingle bank at Hurst Spit, Hampshire, after the St. Jude's Storm of late October 2013


Erosion of the upper artificial bank of  Hurst Spit, Hampshire, by development and landward movement of a low cliff on the seaward side, after the St. Jude's Storm of late October 2013


Conversion of the sandy gravel of the artificial bank of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, into natural-type, clast-supported shingle, seen after St. Jude's Storm, 2013


The western end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, after the St. Jude's Storm, looking westward towards the larvikite promontory, 4th November 2013


Hurst Spit, Hampshire, further diminished by loss of beach material after the storm of the 6 to the 7th January, 2014


Recent Events - 2013 - Night of 27th - 28th October 2013 - St. Jude's Storm

A severe storm came in from the Atlantic during the night of the 27th to 28th October, 2013. The winds were quite high for a relatively short time in the night, attaining more than 90mph at the Needles, Isle of Wight. It was damaging in the countryside to some extent, bringing down many trees. However, it was not a true hurricane causing severe destruction. It was associated with heavy rain but passed over the area fairly quickly, with the intense phase only lasting a few hours. It did not severely damage Hurst Spit as happened in the winter of 1989.

Hurst spit is more or less in usual condition at the present time, but it has suffered some damage and some change in character. The major stabilisation works of 1996-7 produced an artificial spit which imitates to some extent the original. However, there is the presence of a stretch of larvikite rock armour at the western end. This is a strong point that the sea cannot overcome and it effectively fixes the western end as though it was a rocky headland. This has not been threatended since it was constructed. It remains as a stationary area in a beach which has always been mobile and travelled landwards in this region. The far end, at Hurst Castle has for centuries been relatively stable, although in the past it was the natural tip or dumping area for the sediments from Barton-on-Sea. These are now prevented from travelling here because of the rather questionable, but historic, Barton sea defences.

So there are effectively two fixed areas at each end and a high, but artificial, shingle beach in between. One original plan to use larvikite rock armour for the full length never took place because of the high cost. Instead there is a constructed bank of gravel packed with a sand matrix. This is not natural for surviving the wave energy high on the beach. All sand was originally at or below low tide level. Any wave erosion of the top artificial bank tends to form low cliffs and to remove the sand from fallen debris. Thus, perhaps about 20 to 30% of the artificial bank is composed of sand which removable by the sea. Once the artificial bank has been fully attacked by waves, then it become lower anyway, but in part because the sand will be removed. Thus the bank will progressively become eroded and lower, but of course it might be replaced by a new artificial bank if it decided to spend the money on this.

If natural processes occur to the artificial bank with its two points at each end, then it can be regarded as a bay beach between two headlands. Thus theoretically the Hurst Spit beach should take the form of concave curve as is normal for a shingle beach between the two rocky promontories. This is the shape of the Chesil Beach (although the Burton Cliff end in the west is a small promontory at the moment). The present seawardly convex shape of the Hurst Spit shingle beach is the result of a historic origin when it once connected through to Barton-on-Sea and aligned to some extent with the main coast of eastern Christchurch Bay. The far end part nearer the castle has an alignment relating to ancient profile of the Christchurch Bay beach. The artificial replacement beach was built on almost the original lines, with a particularly well-defined bend in the middle. This recent storm, the St Jude's Storm seems to a small extent to have started to smooth out the bend. It is reasonable to expect, but without any certainty, that the beach will move back in the central part which is unprotected by rock armour. Of course, I am not suggesting that it be placed there because it would spoil the long beach. I do think that the beach will become concave sooner or later by moving backwards in the central part over the channel and towards the marshes. Look at the photographs and notice the increased amount of washover and the narrower beach at the inflection point.

To deal with a separate matter, there is the unexpected development after the St. Jude's Storm of a second parallel beach ridge on the seaward side. This is seen between the larvikite area and the inflection point. The reason for this is not understood, but it may have some relationship to the larvikite barrier. In general terms the (expensive) artificial ridge is being gradually destroyed and replaced by a new natural one.

The great difference in composition of the artificial ridge and the relatively natural beach should be emphasised. The artificial ridge is effectively a gravel with a matrix of sand and a small amount of mud. It is compacted and has a matrix. It is strong enough to use a roadway for vehicles travelling to and from Hurst Castle, and it is much easier to walk on than was the original loose beach.

The natural beach, in contrast, is sorted and mobile and consists only of pebbles. It is loose and not fixed by sand or mud. Thus the natural beach has no small cliffs within it, only slopes. The artificial bank, in contrast, is cliffed on the seaward side. It is being destroyed largely by undercutting. When washover occurred on the natural shingle beach the effect was to form tongue-like lobes of gravel sloping towards the marshes. This type of washover is a characteristic of the Chesil Beach. The artificial gravel ridge behaves differently. Because it is like sedimentary strata, it is eroded as is Quarternary strata. Small channels or gulleys are developed and water flows down these and deposits a fan of gravel at the base. This is only seen, so far, on a limited scale as a result of the St. Jude's Storm. See the photographs.

No firm conclusions are given here. Hurst Spit just remains under observation and we will see just what happens with future storms.

[Further note: At the end of Hurst Castle there has been further erosion. As noted elsewhere there has been some loss at the former jetty, which is returning to the sea. The Eastern Earth Batteries (old gun emplacements in brickwork and earth) have been significantly eroded. Bricks from these have been thrown back onto the beach adjacent to the end of the Victorian castle. Some erosion of the castle may take place in this area in a while.]

Go back to top



Hurst Castle, built in 1540 for King Henry VIII, at the end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, July 2011

The southeastern part of  Hurst Spit, Hampshire, with the old castle, the Victorian extensions and the lighthouse, July, 2011

A view from the castle at Hurst Spit, along the spit towards the cliffs of Christchurch Bay, Hampshire, July 2011

View southeast down the last part of Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire. Castle and lighthouse are seen with the Isle of Wight beyond.

The north side of the castle, with the lighthouse, at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

Erosion at the mud batteries at the western end of Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, July 2011

Irregularities in the shingle spit at the western end of the western mud batteries, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, July 2011

The view across the narrow entrance to the West Solent and to Hurst Castle and Hurst Spit, from Totland Bay, Isle of Wight, September 2011

A ship passes Hurst Castle at the end of Hurst Spit, Western Solent, 2011

Go back to top


Initial Comments

The spit is an excellent place for studying geomorphology and is also very good just for an interesting and breezy walk along the shingle. Apart from features of geomorphological and geological interest there are extensive marshes with interesting wading birds, salt-marsh and shingle beach plant live, shipping to watch, a view of the Isle of Wight, and, of course, there is the history. This includes the initiation of the castle by King Henry VIII and the later imprisonment here of King Charles I. Consult the interesting book of James (1986) for information on the history. Incidently King Charles used to take his exercise walking along the spit. He was removed from the castle in December 1648 by Corronell Harrison with no less than 1200 or 1400 horse (brought through the New Forest from Lyndhurst). The King was on his way to execution. The castle is well-worth visiting and is quite atmospheric, especially in stormy conditions.

Go back to top

1.3 INTRODUCTION - Car Parking and Access

To commence a walk on Hurst Spit, you can drive to Milford-on-Sea; from the Green (centre) go south down Sea Road to the beach car park at SZ 293913. It is about 2 miles or 3 kilometres walk from here. This used to be difficult on loose shingle but because of sea-defence work this is now compacted and you walk to the castle comfortably in about an hour. You can walk back or return by ferry to Keyhaven (SZ 307914) and walk down the road from there (an easier journey). You could, of course, go to the castle by motor ferry from Keyhaven, should you wish (providing that the ferry is running at the time).

An alternative starting point is at Cut Bridge. This is at the end of the cut carrying water from Sturt Pond and the Danes Stream. It is at the junction of New Lane (turn into this in Milford-on-Sea village) and Seagrass Lane. You can often park in New Lane, and this is safely above high tide level. You may be able to leave a car at Saltgrass Lane that borders the marsh from Keyhaven to the shingle bank. However, this can flood at high tide or in stormy conditions.

You then start your walk at 299908 (Cut Bridge). From here it is about one and a half miles or just over 2 km to the castle. The disadvantage is that you will miss Sturt Pond and most of the big blocks of igneous rock-armour; however, you can back-track to these.

The New Lane, Cut Bridge locality is not a suitable route for a coach or bus. If you are travelling by coach then you need to make arrangements to be dropped at Milford-on-Sea.

There are toilets at Milford-on-Sea and at Keyhaven. At the castle end of the spit toilets are only present within the castle and you have to pay to enter this monument. Refreshments can be obtained within the castle, at least in summer. There is a pub at Keyhaven, the Gun Inn, and at the Green in Milford.

Go back to top


The obvious risk at Hurst Castle Spit is from the sea. There can at times be major storm waves with backwash. There are dangerously strong currents just offshore. Take care with regard to sea-defences and walls, particularly groynes, metal objects and rock armour. Flint pebbles must not be hammered because of dangerous splinters, which could cause eye-damage. There is danger of being trapped in soft mud within the harbour at the back of the spit. There might be hazards associated with attempting to round the outer seaward wall of the castle in certain tide or wave conditions. The interior of the castle is not the real subject of this geological and geomorphological description and has its own procedures and regulations and these should be abided by. Note that the bank of Hurst Spit is very exposed to wind and weather conditions and suitable protective clothing should be worn when necessary. It is generally colder and more windblown than other parts of the Hampshire coast.

Individual geological and other visitors and field leaders should make their own risk assessment at the time of an intended visit and no liability is accepted. In certain weather conditions, particularly severe storms, there may be no safe access to the far part of Hurst Spit. This webpage is descriptive and for information and does not represent advice to go to any specific places mentioned.

Go back to top


Hurst Spit is a barrier beach, the southeastern aggradation feature to which the subangular flint beach shingle of Christchurch Bay has been moved progressively eastward by the longshore drift (compare to the Chesil Beach). This transport from west to east is the result of the prevailing southwesterly winds. The spit represents the destination for subangular flint gravel travelling by long-shore drift from the supply cliffs of Highcliffe, Barton-on-Sea and Hordle Cliff. The light brown, flint gravel is present in most of the cliffs as a 2 or 3 m thick (exceptionally more) unconformable cap of Pleistocene periglacial clastics, overlying Eocene sands and clays. Not only is gravel on the spit, but also pieces of shelly siderite from Barton-on-Sea and fossils from the Barton Clay, particularly the gastropod Clavilithes. This has long been noticed and was referred to by Fox (1862) . You will not find it easily now because of the renourishment or replenishment of shingle.

Gravel has always been lost from the end of the spit and the whole spit has moved landwards by a "rollover" process. It has survived more or less unbroken for thousands of years, but not in the same place . Washover and temporary breaching has occurred recently because the delayed effects of the sea-defence works in Christchurch Bay finally stopped any significant natural transport of shingle to the beach. There was a crisis in 1989 when the shingle beach was flattened and at risk of total destruction.

To deal with this human intervention has taken place and the spit has been largely rebuilt with dredged gravel from the Shingles Bank. It is peroidically replenished with similar flint gravel. The long stretch is now banked up to 7m in height. This artificial banks suffered some damage some minor washover in the St. Jude's storm of 27th-28th October 2013, but has not yet been attacked by a real hurricane. It does not have its orginal natural appearance of Hurst Spit and is more like a railway embankment. It is composed compacted gravel and sand and has a flat top so when necessary vehicles can drive down it. Nevertheless it still exists and to the casual observer may look fairly natural. The far end has been less affected by erosion and has not been rebuilt and renourished. Much of the recurved end of the spit is still in natural condition and its accretionary development can still be studied.

It is interesting in that both construction of the castle and of the sea defences have resulted in the introduction of hard igneous rocks to the area. There is granite from Cornwall in the Castle Walls and bluish-grey, coarsely crystalline larvikite from Norway at the sea defences of the western end. There are a number of other interesting rock types present in the Castle walls, including Purbeck Stone and Bembridge Limestone from the Isle of Wight.

Of course coastal erosion problems are a characteristic feature of Christchurch Bay. Is a relatively new bay, famous for coastal retreat, especially at Barton and Highcliffe. Nearer to Hurst Spit, At Milford-on-Sea, the natural overall retreat of the coast must have caused some concern at Milford-on-Sea in the 1950s. Unfortunately, at about that time some defences were constructed there (as indicated by old photographs). The sea-defences have been strengthened since (see the Hordle Cliff webpage ) and now it is very difficult for shingle to pass eastward of Milford beach.

The rock armour barrier at the landward end of Hurst Castle Spit is a more recent development which although apparently giving some protection to land behind the beach is yet another barrier to the transport of any remaining shingle transport eastward.

A consequence of the development of the coast of Christchurch Bay over the years and the human efforts to stop cliff erosion and loss of beach at places to the west was a dwindling of the quantity of shingle on Hurst Castle Spit. In February 1979, as shown in the photograph, the sea almost breached the beach directly east of the sea-defences and the beach ridge was stepped back out of line. There was fear that if nothing was done the shingle ridge might permanently breach, letting large waves into the West Solent and isolating the Castle area of the spit as an island. Bulldozers were quickly brought in and the shingle beach was repaired.

What happened in 1979 was a precursor of the much more serious damage of 1989, discussed in some detail below. It was the storms of that later period that caused extensive flattening of the beach, and threat of its loss.

The coastal protection work on Hurst Spit followed and a good account of them has been given by Wright (1998). This useful article provides information on dates and quantities of gravel involved and costs.

Go back to top


General Setting in the Local Sea Area

Hurst Spit, Hampshire, seen from the Solent (2002)

The end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, with the castle, seen from the Solent to the NE

The Chalk cliffs of the Needles, Isle of Wight, as seen from Hurst Spit, Hampshire, but enlarged, April 2007

High velocity current flow of the ebb tide between Hurst Castle, Hampshire and Colwell Bay, Isle of Wight, July 2011

A standing wave at the tidal outflow from the West Solent, as seen from the end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 8th July 2012

Cliff End and Fort Albert, Isle of Wight, seen across the Needles Passage from Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 2011

Keyhaven seen across the Spartina marshes from Hurst Beach, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, with a rising tide, July 2011

Go back to top


Maps - General

Hurst Castle Spit, at entrance to the West Solent, is easily found on a map of Hampshire. It is south of the New Forest, marks the eastern end of Christchurch Bay and is almost north of the western extremity of the Isle of Wight. An old map, below, shows the spit in its natural condition in 1935, before it was effectively destroyed by the action of sea defences at Barton-on-Sea and at Milford-on-Sea cutting off the natural supply of flint shingle from the cliffs of Christchurch Bay.


A simplified, introductory map of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, and the adjacent coast


Part of an old topographic map, from 1935, showing  Hurst Spit, Hampshire, and the western Isle of Wight, near the Needles, with minor modifications and additions



Go back to top


Maps - Historical

Old topographic map showing Hurst Castle Spit and part of the Isle of Wight

Coast of the Solent and Isle of Wight in 1693, southern England, based with simplications on and some interpretation on Collins' chart

Go back to top


Maps - Geological

Hampshire Geology Map

Old geological map of the Isle of Wight

Go back to top


Aerial Photographs (and explanatory map)
(some images are reproduced again later to relate to specific topics)

A map of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, before sea-defence works prevented natural longshore drift supply of beach shingle to the promontory

Aerial photograph of  Hurst Spit, Hampshire, general overview by the Channel Coastal Observatory, low tide, modified 2011

Compare the aerial photograph from about 2005 to the old map (1930s?) above of Hurst Spit and Hurst Castle area. Notice that not only is the shingle beach much reduced but that the saltmarshes and mudflats have been cut back severely. About half of Hawkers Lake and adjacent marshes have been lost in the region north of North Point.

Old aerial photograph of Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire, modified and colourised

An old oblique aerial photograph of Hurst Spit and Hurst Castle, Hampshire, looking southward

Old oblique aerial photograph of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, from a low-wing light aircraft

An old oblique aerial view of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, from cloud base, 1960s or 70s

Aerial view by the Channel Coastal Observatory of Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, in August 2005

Part of the final recurve of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, in 2005, and showing former terminations, CCO

Part of the Keyhaven Marshes, northwest of Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, in a Channel Coastal Observatory aerial photograph of August 2005

Spartina marshes shown in aerial view and from the bank, and suffering from creek enlargement, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 2011

The aerial photographs above are partly from old sources, but mostly courtesy of and copyright of the The Channel Coastal Observatory , National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. Many more aerial photographs are available from the CCO. For Hurst Spit and Keyhaven Marshes there are many ortho-rectified aerial photographs from the 10th September 2001 and from the 18th August 2005. Much other data is available, including Lidar etc. The photographs shown here are only examples to give a taste of the type of data than can be accessed, and to bring out some major points about the area. The beaches of Hurst Spit are being eroded, but they have sea defences. Careful study of the aerial photographs of the beach is recommended.

Also shown are aerial photographs of the Keyhaven saltmarshes and mudflats. The saltmarshes are in decline and they are returning to mudflats (as they once were). However, they will not be exactly the same as prior to the growth of Spartina (about 1895 onwards). Rising sea-level and the resulting coastal squeeze is likely to severely decrease the intertidal area at the back of Hurst Spit and near Keyhaven. It is well-known, of course, that Spartina saltmarsh decline and erosion is a major aspect of Pennington and Lymington saltmarshes further to the northeast, and also the Beaulieu River Estuary. It is general, in fact, for the Solent area. The mudflats will become the main feature behind the bank of Hurst Spit at very low tide. However, with higher sea levels, they will be much smaller, more easily flooded and less extensive as sources of food for birds.

The aerial photographs should be examined again in relation to specific sections on particular topics in lower parts of this webpage.

[Exercise for students:

Examine the above aerial photographs of Hurst Spit and Hurst Castle. One major objective is to protect the castle, both Henry VIII's and the Victorian extensions. Consider the factors of rising sea-level and storm action from the southwest. Dominant longshore drift on the main bank is from west (or northwest) to east (or southeast). Note, however, that near the castle there is also major current activity that can move pebbles. In addition, longshore drift may be in different directions within the West Solent part of the spit (i.e. east and north of the castle). Which parts of the beaches, shown in the aerial photographs, are at greatest threat with regard to the long-term survival of Hurst Castle? Can you recommend new measures to reduce the problems?]

Go back to top



The Beach Shingle

Surf on the shingle of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, western part

Surf on the subangular gravel of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, with details of surf morphology

Hurst Spit, Hampshire, distal part, August 2002

The parallel artificial hard and relatively natural, loose, beaches  of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, July 2011

The artificial crest to Hurst Spit, Hampshire, with evidence of some minor erosion, 2006


Hurst Spit was originally a barrier beach of loose flint pebbles, which had been eroded from the cliffs of Highcliffe, Barton-on-Sea, Hordle Cliff and Milford. This natural supply was cut off by various sea-defences along this stetch of coast. Eventually Hurst Spit became so weakened that it was danger of being permanently breached.

To deal with this problem sea defences at Hurst Spit have gradually been increased, with a major development having taken place from 1996 to 1997 after a serious storm. The larvikite rock armour discussed below, was put in place at the western end and near the castle. 300,000 cubic metres of shingle from the Shingles Bank was added to the beach and much of this can now been seen as a different layer of material at the beach crest. This dredged shingle is very sandy and poorly sorted. Some of the flints within it have encrustations of serpulid worms, which makes this material distinguishable from the typical beach pebbles. The latter, at least high on the bank, are loose, cleaner and mostly free of sand.

Members of the Open University Geological Society walk southeastward down Hurst Beach towards the castle at Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 2007

The top artificial layer can compact and become fairly firm because of the sand content, and probably the poor sorting. It makes a relatively easy surface for walking, compared to the natural shingle, and will also take 4 by 4 vehicles. This clearly must have some advantages, especially to the staff of the castle, but it has to some extent changed the more remote, island-like character of the end of the spit and Hurst Castle. It is just half-an-hour's easy walk now (you can also travel there by boat).

In spite of the sea defence work some erosion is taking place and, as shown in the photograph, the artificial gravel has been cut into by a small cliff on the seaward. Presumably only rare storms produce waves which reach this high part of the beach.

Go back to top


Hurst Castle Bitumen

Bitumen from Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

The manor of Hordle passed to Thomas Legh of Cheshire in 1832 ( James ,1986). He owned coal mining interests in Lancashire. He claimed that the beach "abounds with a mineral from which Asphalt is manufactured". James (1986) quoted the noted wildfowler Colonel Peter Hawker (whose house was adjacent to the Gunn Inn, Keyhaven) who was interested in this apparent occurrence of hydrocarbons. He noted in his diary in August, 1839:

"Put into Hurst in order to inspect and bring away a specimen of the new paving composition for the manufactory of which 'Crusoe's' beach cottage is let to a London man. This material is made from a stuff called 'bitumen', like lava, which from being pliant and somewhat sticky, is rendered as hard as iron by the process of boiling it with a certain composition; it may then be ornamented with beach pebbles ground up so as to look like granite. The man employed in it showed me several specimens laid out in squares, stars, etc. as ornamental paving for halls and the like."

By 1840 there was a factory constructed for the processing of the "Bastenne Bitumen" and it is figured by James (1986).

Hurst Castle Spit is now in rather unnatural condition with much gravel that has been tipped there to form a sea-defence. There are places, though, that are still in fairly natural condition. Thus, if you examine the natural part of beach of the southeastern end Hurst Castle Spit at about the high-water mark level, you will notice lumps of bitumen, pliant and sticky. You find them with other floating substances such as pine cones and light beach components such as the gastropod Crepidula fornicata. Of course such material at the present time could have come from oil tankers or other pollution. However, it could not have been of such origin in the 1830s, it is at the right place, it matches the description and adequately the explains the efforts of Legh to set up a small bitumen industry. There is also a perfectly reasonable explanation for its presence there by natural processes.

Pummice accumulated on the flood bank at the back of the Episkopi Bay Tombolo Beach, Akrotiri, near Lemosos (Limassol), southern Cyprus.

Major shingle beaches, in addition to aggrading pebbles by longshore drift, may accumulate floating substances. The photograph above shows pummice which is trapped on a long shingle beach in Cyprus. In a similar manner the Hurst Castle Spit which faces the prevailing southwesterly winds and waves may trap floating bitumen.

The spit is situated north-east of the English Channel Basin or Inversion, the source of oil for the great Wytch Farm oilfield of Dorset. On the Dorset coast and offshore there are hydrocarbon seeps. The small oil seep into the sea at Osmington Mills is one of the most well-known. Natural bitumen is present in small quantities in the Lulworth Cove area and at Durlston Bay and the finding of the Dorset hydrocarbon indications started the search for oil by D'Arcy Exploration Company in the 1930s.

More specifically Hurst Castle Spit is downwind of the well-known gas seep at Durlston Head, Swanage ( Hinchcliffe, 1978). If this methane seep also seeps oil then there is a nearby potential source of bitumen than can be transported by floating and blowing by the prevailing southwesterly winds. Durlston Head can be seen on a clear day from Hurst Castle Spit. However, this may be too simplistic an idea. There will, of course, be several unrecognised hydrocarbon seeps in the English Channel (oil) Basin or Inversion, and the Hurst Castle Spit bitumen may be derived from one or more of these.

The matter requires further investigation by organic geochemistry, but it is necessary to be careful that a modern samples taken may not be the original material but may be the consequences of pollution rather than a natural seep. If subsequent study, however, proves that the Hurst bitumen comes from an active local oil-seep then Mr Thomas Legh may have been the first person to use the hydrocarbons of the English Channel (Wytch Farm) Basin. The Romans and others have used the Kimmeridge oil-shale long ago in the past, but for ornaments or for fuel and actual oil was not otherwise used until recently.

Go back to top


Reworked Barton Fossils

Worn specimens of Clavilithes from the Barton Clay reworked onto Hurst Spit, Hampshire

The Reverent Fox in 1862 drew attention to the reworked Barton fossils which are present on Hurst Spit:

"at the western mouth of the Solent, there is almost an immeasurable accumulation of rolled flints, with which are mingled a sufficient sprinkling of fragmental fossill shells of various genera and species to show us from whence, the whole mass was originally transported This accumulation forms a sort of natural breakwater, two miles in length, one hundred yards in breadth, and many feet in thickness, extending between the mainland at Milford and a point beyond midchannel, where Hurst Castle was erected three centuries ago. Where the castle stands, this bank of flints becomes expanded so as to cover a circular space of fully twenty acres. Now all this enormous accumulation of flints, together with another one probably much larger on the island side of the main channel, and lying under the sea, in front of Alum Bay and the Needles, are formed of drift and broken fossils from the Barton beds ; the fossils themselves plainly pointing to the formation whence the whole mass was derived."

Until the spit was rebuilt as an artificial bank in 1989 Barton fossils could be found quite easily amongst the gravel. Occasional specimens might, perhaps, still be found because there is still natural gravel at the southeastern end of the spit. However, they are far from obvious now. Some selected specimens from my collection are illustrated above. See also the thesis of Nicholls (1985).

The spit material was originally mainly of subangular flint pebbles, with minor chert and other components. The flint pebbles have come from the Pleistocene gravels of Christchurch and it is not surprising that there is also a contribution from of clasts from the Eocene strata beneath them. Most of this consists of sands and clays that are easily distintegrated by the sea. There are few components that are at all resistant to abrasion on a shingle beach. They include some siderite, present as nodules in the Eocene deposits. Large, robust fossils could in the past have been washed out of the Barton Clay and then transported southeastward to Hurst Spit. The Barton Clay, unlike the Headon Hill Formation, includes a content of thick-shelled gastropods, mainly the common Clavilithes macrospira Cossman. There a few other large gastropods such as Hippochrenes amplus (rather rare) and Sycostoma pyrus (very abundant but not as robust as Clavilithes) and Athleta luctator (with other smaller species of Athleta).

The fossil material collected on Hurst Spit came mostly from just southeast of the Castle, but some was present on the main bank between Milford and the Castle. The total comprises 124 specimens. They can be grouped as follows:

Clavilithes - 58 specimens,
Sycostoma - 38 specimens,
Athleta - 27 specimens,
Hippochrenes amplus - 1 specimen.

Mechanical abrasion of the reworked gastropods collected at Hurst Spit appears to be more significant than solution. Therefore the original size and thickness of the shell of the genera recovered is probably the most important factor in survival of these carbonate clasts.

The reworked fossil gastropods were preferentially found with accumulations of modern gastropods (Buccinum, the Whelk) and other modern shells. These were concentrated along the beach crest, particularly at Hurst Point and along the active recurve (at the end). Being of low bulk density, and with various cavities, the aragonitic shells have been thrown up above most of the flint pebbles. Because of this there may not necessarily be large quantities of fossil shells beneath the beach surface.

At these two sites, Hurst Point and the recurve, the fossils were more common than on the beach at Barton-on-Sea or Highcliffe (with extensive sea defences they are rare there now). Hurst Point marks a major change in process from net erosion to the west to net deposition. The littoral drift of the shingle decreases by a factor of 10 and there is substantial offshore sediment movement (Nicholls, 1985).

Transport of Clavilithes by longshore drift from Barton to Hurst Spit, Hampshire

The reworked gastropods have undoubtedly been derived from the cliff erosion or nearshore erosion of Barton Clay in Christchurch Bay. Prior to 1968 there was coastal erosion of about 200,000 cubic metres per annum of Barton Clay. Now, however, sea defences has reduced the area of cliff that can be eroded. Any transportable fossil material on the beaches now will have great difficulty passing groynes of rock armour and other barriers. Littoral drift of beach debris from Barton and Highcliffe to Hurst Spit has ceased, and this, of course, is why the spit can no longer reform after storm damage.

Considering Clavilithes alone, most of the specimens are imperfect when they are still in situ in the Barton Clay. Although not completely crushed or flattened, they may show some minor crushing and the anterior canal is sometimes broken. There is quite a large range of sizes in the cliffs. At Hurst Spit the size range is more restricted to larger forms because smaller specimens probably do not survive the abrasion of the journey.

It is not known whether the reworked fossil gastropods have been significantly transported onward offshore from Hurst Spit. Some might have been moved towards the Shingles Bank by the strong ebb current, which is capable of moving the finer flint shingle.

Go back to top


For more historic coastal information see:

History of Coast Erosion at Barton, Highcliffe and Christchurch Bay, (with a chronological record).

Chesil Beach, storms and hurricanes(with a chronological record)

Hengistbury Head and Mudeford Spit, with a record of erosional history

Hypothetical evolution of Hurst Spit, Hampshire


1366 - Very Rapid Coast Erosion at Highcliffe, Christchurch Bay

To judge from the following historical record in Samuel (undated), there seems to have been great land loss in the 14th century. Wallace (1999) suggested that from 1250 to 1425 there was a rapid rise in sea-level and tidal maximum causing great land loss along the South Coast of England and in the Netherlands. [Note: Some of the idea's of Wallace seem quite original and challenging, and he put forward some interesting ideas; however, academic historians are not necessarily convinced by his theories, so I am told. Although a geologist and not at all an historian, I have personally questioned, many years ago a "Roman Harbour" theory at Selsey Bill, that I thought was merely a geological structure. On the other hand he has rightly emphasised the transport of pebbles or small boulder by seaweed and written a paper on the subject. I believe that although his work has to be treated with caution it is stimulating and original and well-worth reading!]

At Highcliffe, adjacent to the Chewton Bunny, Christchurch priory provided 40 acres compensation for land loss to local villeins. The loss must have been at least 40 acres within an easily memorable time. An acre is about 4000 square metres. If a strip 2 acres wide and 20 acres long was lost then the erosion would have been about 126 metres landward. If the strip was one acre wide and 40 acres long then the erosion would have been about 63 metres. These would be minimum figures. If the time was say 10 years then the erosion rate would have been at least 6 metres per annum, which is about 6 times the figure for the maximum erosion rate in Christchurch Bay in recent times. It could have been more than this.

A summary of the information is quoted below. The full document is a manuscript in the British Library - T16, part II, Folio 38a. It is in Latin, but a historian might be able to obtain from it a clearer picture of the ravages of the sea at that time.

[Because of major loss of land around Highcliffe by coastal erosion of Barton Clay -] "Summary: Christchurch Priory has granted its villeins of South Chewton forty acres in lots to the west of Chewton Mill in the thirty-first year of King Edward's reign (1366), in return for which the men have paid two marks as entry fee and are renting each acre at two-pence payable annually at the Feast of St. Giles: therefore they are not to be charged because of these acres, but neither are they to be excused from services which they did before this present concession; they may never claim compensation from the Priory for any of their land waste by the sea, nor relief from gifts previously owing by custom to the Priory: and if it is necessary to move their homes owing to marine devastation the men agree to rebuild at their own expense on the forty acres.

Rapid erosion at this time would have provided an ample supply of beach shingle for major accretion at the end of Hurst Spit. However the erosion of the local cliffs would have been accompanied by a substantial landward retreat of Hurst Spit. At about this time the spit probably moved backwards quite rapidly before establishing a fairly stable situation, with only slow retreat, from Henry VIII's time (about 1540) to the present

Go back to top


1703 - Daniel Defoe's Great Storm or Hurricane

Two great storm have drastically changed the coast in the Wessex Region and undoubtedly severely affected the Hurst Castle Spit. One of these was the 1703 storm. It took place on the 26 November 1703 (Defoe, 1705). It is a famous event that destroyed most of the windmills in England. It is considered to have changed the mouth of the Bealieu Estuary in the relatively sheltered waters of the Solent by forming a new spit. According to Legg (1999) this had been recorded in parish registers as: "The great storm, both at sea and land, the greatest man knew in England was on the 26th day of November in the year 1703". This storm continued over several days.

In this storm the Eddystone light was destroyed and all its occupants drowned, and within the first six hours of the storm the Royal Navy had lost twelve ships and over 1700 men. In all some 8,000 people were killed and thousands more injured. The author Daniel Defoe was in London at the time, and he used his own experiences of "this terrible Providence" as material for what became his first full-length book, The Storm, which he published the following year. Richard Hamblyn suggests that this great storm was a hurricane that was thermally boosted in its passage from North America to Britain.

I have no specific information on the effects of this storm on Hurst Castle Spit, but since it changed the coast within the West Solent it is certain to have had a major effect on the spit. It is likely that the spit retreated significantly, but there appears to be no definate evidence of this. Captain Greenville Collins' chart of 1693, a version of which shown above does not indicate drastic changes, but unfortunately it is not accurate to the level of detail required.

It was to be 121 years before a storm of comparable magnitude hit the coast of southern England.

Go back to top


1717 - Construction of Sea Defences at Hurst Castle

A revetment and groyne, referred to as the "New Wharfe" was built at Hurst Castle in 1717 because of coast erosion (Heygate, 1920 referred to by Nicholls and Webber (1987a).

Go back to top


1742-1908 Stability of Point of the Deep.

The Point of the Deep appears to have been stable between 1742 and 1908, followed by rapid accretion to the present ( (Nicholls and Webber, 1987a).

Go back to top


1749-1757 Surges in the Beaulieu Estuary, Hampshire

Mr. J.J. Greenwood, the New Forest historian, has informed me that there is the following information about tidal surges in the Beaulieu river causing serious damage (From Estate Managers records, Northants RO, MB W14-18):
16 January, 1749.
30 November, 1750. This was the highest surge ever remembered at that location.
11 December, 1755.
October, 1757.

Go back to top


1821 December 20, Hurricane at Keyhaven, Hampshire

Keyhaven inundated. Mr J.J. Greenwood drew attention to this record in the diary of Col. Peter Hawker (Payne-Galloway, 1893).

There was a newspaper report on the 7th January 1822. "During the late gales from the SSE the sea ran so tremendously high that the village of Keyhaven was completely inundated. The inhabitants were driven from their first floors, and the breakers ran so high in the very streets of the village that at one time the small boats could not venture to row from house to house." (article kindly contributed by Mr. J.J. Greenwood).

Go back to top


1824 - "The Great Gale" - the English Channel Hurricane and Storm Surge

English Channel Hurricane of November 1824 - Map showing the effects on Devon, Dorset and Hampshire

An unusual hurricane and storm surge, known at the time as "The Great Gale" or "The Outrage", took place in the night of 22-23 Novemeber 1824 and is quite well-documented. The was a hurricane and storm surge greatly affected Devon and Dorset (See the Chesil Beach storms webpage ). It is notable for destroying the breakwater at Plymouth, flooding over the Chesil Beach, drowning many people as Chiswell, Portland and for raising the level of the Fleet Lagoon by about 7 m. It had serious effects at Sidmouth, Lyme Regis, Bridport, Fleet Lagoon, Portland, Weymouth, Poole and Christchurch, smashing sea-defences, breaking over barrier beaches and flooding low-lying towns. Major wave action, with winds from the S and the SSW, was combined with storm surge causing a rise in sea-level of about 2 or more metres (a similar but worse event, rather like the effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, occurred at St. Petersburg (Leningrad) earlier in November 1824).

This storm and surge had a drastic effect on the Hurst Spit (and no doubt on the Barton and Milford coast), yet the castle survived it. Sir Charles Lyell, the famous geologist, geological tutor of Charles Darwin and friend of Queen Victoria, lived in the New Forest (at Cadnam). He wrote in 1835 ( Lyell, 1835), some time afterwards, that "in the great storm of November 1824, this bank of shingle (the Hurst Spit) was moved bodily forward for forty yards (roughly 40 metres) towards the northeast [i.e. towards the marshes and estuary]; and certain piles which served to mark the boundaries of two manors were found, after the storm, on the opposite side of the bar."

When the spit was moved 40 yards, the clay foundations were exposed. An interesting aspect is that the spit lost shingle in this event. Shingle from the beach was strewn over the marshes around Lymington (Ward, 1922). This is an indication of just what might happen at some time in the future. Total destruction of the spit by a hurricane or several hurricanes, that is more than mere flattening, would cause major transport of shingle towards Lymington. The estuary of the Lymington River is remarkable in relation to other Solent and south coast estuaries. It is the one of the few southerly-directed estuaries in the region that is straight (Ward, 1922). Most, such as the Beaulieu River Estuary, the Axe Estuary, the Bridport or West Bay, Bridport, estuary (before artificial interference), Southampton Water etc. have spits of gravel on their western sides. These deflect the estuaries eastward. Many small ones such as Bourne Gap (near Lepe), Titchfield Haven have been closed. At present the Lymington River Estuary does not have a shingle spit and, indeed, it has no shingle of the western side. When and if Hurst Spit is destroyed by marine action then it is likely that shingle beach will develop on the west (Pennington Marshes) side. Eventually, without human intervention this may deflect the estuary to a mouth near Pylewell Point, so that it resembles the Beaulieu River Estuary. Thus the survival of Hurst Spit in something like its present form is necessary to maintain the present form of the estuary at Lymington. Drastic coastal changes are inevitable sooner or later, though.

In the hurricane of 1824, Keyhaven was inundated and there was serious damage here and, as noted above, a major effect on Hurst Spit. Mr J.J. Greenwood drew attention to a record in the diary of Col. Peter Hawker (Payne-Galloway, 1893). There were other gales in 1824 and a poor house was swept away.

Many other storms have occurred, of course, and there has been serious damage in 1989, but there has been nothing on the scale of the 1824 and earlier 1703 great storms. Sea defences and housing developments rarely taken into account these great storms of the past which may only repeat after hundreds of years. No-one knows when the next storm of 1703 or 1824 magnitude will happen, but, of course, it will happen. When it does it will impact on a coast which is now much more developed and on a coast where the natural shingle supply to Hurst Castle has been cut. Some sea defences are likely to survive and reduce damage in places; rock armour may be quite effective in retarding the advance of the sea. Inevitably, though, there will be significant coastal destruction in Christchurch Bay (and elsewhere) and the possible breach of Hurst Castle Spit when the great storm eventually strikes.

Go back to top


1836 - November Keyhaven Flood

Keyhaven was inundated. Mr J.J. Greenwood drew attention to a record in the diary of Col. Peter Hawker (Payne-Galloway, 1893).

Go back to top


1840 November 13, Hurricane Breached Hurst Spit

"the water, the water - for God's sake, get up, Sir."

Mr J.J. Greenwood drew attention to a record in the diary of Col. Peter Hawker (Payne-Galloway, 1893) that a hurricane breached Hurst Spit. Similar trouble happened on 15 and 18th of November.

An article in the Hampshire Advertiser - Anonymous (1840), describes the breaching of Hurst Spit near the Seagrass Lane end in November 1840, resulting in the highest flood known at Keyhaven. The breach was artificially repaired in an emergency operation using marl. Just a few days later there was another hurricane, this one the worst ever remembered. That caused more flooding at Keyhaven, but the repaired spit was not breached. Had the repair not been made it was thought that the spit would have been lost. In fact it survived until flattened in 1989 when it extensive rebuilt as an artificial structure.

Storm effects in the 1840s and thereabouts might have been a factor with regard to good fossil collectin. In the 1840s to 1850s good vertebrate remains including the Hampshire Alligator, Diplocynodon hantoniensis were being found in the are of Taddiford and eastward in Hordle cliff by the collectors for the Marchioness of Hastings (see Hordle Cliff webpage). This was one of the source area of gravel for Hurst Spit. This area was not being eroded much in the 1960,70, and 80s but was an area of accumulation of shingle. It now being to be eroded again to some extent, from the western part eastward.

Go back to top


1877 - January - Storm Surge Floods Lymington

On the First of January, 1877, a southwesterly storm associated with an exceptionally high tide caused a storm surge that flooded parts of Southampton. The same storm surge caused a tidal flood at Lymington (Davison et al. 1993).

Go back to top


1867-1982 - Rapid Recession

Coastal recession at Hurst Spit, Hampshire, from 1867-1982, after Nicholls and Webber, 1987

The maximum recession rate was 1.5 metres per annum according to Nicholls and Webber (1987). This is a high figure for the Wessex coast. At Barton the Barton Clay cliffs have receded at about 1 metre per annum.

Go back to top


1882 - "Tidal Wave"

I particularly thank Jeremy Greenwood (New Forest History) for the following information, which he found in the following, rather obscure, publication:
Cole, A. 1926. Postmaster of Milford on Sea. Some Further Recollections of Milford, no. 23. Milford-on-Sea Record Society: Occasional Magazine, Volume 3, no 4, 1926.

"In September, 1882, a tidal wave broke on the beach at Sturt filling up a considerable portion of Sturt Pond and the outlet, the salt water came up the Dane Stream, killing the fish, roach, carp, etc., and destroyed many of the apple trees in the gardens abutting on the stream. A new cutting was made near the original, but this soon filled up and the present one [in 1926] was made."


Incidently the 1810 or 1811 map (reproduced by Cassini) shows the Dane Stream flowing to the southeast into Mount Lake (the channel in the marshes). There is a pond at Sturt only about a quarter of the size of the present Sturt Pond. The 1885 Map, (as apparently used a base map for the 1926 Geological Survey Map of the Isle of Wight) shows Sturt Pond at about its present size and shape and with a cutting close to the bank. Confirmation of the shape and position of the pond and cutting in 1882 is really needed.

The important matter is that the "tidal wave" was strong enough to move a considerable portion of beach shingle into the pond and also cover the outlet channel. Therefore, at least in this part the effect was almost as severe as that caused by storm action causing sheet-overwash in 1989.

So was it really a storm or was a "tidal wave" or tsunami? Some searching for some records online for other reports of a tsunami in the region or of a nearby earthquake was not successful. There was apparently a "heavy sea" at Boulogne on the 18th September 1882. (see: J. Lambert and M. Terrier - Historical tsunami database for France and Overseas Territories. Online.). In 1882 (date unknown) there was a tsunami at La Rochelle on the west coast of France. On the 7th September 1882 there was a major tsunami at Panama that killed 62 people.

Perhaps of more significance is the fact that the year 1882 was a notable year for tropical hurricanes in the Atlantic and that these went on into September. See 1882 - Atlantic Hurricane Season. They caused tidal surges in America. A large "tidal wave" resulting from a distant Atlantic Hurricane reaching Hurst Spit seems a possibility. However, why is there not a record of a "tidal wave" at the Chesil Beach or Lyme Regis for September 1882 (or have I missed one). It should be noted, though, that there were high tides at Boscastle, Truro, Wadebridge and Padstow at the end of September and in early October 1882 and that they caused flooding. (Incidently, the year of 1882 was also notable for the Great Comet; it became very bright in September 1882, but this was in the southern hemisphere!). Unfortunately, the problem of the Hurst Spit "tidal wave" of September 1882, which changed the Sturt area, remains unexplained.

Go back to top


1885 - Removal of Shingle at Sturt

I again thank Jeremy Greenwood (New Forest History) for the following historic information about Hurst Spit shingle.

Cole, A. 1926. Postmaster of Milford on Sea. Some Further Recollections of Milford, no. 23. Milford-on-Sea Record Society: Occasional Magazine, Volume 3, no 4, 1926.

"About this time [1885] Peterson’s Tower [Sway Tower] was built. Most, if not all, the shingle for this, and much more concrete for other buildings there, was taken from Milford beach near Sturt, for months. Fifteen to twenty carts could be seen daily at this work. It was then held that this caused a danger to Milford, - but I do not think so, as much of the shingle is withdrawn by the tides with a continuance of north and east winds. [However] it is washed back again when the wind changes to south-west."

Go back to top


1902 - Construction of the White House at Milford

The White House at Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, formerly a seaside residence of the Walker-Munro family, and later a children's  hospital

At Milford-on-Sea, the most impressive feature of the sea-front is the White House. This was built in 1902 by the Walker-Munro family, colliery millionaires of Rhinefield House in the New Forest. This summer sea-side residence became a children's hospital from 1938 to 1983, and in 1999 was restored by Colten Developments Ltd. It is a nice building of historic interest. It is also of geomorphological significance as marker with regard to coastline recession and longshore drift of gravel, and is referred to again below (see 1938 ).

Go back to top


1897 - March - Solent Storm

On Wednesday, 3rd March, 1897, a great storm caused devastation on the south coast and in the Solent (Davison et al. 1993).

Go back to top


1908 Accretion at Point of the Deep (North Point).

After a stable phase from 1742 rapid accretion commenced at the Point of the Deep or North Point in 1908 and continued to the present ( (Nicholls and Webber, 1987a). Why has this happened? (Nicholls and Webber reported that shingle was extracted from the active recurve between 1694 and the early part of the 20th century. There was also some extraction of sand and shingle at Milford-on-Sea in the 19th and early part of the 20th century, but, although this created washover sites, the volume was small compared to littoral drift. Nicholls and Webber (1987a) suggest that extraction, mainly at the recurve, approximately balanced littoral drift and that this was the reason for the stability of the Point of the Deep until 1908. Of course, it is possible that some other factor is also involved such as some changes in the rate of coast erosion in Christchurch Bay.

Go back to top


1916 - Sea Flooding at Mudeford.

It is not known what affect there was on Hurst Spit or Chesil Beach or elsewhere. The 1916 Atlantic Hurricane Season (USA etc) is discussed in: Wikipedia - 1916 Atlantic Hurricane Season. The local sea flooding at Mudeford, might be related to the remains of Atlantic storms.

See also: Wikipedia. "Storm Tides of the North Sea. 1916, January 13 - 14, Zuiderland flood Netherlands, 16 casualties and about 300 square km flooded around the Zuiderzee. This flood led to the construction of the Afsluitdijk, creating the IJsselmeer."

Notes from newspaper re Mudeford Spit, Dorset, England - after Hoodless, W.A. (2005). Hengistbury Head (book).

"Raging seas tearing over low sandbank." "Beat high over Haven Inn". "Enterprize Tea Room completely demolished and swept away." "Water beating against houses at the Haven" "Waves breaking all around making it impossible for inmates to venture of doors. Mrs Cutler and three children unable to get out of the door owing to raging surf sweeping around the house."

Go back to top


1932 - Beach at the White House, Milford, and comparison with later recession

Comparison of the coast at the White House, from 1932-2001, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire

A wide and high beach in front of The White House at Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, in 1932 before the coast was affected by sea defences

Sea defences at Milford-on-Sea seen in October 2003


Spume at the eastern out-house of the White House, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, on the 27th October, as the St. Jude Storm (night of 27-28th October) is approaching


The seafront at Milford-on-Sea is important to Hurst Spit because it is the feeder area, through which in the past the shingle from the Barton and Hordle cliffs reached the spit. A aerial photograph of the White House, the conspicous white building to the west of the small town (and mentioned above), was taken in 1932. It shows the two lookout or viewpoint buildings aligned with the back of the beach. As mentioned above, it was built in 1902. Its exact relationship to the beach at that time is not known, but since coast erosion here has been progressive it is probable that the beach was even wider or further to south in 1902 than in 1932 . Notice, incidently, that in 1838 the narrow concrete wall, oblique to the coast, was already in existence already. Perhaps, there had already been some threat of coast erosion. I wonder why it is not parallel to the sea frontage of the building; perhaps it was intended to trap the southeast-moving gravel.

In 1938, unlike the present day, there was a wide beach that seems not to have been significantly damaged or destroyed by sea defences to the west. Shingle could then pass by long-shore drift from west to east (in accordance with prevailing southwesterly winds) and supply Hurst Spit.

The photograph of the White House on the 6 May 2001 by the Channel Coastal Observatory, shows a very different situation. Much rock armour has been placed in front, and there is more of this further west. Now shingle cannot easily pass the various obstructions, of which this is only one. In any case it cannot proceed further southeast because of major sea defences at the Milford end of Hurst Spit.

Go back to top


1953 - Sea Encroachment at Milford-on-Sea

Newspaper report: Anonymous (1953). Sea encroaches 30-40 feet. New Milton Advertiser, 25 July 1953, p.1. Article not seen, but referred to by Delair (2007).

Go back to top


1954 - November - Hurst Spit Breach and Chesil Beach Damage

A severe storm raged over southern England for two days in November 1954. In the nine o'clock news on the BBC radio on the 27th November 1954 there was report of serious destruction on the Chesil Beach. See the Chesil Storms webpage for more details. As sometimes happens (e.g. 1824) damage to the Chesil Beach and Hurst Spit occurs at about the same time.

Regarding Hurst Spit, there is a newspaper report: Anonymous (1954). Houses destroyed by floods: terrific seas burst through Hurst Shingle Bank. New Milton Advertiser, 4 December 1954, p.1. Article not seen, but referred to by Delair (2007). This article presumably refers to the same storm that affected the Chesil Beach.

The 1954 storm affected other places. At Lymington, Hampshire from 26 to the 30 November 1954 the sea came over the west bank of the harbour five nights in succession. There is reference to Spring tides, an east wind and much rainwater. Tidal flooding to 2 and a half feet of water was noted in the semi-basement of the "Smugglers Haunt". The floor of the Lymington Town Sailing Club was covered with 2 inches of water (see Chitty, J. 1983, The River is Within Us: A Maritime History of Lymington, Belhaven Publisher, 250 pp.)

There is more specific information regarding the Chesil Beach. In the nine o'clock news on the BBC radio on the 27th November 1954, it was said that:

"Chesil Beach had been breached in 30 places" (Arkell, 1956). The storm began about 7am on 26 November 1954, and increased in violence all day. The Shambles light-ship recorded winds of gale force 8. The Dorset Daily Echo for the 27 November states that by 11pm on the 26th "Boiling seas, surging over and up through the Chesil Beach swamped the main road.. A stretch from Ferry Bridge to Portland Square lay under water up to a depth of 4 ft. in places... Wyke coastguards counted 30 holes where the seas had worked through the Chesil Beach... A stretch of wall about 40 ft in length skirting the oil tanks was smashed down."

Arkell argued that the beach was not actually breached but that water burst out from the back of the bank from what are locally known as "caverns". Wave tops and spray spilled over the top but most of the water came through. One of the caverns was 10 ft deep and 100 ft across (Arkell, 1956) .

Go back to top


1958 - Milford Groynes, Walls and Washover Fans

The Milford end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, as seen in aerial view in 1958

Go back to top


1963 - Accretion at Hurst Point

Build-up or progradation of shingle at Hurst Point, east of Hurst Castle developed to eastern end of the military jetty so that thereafter it was no longer useable by boats.

Go back to top


1965-1966 - Emplacement of Rock Armour at Milford, Western End of Spit

The stretch of the bank from the Milford seawall for 600m towards the southeast was armoured by imported rock between 1965 and 1966 (Wright, 1998). In 1984 it was decided to build a small rock groyne at the end of the rock armouring. On 16 and 17 December 1989 southwesterly storms combined with a surge of excess of 1 metre flattened an 800m length of the spit. Amongst other measures, such as much resupply of shingle, the already rock-armoured western section of the Spit was strengthened by a second layer of armourstone over the existing structure according to Wright (1998). This paper includes a photograph showing preparatory work taking place in 1996 before the new rock armour was deposited in place. At this stage the rock armour was waiting ready in a very large pile on the beach. The larvikite discussed below is presumably this second layer of armourstone.

Go back to top


1968-1982 - Very Rapid Recession of Hurst Beach

The recession of Hurst Beach, the main part of Hurst Spit, increased significantly after 1968, attaining a maximum rate of 3.5 metres per annum in the period 1968-1982 Nicholls and Webber (1987b). This represents two to three times the previous rate. It is not clear whether it is entirely due to increased shingle starvation because of the Milford sea defences, or whether some change in wave conditions has been a factor.

Go back to top


1979 - February (13th?) - Breach and Washover

Site of washover and breaching of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, at the southeastern end of rock armour sea defences, 1979

Breach beginning to develop at Hurst Spit, Hampshire in February, 1979

Breach and washover at Hurst Spit, Hampshire in February, 1979

A brief report in the Southern Evening Echo for Thursday 15 February, and by Keith Bloodworth was entitled:

Cruel Sea Breaches Hurst Shingle Bank

"Hurst shingle bank at the entrance to the Solent was breached by heavy seas yesterday and bulldozers stood by in case of any further break-throughs. Twenty foot waves rolled in from the Christchurch Ledge" and lunchtime's high water was the highest of the week. Huge waves crashed over the spit. Flooding was reported along the Milford sea front near the Marine Cafe and shingle was hurled into the road.
The breach was at New Lane, Keyhaven, the weakest part of the spit. New Forest Council have just finished re-building and reinforcing the bank with hundreds of tons of stone after the December [1978] gales when the spit was breached in several spots and the bank was pushed backwards in places up to 40ft [12m]."

Presumbly this was related to the overtopping of the Chesil Beach on the 13th February 1979 and the flooding of Chiswell.

Go back to top


1989 - December - MAJOR EVENT! - Sheet Overwash and Flattening of Hurst Beach

Destruction by storms of Hurst Beach in 1989, Hurst Spit, Hampshire

The most severe damage to Hurst Spit occurred in the winter of 1989, particularly the 16th - 17th December. The storms not only overwashed and broke though in individual locations, as in 1979 above, but overwashed on a large scale as "sheet overwash". The top of the beach for a considerable distance was washed over to the saltmarshes behind. The beach was flattened so as to be no longer a barrier. This disastrous sheet overwash is also referred to as "sluicing overwash".

At this stage Hurst Spit was almost in its death throes. Sea defence work to repair it for short term survival cost £440,000. The five million pound stabilisation scheme which took place in 1996-7, and is discussed elsewhere in this webpage, was a follow-up to this near loss of the spit. It is far from totally safe, however, and now the main bank is an artificial feature that requires periodic maintenance by adding gravel.

Davison et al (1993) wrote:
"The two mile long shingle spit on which Hurst Castle is perched suffered terribly. Jutting far out into the Solent, it was created by wind and tide and now giant waves were claiming it back tearing out its central section, trapping two fishermen for almost 20 hours. They were eventually airlifted from Hurst Castle. Ironically, £50,000 had recently been spent on sea defences to this enormous natural barrier."

Go back to top


1996-1997 - MAJOR WORK -Sea Defences - Main Stabilisation Programme

Map of sea defences and other features at Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Hurst Spit, Hampshire, stabilisation works, 1996-7, New Forest District Council Newsletter

The bank which had been flattened in 1989 was new defended by a delivery of larvikite igneous rock from Norway (further discussed below), and by the construction of an artificial high bank for about 2 kilometres of dredged shingle. The shingle bank was rebuilt artificially so as to resemble the original natural shingle bank, and this, in general, was successful. The topic of the reconstruction and addition of rock armour is discussed in some detail in a separate section below.

Go back to top


2006 - October Gales

Gale force wind causes strong wave action at the landward end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire and the adjacent Milford coast, October 2006

Waves driven by a gale of the 1st October 2006, Hurst Spit, Hampshire

There were gales for much of two days at the beginning of October 2006. Although the sea was impressive to watch, there does not seem to have been much effect on the main shingle bank.

Go back to top


2007 - a 1 in 19 year storm, and washover threat near Milford-on-Sea

The winter of 2006-2007 was characterised by relative lack of cold, frosty weather and the common occurrence of depressions and fronts coming in from the Atlantic. There were often gales and heavy rain, although the spit was not greatly damaged.

We now examine a specific problem area between the Milford-on-Sea sea front car park and the eastern end of Hurst Spit with massive rock armour sea defences. Look again at the old aerial photograph from 1958 above, and observe that obvious washover fans extended down to Sturt Pond from near this particular area. This has long been a vulnerable washover area.

Area of washover between Milford-on-Sea sea front car park and the larvikite rock armour of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, aerial view in 2001

The Milford-on-Sea end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, in a 1 in 19 year storm, showing a particular area that is vulnerable to washover

The effects of a storm, as observed at Milford-on-Sea at the western end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, on 18 January 2007

Keyhaven Marshes flooded by a combination of high tide and a storm surge, at the back of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 18 January 2007

On Thursday 18 January 2007 there were storm force winds mainly from the west, rather than southwest. This storm was quite intense with a wind strength of 90 miles per hour having been recorded on the cliff top above the Needles, Isle of Wight. Many trees were blown down, and ferrys to the Isle of Wight cancelled. The storm was regarded as of a 1 in 19 years type.

At the western end of Hurst Spit much sea-spray was being thrown over the larvikite sea defences. A little further west, at the eastern end of the sea-front car park at Milford-on-Sea a potential problem area was clearly shown. Here the beach is sediment starved because of the unfortunate presence of sea defences immediately to the west, in the area of the White House. In addition the sea wall is relatively low, and certainly much lower than the top of the reconstituted Hurst Spit beach with its larvikite rock armour.

The abundant sea spray here, together with beach shingle having been thrown onto the car park, indicates this as a weak place in the sea defences, easily overcome by a storm of greater strength than this 1 in 19 year example. Confirmation of this is shown by a small but continuously flowing stream of seawater into Sturt Pond, which was fairly high in level. The washover stream was only about a metre wide and was easily crossed on foot, although the repeated heavy spray was a problem to the walker. When a storm of greater intensity occurs, especially a repeat of the 1824-type hurricane, this area is very likely to be seriously overwashed and impassable. Any escape on foot from the Hurst Beach at such a time would have to be via New Lane if the footbridge proved to be passable and flooding was not too severe.

The limited low area between the built-up Hurst Spit and the higher ground west of Milford has has some similarities, on a much smaller scale, to the low part of Chiswell on the Isle of Portland where the Chesil Beach is well-known for serious overwashing (and now has a flood channel to carry away the water). However, the sea-front at Milford does not have any record of flooding events on the Chiswell scale.

At the same time as storm waves were breaking here, the Keyhaven Marshes were completely submerged by the (11am) high tide. They are relatively sheltered by Hurst Beach but it is probable that there some degree of storm surge and rise of sea-level in the Solent. As shown in the photograph, New Lane was flooded at the low part near the marshes.

Go back to top


2010 - 2011 - Flooding in the Moat

The moat will probably slowly flood, with rising sea-level, at  Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, photo 2010

No drastic changes were notices in September 2010. The caponier (gun defence feature) in the moat contained several centimetres of water and could not be walked into from the castle easily. Around it marsh plants such as Atriplex portulacoides are flourishing. There is also much bright green, Enteromorpha algae. It is expected that with rising sea-level this area around the caponier will progressively flood with sea water.

A high tide on 6th August 2011 causes flooding in the moat at Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Since the above was written in 2010, a high water level was noticed in the moat on the afternoon of 6th July 2011. This tide had covered almost all the salt marshes in the Keyhaven area behind the spit.

Go back to top


2010 - Onward - Shoreline Management Plan

Poole and Christchurch Bays, Shoreline Management Plan - SMP

See these important documents on the plans for the coastal management or shoreline management of the area. Summarised contents of a version are given below and look for the section of interest. However, this SMP is not the final version, and there will be an update. If you do not find it directly from the links here, search by Google etc for the latest version, using the keywords - "Poole Christchurch SMP".

Poole and Christchurch Bays Coastal Management Group. 2010. (SMP - Shoreline Management Plan)
Poole and Christchurch Bays Coastal Management Plan (or SMP - Shoreline Management Plan). Draft SMP2. Draft version of the SMP, later to be replaced by final version (see this when it is available. SMP2 is due to be published in April 2010.). Available online as PDFs at Poole and Christchurch Bays Coastal Management Plan.

Contents: Draft SMP2
Section 1, Introduction
Section 2, Environmental Assessment
Section 3, Basis for Development of the Plan
Section 4, Appraisal of Options and Rationale for Preferred Plan:
Section 4.1, Introduction.
Section 4.2, Policy Development Zone 1 Central and Eastern Sections of Christchurch Bay (Hurst Spit to Friars Cliff).
Section 4.3, Policy Development Zone 2 Christchurch Harbour and Central Poole Bay (Friars Cliff to Flag Head Chine).
Section 4.4, Policy Development Zone 3 Poole Harbour and Associated Coastline (Flag Head Chine to Handfast Point, including Poole Harbour).
Section 4.5, Policy Development Zone 4 Swanage (Handfast Point to Durlston Head).
Section 5, Summary of Preferred Plan and Implications
Section 6, Policy Summary, including Policy Summary Map.
Appendices (all documents open in a new window)
Appendix A, SMP Development.
Appendix B, Stakeholder Engagement.
Appendix C, Baseline Process Understanding, including Coastal Process Report and Flood and Erosion Mapping. Accessible from a separate page including No Active Intervention (NAI) and With Present Management (WPM) assessments, and summaries of the data used in assessments.
Appendix D, Natural and Built Environment Baseline (Thematic Review).
Appendix E, Issues and Objective Evaluation.
Appendix F, Strategic Environmental Assessment.
Appendix G, Scenario Testing.
Appendix H, Economic Appraisal.
Appendix I, Estuary Assessment.
Appendix J, Habitat Regulation Assessment - Appropriate Assessment.
Appendix K, The Metadatabase, GIS and Bibliographic Database is provided to the operating authorities on CD. It will be included in the final SMP.
Appendix L, Water Framework Directive (WFD)
Appendix M, Review of Coastal Processes and Associated Risks at Hengistbury Head.

. HISTORIC RECORD - continued

2013-2014 Winter Storms

(See photographs above)

St. Jude's Storm on the night of the 27-28th October 2013 caused much erosion on the seaward side. There was some washover and some gullies were cut on the marsh side with small washover fans at the base. Winds of 90 mph were recorded at the Needles.
Another bad storm took place on the night of the 6-7th January 2014. This was characterised by very high spring tides and gale-force winds. Very large waves came in from the Atlantic Ocean towards the Chesil Beach. It affected the form of the Chesil Beach by steepening it and the warning siren was sounded at Chiswell. At Hurst Spit the main effect was a steepening,cliffing and some erosion of the artificial gravel bank. Much material from the natural, reworked, lower beach in front of this seems to have been lost. The general effect was not disastrous but was another general attack on the beach with a significant percentage loss (rather similar to the effects of St. Jude's Storm). The top hard gravel surface (effectively a roadway to and from Hurst Castle) is being reduced in width. If a really major storm (like 1824 or even less serious) occurs the top artificial bank will be lost, at least in part.

My general impression is that the artificial gravel bank is now cliffed and under progresive destruction. There seems to be some progressive straightening of the Hurst beach because it is retreating on the seaward side of the bend. The second storm mentioned above gives an impression that shingle is being lost just southeast of the larvikite bank (see photograph above). This would be expected, since there is no longer any natural supply of shingle from the west.



Go back to top

SEA DEFENCE WORK (1997 etc - More Details)

Go back to top

Larvikite Sea Defences (Larvik Rock Armour or Armourstone from Norway)

Arrival of larvikite rock armour at Hurst Spit, Hampshire, probably in early 1997

Notice about rock armour on a monolith of larvikite at Hurst Spit, Hampshire

At the top is a photograph of a monolith of larvikite with a notice briefly explaining the origin of the larvikite rock armour sea defences at the Milford end of Hurst Spit. The second image shows the arrival of the larvikite. The monolith can be seen above the bridge at the southeastern end of the stretch of rock armour. The notice is rather damaged but it states as follows:

"Hurst Spit is a shifting shingle barrier beach protecting the western approach to the Solent. It also shelters large areas of saltmarsh and mud flats which are of value in themselves and provide much needed habitats for rare species.

The project has successfully balanced the varying and sometimes conflicting demands of conservation with the operational need to provide stability so that the Spit will continue to protect these important areas.

The contract was carried out between August 1997 and January 1997. It involved the transport by barge and placing of 124,000 tonnes of rock largely from Norway, and the placing of 300,000 cubic metres of shingle dredged from the Shingle Banks. Further placing of shingle is planned at intervals to replenish natural losses.

Client - New Forest District Council.
Consultant - Engineering Division New Forest District Council.
Contractors - Westminster Dredging Company Ltd.
Dean and Dyball Construction Ltd.,
ARC Marine Ltd.,
Stema Shipping (UK) Ltd."

Westward view of the larvikite rock armour, with the Yellow Horned Poppy, at the Milford end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Larvikite rock armour at the western end of Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

Concrete tetrapod, relic of older sea-defences on the seaward side of rock armour at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

Fresh blue larvikite, used as rock armour, at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

A block of grey, rather weathered larvikite in rock armour at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

SEA DEFENCE WORK - continued

4.1.1. Introduction to the Hurst Rock Armour

At the Milford end of Hurst Castle Spit, rock armour has been used quite extensively to protect the vulnerable area where the spit has almost broken through in the past. There has been some use of Portland Stone from the Isle of Portland, including cherty limestone and some Roach. There has been significant use of Carboniferous Limestone from the Mendip Hills, probably from Foster Yeoman Quarry near Shepton Mallet that has supplied stone to Barton-on-Sea for the same purpose. That at Barton has come from the Clifton Down Limestone. The larvikite is a relatively recent addition.

SEA DEFENCE WORK - continued

4.1.2 Introduction to Larvikite

Polished specimens of light and dark-coloured, Norwegian, larvikite, a rock type used for sea defences at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

Location maps for Larvic, source area for the Permian intrusive intermediate rock, larvikite

Particular conspicuous is the coarsely crystalline, bluish grey, igneous rock - Larvikite. The rock was termed larvikite (or laurvigite) by Brogger in 1890 after the town Larvik, not far from Oslo. This is the most important Norwegian quarried stone and there are about 20 quarries in the area. It is at the coast of the Skagerrak and is easily shipped across the North Sea to the UK or elsewhere. See the webpage of Stema Shipping Armourstone, who export larvikite.

Larvikite is very coarsely crystalline, like granite, but bluish-grey and darker than granite. It is quite hard and has no significant porosity. It shows the special feature of a beautiful blue schillerization (sparkling crystals). When polished it is often used for banks, pubs, shopfronts and for kitchen worktops. The main components, the feldspar shows cleavages, or minute fractures in the large crystals. There are also some dark, almost black mineral components.

Larvikite has been used for rock armour at Lyme Regis, in Norfolk (Waxham to Happisburg) and elsewhere.

Larvikite is a plutonic igneous rock; it originated as molten magma which has been intruded at depth during Carboniferous to Permian times (about 300 million years ago and round about the same time as the Dartmoor Granite) into the Oslo Graben. This downfaulted trough is an aulacogen (or failed arm) due to the Permo-Triassic extensional tectonics that preceded the development of the Atlantic Ocean. In other words the region has been pulled apart by plate-tectonic forces but the process did not continue so as to create an ocean.

For detailed information on larvikite particularly see the website by A.O. Larsen - The Langesundsfjord site; the minerals from the Norwegian syenite pegmatites.

4.1.3 Larvikite - Introduction to Mineral Composition

In simple terms it is a rock of Intermediate composition - that is partway in chemical composition between granite (a light-coloured rock - an acid rock, high in quartz and light-coloured) and gabbro (a basic rock, dark-coloured rock - without quartz but with dark iron and magnesium minerals). The conspicuous blue-grey crystals with the obvious cleavage are of plagioclase feldspar, a aluminium silicate with sodium and/or calcium. These form about 80% of the rock. Rather less obvious are crystals which in the field or the hand-specimen appear grey to almost black. These are of augite, amphibole and other mafic minerals and form about 20% of the rock. Unlike granite there is very little if any quartz.

Notice that the larvikite boulders have no xenoliths of incorporated country rock material. They are usually absent.

The large size of the crystals is the result of slow cooling of the magma deep underground, as in the case of granite. We will now consider it in a little more detail.

4.1.4 Larvikite - Classification within Plutonic Rocks

Classifying larvikite within the Intermediate plutonic rocks is not so simple. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the rocks vary in composition, and examination of the blocks at Hurst Spit will soon reveal how varied they are. Secondly the classification is dependent on the proportions of the different feldspars (a simple summary explanation of the of the feldspar family is given for reference below)

Summary classification of the Feldspar family

Streckeisen classification for the plutonic rocks with mafic minerals less than 90

Larvikite has, in the past, often been regarded as a type of syenite. Detailed studies, however, have shown that many larvikites are really monzonites. This is shown by the Streckeisen diagram above, which is also known as a QAPF diagram. It is used to classify igneous rocks based on mineralogic composition. The acronym, QAPF, stands for "quartz, alkali feldspar, plagioclase, feldspathoid (foid)", the the mineral groups used for classification in QAPF diagram. Q, A, P and F percentages are normalized, that is to say recalculated so that their sum is 100%. The diagram shows the relationship of syenite to monzonite.

[Should you prefer to use a simple version that ignores the felspathoids (the low-silica igneous minerals that would have formed feldspars if only more silica were present in the original magma) then see: Classification of Igneous Rocks - Project Alert NASA/CSU. The triangular or ternary diagram used is effectively the upper half of the Streckeisen diagram.]

The key factor is the composition of the minerals of the feldspar family. These are rather complex in larvikite because they show evidence of unmixing, that is separation of component constituents, during cooling. This produces a crystals that is referred to as a perthite. This is an intergrowth of two minerals and has exsolution lamellae that result from the unmixing. Strictly speaking, the exsolution fabric is so fine-grained in the case of larvikite that it is referred to as microperthite (and sometimes even as cryptoperthite - "hidden" perthite). The schillerization or the peculiar reflection from the crystals is due to the presence of very thin exsolution lamellae. The blue colour is an interference effect also resulting from the microperthite fabric.

However, to determine the overall composition of the feldspar both the main part of the feldspar and the exsolution lamellae must be identified and the overall modal composition calculated. As shown in more detail below, the feldspars are actually a very fine laminated mixture of K-feldspar (orthoclase) and plagioclase.

4.1.5. Larvikites - Larsen's Description

Larsen gives the following authoritive description of larvikite:
"Larvikite is medium to coarse-grained, sometimes with mafic and accessory minerals in interstices between the feldspar laths of 1 cm or more in size. The larvikites commonly display an orientational fabric caused by the parallel or subparallel alignment of the often characteristically rhomb-shaped feldpar individuals. The mineral assemblage is dominated by ternary feldspar
7 Ab 61 Or 32 - An 15 Ab 76 Or 8 sometimes with a core of partly resorbed plagioclase An 35 Ab 60 Or 5
(Neumann 1978). The feldspar is unmixed to a variety of perthite with a pronounced schillerizing effect which makes the rock an important and beautiful ornamental and building stone. Larvikite also contains small quantities of quartz or nepheline plus or minus olivine (or olivine pseudomorphs) + Ti-poor augite plus or minus kaersutitic hornblende + ilmenite + magnetite + apatite + zircon plus or minus biotite.."

4.1.5 Larvikite - Thin-Section Petrography

A thin-section of larvikite, a Norwegian rock used in sea defences at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

We will now examine a thin-section. This is in PPL, plane polarised light, after Hatch, Wells and Wells (1949) is provided above, but note that the colours shown are added and are schematic rather than accurate. Note that because larvikite varies greatly this is not necessarily typical.

The mafic minerals are very distinctive in thin section and occur in clots. Hatch, Wells and Wells (1949) commented that are more what would be expected in a basic rock like gabbro, rather than in this intermediate rock, for they include olivine, and purplish augite, strongly schillerized and irregularly rimmed with the bluish-to-green amphibole barkevikite. Lepidomelane, an iron-rich biotite moulds itself on irregular masses of opaque iron ore, magnetite. Apatite is a constant accessory in unusually large crystals, often euhedral, and this is obvious in the thin-section.

Go back to top

4.1.6 Larvikite - Hydrothermal Alteration.

There is some hydrothermal alteration and orange haematite staining. This was also noted on an OUGS East Anglia Branch field trip to larvikite rock armour led by Wendy Hamilton.

Go back to top

4.1.7 Larvikite - Diabase Intrusions

Intrusions of diabase, the dark rock, into larvikite, leaving only a small residual piece, rock armour at Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Contact of an intrusions of diabase, the dark rock, into larvikite, in rock armour at Hurst  Spit, Hampshire

At first sight the top image gives a false impression of an intruding vein of larvikite into dark bluish-grey, metamorphosed country rock. However, this is not the case. Notice that the supposed "vein" of larvikite has no chilled margin and that quite large crystals extend to the periphery. Now the larvikites in Norway are locally intruded by dykes of up to several meters of diabase or dolerite Stema Shipping Armourstone. The appearance of the finer-grained dark rock is compatible with diabase. One example clearly shows good feldpar laths if examined with a handlens. Now, if we look at the edge of the dark grey rock in the photograph there seem to be dark, finer grained margins. The dark grey rock is that of a dyke and these are its chilled margins.

The second, lower, image confirms the interpretation of the top one.

Go back to top

4.1.8 Larkivite - Syenite Pegmatites

Syenite pegmatite in larvikite rock armour at Hurst Spit, Hampshire

A pegmatite associated with larvikite in rock armour at the western end of Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

Some of the rock armour blocks contain pegmatite of intermediate composition and clearly related to the larvikite. They are easy to find. Here is a very striking variety of pegmatite with what I assume is euhedral augite (pyroxene). These black crystals, usually showing six faces in section, are zoned or skeletal with a light-coloured centre. There seem to two feldspars. One is the bluish-grey feldspar, as in the typical larvikite and the other is pinkish (orthoclase, microcline?).

The pegmatites seen at Hurst Castle Spit are probably smaller-scale examples of the syenite pegmatites that are notable features of the Larvic Plutonic Complex. A.O. Larsen has provided a website: The Langesundsfjord site; the minerals from the Norwegian syenite pegmatites. He states that the syenite pegmatites in the Larvik plutonic complex in the Oslo Region, Norway, are famous for their diversity of minerals. To date, 175 different mineral species have been found in these classic localities, and 23 species have their type locality in the district.

Some of the syenite pegmatites in the Larvik area are much larger than these, according to Larsen, some dykes attaining 10 to 20 metres in thickness. Feldspar crystals can reach up to 2 metres in size. Although the Hurst Spit examples are not on the same scale they may still contain some unusual minerals.

Colonisation of larvikite rock armour by algae, Patella and barnacles in the intertidal zone, Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Go back to top

4.1.9 Carboniferous Limestone Rock Armour.

Carboniferous Limestone rock armour with crinoid ossicles and, unusually, flaser-bedding and calcite-replaced evaporite nodules, Hurst Spit, Hampshire


There is a limited amount of Carboniferous Limestone rock armour, towards the southeastern end of the larvikite rock armour. There are some unusual rock types present in this Carboniferous material. One, shown above, contains flaser bedding and abundant reworked crinoid ossicles and also, surprisingly, some calcite replacements of gypsum or anhydrite nodules. Such nodules occur here and there in Carboniferous Limestone, but it is unusual to see them in a high-energy, flaser-bedded facies.

Go back to top

4.2 - Future Prospects of Hurst Spit

(including relevance to the future of the Lymington area)

The Lymington coast and beyond to Pylewell and Thorns Beach, a stretch of the West Solent, northern coast, partially protected by the present Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 2011

There is a low-energy, marshy coast from Keyhaven Marshes, through Pennington Marshes, past Lymington, the Pylewell Point, Sowley and the beginning of the Thorns Beach area. This is anomalous for the open Solent. Such low marshy coasts occur on the sheltered, western side of Southampton Water, and in the very restricted estuaries of Portsmouth Harbour, Langstone Harbour and Chichester Harbour. The southern part of the West Solent has cliffs of Tertiary strata in places but marshes are not developed except in creeks. The eastern Solent and Spithead coasts are subjected to significant wave action and have pebble beaches and spits and some low eroded cliffs (particularly in Bracklesham Bay and at Brownwich and Chilling near Lee-on-the-Solent). Thus the Lymington area is anomalous. It owes its special quiet, low-energy character to protection given by Hurst Spit. Sea-level is slowly rising and there is gradual loss of marshes by die-back of Spartina and by erosion. Thus the Lymington coastal area will slowly become a place of shingle beaches and low cliffs, with significant wave energy. If Hurst Spit is breached and partially destroyed, then the increase in erosion and cliff-devlopment in the Lymington area will be rapid as sea-waves gain access to the previously protected area. In turn, this will provide shingle that will travel eastward by longshore drift, eventually blocking or partially blocking the Beaulieu Estuary (which will close up like Titchfield Haven, a former estuary). Shingle spit development at Lymington can only happen if Hurst Spit is destroyed and its shingle transported north-east to Lymington. This could happen, but it is obvious that the Beaulieu Estuary is under greater threat, and in any case, it has already had substantial shingle transport towards the Needs Ore Point area.

Go back to top

5.1 Sturt Pond

[with pictures of Little Egrets and Turnstones]

Sturt Pond a flooded stream valley behind the landward end of Hurst Spit, Solent, Hampshire

The artificial drainage channel from Sturt Pond, at the northwestern end of  Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Sturt Pond is the flooded lowermost part of the valley of the Danes Stream, at Milford-on-Sea. The shingle spit has blocked its original exit to the south; an artificial channel has thus been cut through to the southeast so as to link it with Mounts Lake, a channel in the Keyhaven Marshes behind the spit. In the landward end of Mounts Lake (near the Sturt Pond outflow) at low tide you will probably see the Asian and African member of the Heron family, the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) which is now very common in the "globally-warmed" water of the Solent and other south of England estuaries. With it are Turnstones, Plovers, and Redshanks etc. The Keyhaven Marshes are popular amongst bird-watchers.

Little Egrets fishing in Mounts Lake near the outflow channel from Sturt Pond, Keyhaven Marshes and Hurst Spit, Hampshire

[Little Egrets picture above]

Turnstones feeding in amongst the pebbles at the high water edge, Hurst Spit, harbour side, landward end, adjacent to the footbridge, photographed from the bridge, 28th January 2016

[Turnstones picture above]


The artificial channel cuts through a low-level Pleistocene gravel terrace with brickearth on top. It is mainly the brickearth which is exposed in the banks of the channel. The gravel, which is believed to lie beneath has a top surface quite close to sea level. This is the Pennington Gravel of Allen and Gibbard (1994). It has been investigated from borehole samples from the Pennington Marshes Allen et al. (1996). The boreholes show a Pennington Upper and Lower Gravel. The upper gravel, presumably the one under the cultivated fields northwest of Keyhaven Marshes is probably Devensian.

Go back to top

5. LOCATIONS continued -
5.2 Beach at Western End of Hurst Castle

Another area of erosion is at the western end of Hurst Castle, that is at the western end of the West Wing. Here there are groynes and larvikite and limestone rock armour. There are erosional problems here in spite of this.

A small exposure of peat at western end of West Wing, Hurst Spit, in winter 1999-2000

In the winter of 1999-2000 there was some exposure of peat beneath the beach gravel at the western end of the West Wing, adjacent to the rock armour and brickwork relics. Erosion and retreat of the spit in a landward direction had exposed peat with wood remains. For more information on peat at Hurst Castle Spit see Nicholls and Clarke (1986) .

Go back to top

LOCATIONS continued -
Hurst Point
(southeastern end of spit, beyond Hurst Castle)

Hurst Point, east of Hurst Castle at Hurst Spit, Hampshire, with Ian West, 2007

Sea Kale growing on the subangular shingle at Hurst Point the southeastern end of Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

Ferry at Hurst Point, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, showing sandy shingle at low tide

Hurst Point is the southeastern end of Hurst Spit, that is in the area of the lighthouse, just beyond the castle. It is not the northern tip of the final recurved spit; that is North Point or Point of the Deep. It is easily accessible, either by walking down the artificial shingle bank and proceeding beyond the castle, or by taking the ferry from Keyhaven. Usually the ferry lands in an inlet from the harbour directly north of the castle, but if the tide is very low it sometimes lands at Hurst Point, as shown in a photograph above.

Hurst Point - Accretion in 1960-1980s?

Accretion of shingle at Hurst Point, Hurst Spit, Hampshire by 2003, aerial view

Aerial photographs showing accretion at the military jetty, Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 2001, courtesy of Channel Coastal Observatory

Accretion at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire, 23 August 2003

A warning about the edges of the pier that is now high and dry at the eastern end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Members of the Open University Geological Society examine the old jetty at Hurst Point, which is now high and dry, 2007.

Hurst Point, the eastern part, is an interesting area of accretion of shingle, and thus greatly contrasts with the erosional areas of the main Hurst Beach. This promontory has extended out so that the former military jetty, intended for shipping in ammunition, is now entirely on dry land. This accretion must have occurred before the present phase of limited shingle transport on the outer (southwest) side of the castle, where now there are groynes, rock armour and very little shingle transport.

On the 20th April 2007, I spoke to the captain of the small ferry from Keyhaven to Hurst Castle about the jetty. He told me that more than 40 years ago in 1963 he had managed to bring a medium-sized boat into this jetty before the major phase of shingle accretion. It was only just possible then and it was done with something of a bump on the shingle. He decided at the time this was the last chance to use this jetty. After that the beach built out beyond it.

Hurst Point - Erosion at the Southeast Corner

Aerial view of Hurst Castle and the Hurst Point area, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 5 July 2001, courtesy of Channel Coastal Observatory

Details of erosion near Hurst Point as seen in an aerial photograph of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 2001, courtesy of Channel Coastal Observatory, NOCS, Southampton

Erosion of the mud batteries at the southeastern end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, about 2000

Continued devastation of the southeastern Earth Batteries, old gun emplacements, at the southeastern end of Hurst Castle and Hurst Spit, Hampshire, November 2013

Debris of old timber groynes, rock armour and brickwork of Victorian batteries, southeast end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 2007

Erosion of Portland Stone rock armour at the southeastern end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Clay pipe in eroded mud of the mud batteries at the southeastern end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire

In spite of the accretion, aggradation or progradation at Hurst Point near the lighthouse since the Second World War, there is now a phase of erosion taking place at the southeastern corner, near the East Wing of Hurst Castle. The erosion and partial destruction of the mud batteries of the 1850s to the southeast of the East Wing of the Castle is very conspicuous (See James (1986) for more information on the mud batteries)

Go back to top

LOCATIONS continued -

The Easternmost and Final Recurve of the Spit

The final recurve of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, showing the hut as a location point, July 2011

Part of the final recurve of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, in 2005, and showing former terminations, CCO

The last recurve at  Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

Go back to top

LOCATIONS continued -
North Point (Point of the Deep)

A map of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, before sea-defence works prevented natural longshore drift supply of beach shingle to the promontory

Aerial photograph of  Hurst Spit, Hampshire, general overview by the Channel Coastal Observatory, low tide, modified 2011

North Point, Hurst Spit, Hampshire

North Point or Point of the Deep is at the end of the final recurve of Hurst Spit. Medium-sized shingle is moved northward by the smaller waves of the Solent and effectively tipped off the end of the spit here. After a stable phase from 1742 rapid accretion commenced at the Point of the Deep or North Point in 1908 and continued to the present ( (Nicholls and Webber, 1987a) A black lookout hut that was once on the end of the spit is now well back from the termination.

This is a relatively undisturbed area and good for bird life. Terns are summer visitors to the area and live in this North Point area. They can be seen plummeting into the water for fish from the southern end of Hurst Castle or the adjacent beach next to the lighthouse. Sandwich and Common Terns nest on the saltmarshes, while the Little Tern nests close to the high tide line on the outer undisturbed shingle banks.

Go back to top

LOCATIONS continued -
Keyhaven Marshes (the Saltmarshes)

Keyhaven Marshes with a rising tide in quiet evening conditions, as seen from Hurst Spit, Hampshire

General view of the saltmarshes behind Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 27 June 2006

At high tide, the Keyhaven Saltmarshes behind Hurst Spit are flooded, with hardly any sign of the Spartina, 6th July 2011

At Cut Bridge, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, during high tide on the afternoon of the 6th July 2011

Cut Bridge is the small wooden footbridge across the Cut which carries water from Sturt Pond to the Keyhaven Marshes. It is at the eastern end of the main larvikite sea defences. At low tide this is a place for seabirds. The activity seems to be a relatively recent introduction in this area.

The Keyhaven Saltmarshes flooded at high tide, and seen from my car in Saltgrass Lane, near Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 6th July 2011

Black-tailed Godwits on Keyhaven Marshes, near Hurst Spit, Hampshire, England

Spartina anglica in the saltmarshes behind Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 27 June 2006

A large proportion of original mudflats behind the spit were colonised many years ago by Spartina anglica to form saltmarshes. This plant arrived in 1895 (Wright, 1998) and has since flourished; it has trapped mud and raised the level of the marshes. At the time of writing (2006) it does not seem to much affected by die-back as it is at the mouth of the Beaulieu Estuary. Wright mentioned that the raised marsh has been trapped beneath the spit as it rolls over landwards. Relics of this can be seen in favourable low tide conditions at the seaward side of the shingle spit. Apparently the raised marsh beneath has had some effect on raising the crest level of the spit, until there was loss of volume in the 1960s.

On the low washover gravel at the back of the Spit the Sea Purslane Halimione portaculoides grows with some other halophytes.

Abundant minute shells of Hydrobia washed up on the landward side of Hurst Spit, Hampshire

The small modern gastropod Hydrobia ulvae (the Laver Spire Snail) grazes on algae at the mud surface when the tide is in. When the tide goes out it burrows into the mud. It can reach densities of 20,000 to 80,000 gastropods per square metre of mud (Hampshire County Council, 1984). It is an important part of the diet of Shelduck and fish. Large numbers of the shells of this gastropod are washed up on the harbour side of Hurst Beach, especially in the lagoons between recurves near Hurst Castle. Hydrobia is common in ancient lagoonal sediments like those of the Purbeck Formation, and is also used in the study of Pleistocene interglacial estuarine deposits (West, R.G. and Sparks, 1960).

Go back to top

LOCATIONS continued -
The Shingles Bank

A cruise ship passes the Shingles Bank, at the entrance to the West Solent, southern England

A small island formed by part of the Shingles Bank, near the Needles, Isle of Wight, seen from Barton-on-Sea, January 2011

 The exposed Shingles Bank at the entrance to the West Solent, seen from Milford-on-Sea, 28th January, 2011

The photographs above seem to show the Shingles Bank, a well-known bank of subangular flint shingle, that lies between Hurst Spit and the Needles. It is near low tide level and may be exposed from time to time. However, according to the Milford-on-Sea News this island is the Dolphin Bank (a bank which commences 3 km west of the Needles) and not the Shingles Bank. However, its orientation when seen from central Barton-on-Sea and from Milford-on-Sea seems to indicate that it is part of the Shingles Bank. From the eastern cliff top car park at Milford it almost aligns with Headon Hill on the Isle of Wight. From Barton on Sea it appears northeast of the Needles, not to the west of the Needles, as can be seen in a photograph above. This is not compatible with the position of the Dolphin Bank. The article mentioned that it was, in November 2010, 400 metres in length, with a further 800 metres identifiable by waves breaking on the bank where it is just below sea-level.

Island on the Shingles Bank, near Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire, in 1915

Breaking waves on the Shingles Bank seen in the distance from  Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

The Shingles are a shallow bank of subangular flint gravel. They have provided ballast of shingle for small vessels in the past. This large shoal area appears to have moved eastward and increased in size according to Nicholls and Webber (1987b). They commented that is somewhat contrary to the recollections of the older inhabitants of Milford-on-Sea who remember larger drying areas on the Shingles Bank at low water of spring tides than occur at present. However, a decline in the drying area is not necessarily inconsistent with the chart study of these authors as the chart also considers changes beneath low water. On balance they considered that the Shingles Bank was showing increased stability in years prior to that publication, rather than increased erosion. They, thus, thought that increased erosion of the Shingles Bank was not a cause of the recent increased erosion on Hurst Spit.

White (1915) put forward a theory of transport of material from Hurst Spit. He also mentioned a small island on the Shingles Bank: "At ebb tide a strong current sets out of the Solent through the Needles Channel south and south-west of Hurst Castle. It is inferred that much of the coarse waste from the cliffs of Christchurch Bay, carried eastward by shore-drift, is caught by this current at the head of Hurst Castle spit, and thrown out of the Needles Channel westward to form the extensive shoals and small whale-backed island of The Shingles (fig. 15), north of Totland Bay."

As mentioned elsewhere in this webpage there was a scheme of strengthening Hurst Spit between August 1996 and January 1997 by doubling its volume. This involved building up its landward side and raising the crest height by an average of 13 metres. The Shingles Bank was estimated to offer the most satisfactory shingle size grading at an economical price according to Wright (1998). This author wrote:
"There are advantages and disadvantages associated with each, but the Shingles Bank source was estimated to offer the most satisfactory shingle size grading at an economical price. The Shingles Bank lies in very shallow water close to the New Forest and Isle ofWight shorelines and would not normally be licensed for commercial aggregate extraction. However, consultations with the licensing authority, the Crown Estate, led to an agreement that a dredging licence application from New Forest District Council would be considered if the material was used solely for rebuilding

Hurst Spit, and no detrimental effect on the Isle of Wight shoreline, or on the long term stability of the Bank itself, could be demonstrated. Following extensive computer modelling of wave data and wave refraction patterns in Christchurch Bay, and the completion of an in-depth environmental impact assessment, it was shown that these conditions could be met and an application for a dredging licence was made. After much delay this was approved."

The artificial crest to Hurst Spit, Hampshire, with evidence of some minor erosion

Shingle from the Shingles Bank and used to raise the crest of Hurst Spit, Hampshire

This could mean that gravel and other sediment from the Shingles Bank, that is normally inaccessible, is visible on Hurst Spit. Of course it is a long time since the material was added and there is a risk that recently transported debris from elsewhere on the beach might be mixed with Shingles Bank material.

Because the dredged shingle was pumped onto the bank, it is unlikely that large pebbles would be present. Probably most of the material is difficult to distinguish from the original natural shingle of Hurst Spit.

[There is some peculiar material at the highest part of Hurst Spit. It can be seen, well-exposed, in a small cliff at the top of the beach. This might be from the Shingles Bank, but some of it perhaps it is too coarse. I hope to find out about the source of this later. Some pebbles were found at the foot of the little cliff with serpulid worms or calcareous encrustations that have originated below sea-level. However, it is not confirmed that this material on the top surface of the Hurst Spit is actually from the Shingles Bank. It is possible that it is something of different origin placed there to form a suitable surface to support vehicles.

This top material is less well-sorted than the natural beach material and includes larger clasts. In general the top gravel, is fairly typical of the local Pleistocene terrace gravel and beach gravel which has been reworked from it. It consists largely of brown subangular flint pebbles. There are many that have been whitened in a podzol soil profile. These are normally found at the top of the Pleistocene gravels in the cliffs of Christchurch Bay. A little iron-cemented sandstone is not unusual. This is formed in iron-pans, usually near the base of the gravels, and similar material can be seen in the cliffs of Barton-on-Sea. There is surprisingly little carbonate material and the gravels seem to have been leached to some extent. No shells from the Eocene of the Barton cliffs were noticed in a brief search.

One slab of sarsen stone was found. This has good root moulds running through it; it may not necessarily have come from the topmost gravel. It could be naturally-transported beach material of other origin. The quantity of sand in the top gravel is surprising. It is much more sandy than the natural shingle of the bank of Hurst Spit. The sand is white, coarse and with much vein quartz. It does not seem to be very glauconitic as might have been expected (with glauconitic clay and sand sources in the Barton Group).

In general the top gravel could have originated from longshore drift transport in Christchurch Bay. It seems coarser and more poorly sorted, however, than the natural shingle of Hurst Spit. It contains some large, rounded flint pebbles which may have ultimately originated in the top Boscombe Sands pebble beds.

Go back to top


Book by Jude James, 1986, on the history of Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Hurst Castle is well-worth visiting. It is because of the existence of the castle this particular shingle spit has a recorded history going back to about 1540, and there various old maps and etchings. The castle is significant in terms of coastal processes development in that it has provided a fixed and recorded point. The castle has remained in place while the shingle spit which has been subject to erosion in some parts and aggradation or progradation in others.

There is much detailed information on the history of the castle which you will find in the publications of James (1986) (a very detailed account, full of valuable information) and Coad (1990 and later reprints).

Obviously, the history of human activity on the spit is useful in understanding natural changes. There is an early record for Hurst Castle Spit is that of six salinae or salt pans in the manor of Hordle. These were almost certainly on the protected side of the shingle spit, and indeed later maps show salt pans behind the spit ( James, 1986). Later records are in relation to the castle. The King's warrant for the erection of fortifications at Hurst was dated 1541. From then onwards there is historical information from time to time.

One aspect of the history of the castle is of particular geomorphological interest. If you examine some of the various old maps and etchings, as shown in James' book ( James (1986) it is clear that the old stone castle was situated at what was then the end of the spit. The similar castle at Calshot Spit remains in such a distal position today. At Hurst, however, the beach has extended quite dramatically. The shingle has built on eastward beyond the original castle now. When the fortress was extended much later, in Victorian times, the East Wing was constructed on this new post-1540s extension.

We will now make a brief visit to the castle. It can be considered simply in terms of two main components. The old Tudor Castle is a grey building of limestone in the centre. Most of this interesting old building can be visited, but note that it has been strengthened by internal brick vaulting in Victorian times so as to be able to carry heavier guns. Photographs of the old part are shown below.

The other and large component is the Victorian addition. This consists of an East Wing and a West Wing with internal brick walls and external armour of limestone on the landward side and granite on the outer side. The West Wing is open to tourists at certain times, but the East Wing is not. Photographs of these Victorian wings are provided further down the webpage.

The north side of the castle, with the lighthouse, at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

Walking down the long spit of shingle with a compacted gravel top, you approach the Castle by first encountering the outer walls of the Victorian West Wing. You can see the strong granite walls on the seaward side with less resistant limestone blocks, much of it Purbeck and Portland stone, on the harbour side.

A signpost directs you to the castle entrance at the back, harbour side. You will see the old stone, Tudor building, which was the original castle, within the extended Victorian fort.

Go back to top

HURST CASTLE continued -
Hurst Castle - Adjacent Lighthouse

The lighthouse, adjacent to Hurst Castle, at the end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 4th November 2013

Go back to top

6.2 LOCATIONS - HURST CASTLE continued -
King Charles I

The old castle is notable for having been a place of imprisonment, albeit briefly, of a King of England. We will divert for a few minutes to consider this non-geological topic!

King Henry VIII'
s Hurst Castle at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire, within the extended Victorian fort

The Tudor Castle at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire, as it was in 1733

In 1648 King Charles I was arrested at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight where he had been staying. On the orders of Oliver Cromwell he was taken away by Lieutenant Colonel Cobbett in a coach and, accompanied by some servants, transported across the Solent to Hurst Castle. He was imprisoned for three weeks in this isolated castle. He seems to have lived on the first floor and was not excessively restricted. He was allowed to walk on the spit at times and view the shipping. James (1986) gives a very full an interesting account of this in his Chapter 2 - The Civil War and a King's Prison, and this well-worth reading. Here is the account of his arrival at Hurst Castle.

North bastion of the Tudor Castle at Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire.

"The Coach, by the Lieutenant-Colonel's Directions, went Westwards towards Worsley-Tower, a little beyond Yarmouth-Haven. Thereabout his Majesty rested until the Vessel was ready to take him aboard with those few [of] his Attendants. The King, after an Hour's stay, went aboard a sorrowful Spectacle and a great Example of Fortune's Inconstancy. The Wind and Tide favouring they crossed the narrow sea in [three-quarters of an hour] and landed at Hurst-Castle . . . The Captain of this wretched place was not unsuitable, for at the King's going ashore he stood ready to receive him with small Observance. His look was stern, his Hair and large Beard were black and bushy, he held a [long-handled spear] in his Hand and, Switz-like, had a great Basket-hilt Sword by his side. Hardly could one see a Man of a more grim Aspect and no less robust and rude was his behaviour. Some of his Majesty's Servants were not a little fearful of him. . . especially when he vapour'd, being elated with his Command and puff'd up by having so Royal a Prisoner, so he probably conceived he was nothing inferior to the Governour of the Castle of Milan. . . His Majesty was very slenderly accommodated at this place. The room he ate in was neither large nor lightsome, at Noon-day in that Winter Season, requiring Candles. At Night he had his Wax Lamp set, as formerly, in a Silver Bason which illuminated his Bed-Chamber."
(James, 1986, p. 32)

After only about a fortnight at Hurst Castle the King was alarmed when Major Harrison arrived with his horsemen at night at the drawbridge (you can see it in the picture above). This arrival was in preparation for his removal, which proved to be a route to his execution.

"His Majesty being thus reduced to this deplorable Condition could not chose but have some melancholy Apprehensions and, accordingly, about Mid-night there was an unusual Noise that awakened the King out of his sleep. [He] was in some marvel to hear the Draw-Bridge let down at this unseasonable Hour and some Horse-Men enter who, being alighted, the rest of that night was in deep silence. The King being desirous to know the matter he, before the break of Day, rung his Silver Bell which, with both his Watches, were usually laid upon a Stool near the Wax Lamp. . . upon which Call Mr. Herbert opened the Bed-Chamber Door to know his Majesty's Pleasure. The King told him he would rise and, as he was making ready, he ask'd him if he heard the Noise that was about midnight? Mr. Herbert answer'd he did as also the falling of the Draw-Bridge; but being shut up in the backstair Room next the Bed-Chamber and the Door, by the Governour's Order, being bolted without, he neither could nor would without his Majesty's Order adventure out at such a time of Night. . ." (James, 1986, p. 33)

Looking northwestward at the Spit, in rainy weather, from Hurst Castle, Hampshire

On the 19th December 1648 a convoy of Horse and Dragoons transported the King from Hurst Castle to Windsor Castle. Little more than a month later, on the 27 January 1649 King Charles I was beheaded on a scaffold outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London.

Go back to top

HURST CASTLE continued -
Entering the Castle

Now from the path on the north side of the buildings we can enter Hurst Castle. Inside, you can visit the old Tudor building, in addition to the later Victorian extensions with large guns, the historic exhibits and a view of the spit from the roof. There is a small charge which might vary from that shown here on the 2005 notice board. At the small office you can purchase guide books and postcards. There is a cafe and toilets (restrooms) inside the castle walls. The castle is usually open in the summer. Should it be closed there is still much of interest to see on the outside of it, and your walk will not be wasted effort.

Notice at the entrance to Hurst Castle, Hampshire

Here is the main notice. It shows the Tudor castle at the very end of the spit before the Victorian constructions. The original entrance on the far right (western side) is now within the Victorian outer wall and we shall get to that shortly.

The main entrance to Hurst Castle on Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

We go over the little drawbridge (a later, Victorian one, not the original), with the steel lines of the narrow-gauge ammunition railway or tramway. We pay the warden at a door on the right, and then if we chose to visit the old castle first we turn left just inside the main entrance. .

Henry VIII's castle - walking into the Tudor keep of  Hurst Castle, Hampshire

Here is the old doorway that leads in. This was the original entrance to the Tudor Castle and here there was the drawbridge over the original moat that has since been filled in. This was the drawbridge referred to by King Charles. His quarters were on the First Floor, accessible now by the steps shown in the middle picture.

Limestone walls of the Tudor tower of Hurst Castle, Hampshire

A wall of the old fort within Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, containing heathstone or Burley Rock

Within the courtyard of the old castle, beteen the northwest bastion and the central tower, examine the limestone of which the building is constructed. The brickwork is, in general, an addition of Victorian times to strenthen the castle for use of heavy guns.

You will notice the use in the walls of Purbeck Stone and Bembridge Limestone from the uppermost Eocene of the Isle of Wight. The Bembridge Limestone is distinctive because it has conspicuous, mouldic secondary porosity. That is to say that the aragonitic shells of gastropods, such as Galba longiscata and Viviparus have been dissolved away, leaving easily recognised, corkscrew moulds. Purbeck limestone varies in detail, but generally it is very shelly with small sub-parallel shells. These are compacted, small bivalve shells ( Neomiodon etc.) and give a broadly laminated appearance. Purbeck limestone is harder and does not show the same type of mouldic secondary porosity (although, of course, some beds do contain Viviparus). Charophyte oogonia are visible with a hand-lens in some blocks of the relatively soft Bembridge Limestone as small spherical objects with spiral markings. Although these also occur in low-salinity Purbeck limestones they are rarely seen in Purbeck building stone. Thus most, but not all, samples of Bembridge Limestone (Binstead Stone) are quite easily recognised. As shown above there seems to be some heathstone or Burley Rock used on a very small scale, but it is high in the wall and has not been checked in detail.

In the time of King Henry VIII Bembridge Limestone may have been transported by sea direct from the Isle of Wight (it occurs just across the water), or from the destruction of Beaulieu Abbey, which was probably also largely built of this rock.

Down to the basement of the  keep of  Hurst Castle, Hampshire; this was used as the magazine

We can go down to the damp and musty basement. There is some lighting now, but it is still quite dark. About 50 years ago when I was a boy I used to go down here before there was any electric lighting. It was fun to pick up a paraffin huricane lamp to find a way down into the gloom of this basement of the keep, which we wrongly imagined was the "dungeon". It is still an interesting and curious place; you can wander round this sort of dark circular tunnel, wet and near sea-level and with no windows. Round a corner you will find barrels representing the ammunition that was once stored here (there is a "dungeons and dragons" feel to the place!).

Go back to top

HURST CASTLE continued -
The Victorian Wings

View of the interior of the Victorian West Wing of Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

Within the walls of the West Wing of the Victorian fort which formed an extension to the original Tudor Hurst Castle.

A 38 ton gun in the western Victorian extension to Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, July 2011

Shells and tramway in the West Wing of Hurst Castle, Hampshire

Mud batteries, gun emplacements protected by banks of mud, were constructed east and west of the old castle in 1853. Work started in 1861 on the foundations for two large permanent wings, either side of the castle (James, 1986). Building of the superstructure commenced in 1863 by G. Tyrell of Great Yarmouth and took seven years. In due course many R.M.L. (rifled muzzle loader) guns of 9 inch, 10 inch and 12.5 inch calibre were installed. Examples of these huge cannons are preserved.

Go back to top

HURST CASTLE continued
Cornish Granite of the Outer Castle Walls - Introduction & History

A general view of the western end of Hurst Castle with defences of Cornish granite, Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Western end of the Victorian West Wing of Hurst Castle, Hampshire, showing use of granite to protect the casemates

Hurst Castle, seaward side. Limestone walls of old bastion and granite defences of Victorian date

Members of the OUGS Geological Society at the granite wall, western end of Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Close-up view of Cornish granite in a casemate at the western end of Hurst Castle, Hampshire

Members of the Open University Geological Society vault a fence at the outer granite walls of Hurst Castle, Hurst Spit, Hampshire, 2007

There has much use of Cornish granite in the extended Hurst Castle. This is same stone that has been used for the Fastnet Lighthouse off the southwest of Ireland and has also been used in Tower Bridge, London (see list of orders below). The granite has been placed so as to protect the casemates with their guns from enemy shells. This grey Cornish granite is from the quarries of John Freeman and Sons above Penrhyn near Falmouth (James, 1986). The massive blocks were shipped here and unloaded on the shore.

This particular granite is from the eastern side of the Carnmenellis boss of the granite batholith of southwest England. This great batholith trends west-southwest and comes to the surface as the bosses of Dartmoor, in the east, Bodmin Moor, St. Austell (Henbarrow), Carnmenellis, Land's End and the Scilly Isles. It is Permo-Carboniferous in age and a little less 300 million years old. It is a discordant batholithic intrusion into folded Devonian and Carboniferous strata, and formerly had volcanoes above. They have been eroded away but the debris of them still exists as the Exeter Volcanics. Quarrying of Cornish granite near Penrhyn by Freeman and Co. at beginning of 20th century.

Here is more information, from Hill and MacAlister (1906), regarding the granite quarried by Freeman and Co. near Penrhyn and used at Hurst Castle:

"The stone industry [of the Falmouth and Truro region].- This area furnishes a large proportion of the granite that forms the well-known Cornish granite industry, the rock being mainly raided from the Carnmenellis mass. The headquarters of this industry is situated at Penryn, where the stone is dressed, and from which port it is shipped. The granite raised, however, in the more southern districts of Mabe and Constantine is shipped at Porthnavis. The stone is mainly wrought in a belt of country lying to the west of Penryn...

The granite is grey in colour, and its principal mineral constituents are felspar, quartz, and two micas, viz., muscovite and biotite, while tourmaline is commonly present as an accessory mineral. In texture there are two varieties, known commercially as "fine grit" and "coarse grit." The former, which usually occupies the outer belt for an average width of about a mile, although the superior stone, is not so extensively worked as the "coarse grit," on account of its being more expensive to dress. It is not only finer in texture, but is darker in colour, containing more biotite, and has a higher specific gravity (about 1 per cent). A good example of this stone is seen at the quarries at Carnsew, about one mile west of Penryn. The "coarse grit" is a more attractive stone, and is studded with porphyritic felspars that reach an inch or more in size, some of the most beautiful varieties of which occur in the parish of Mabe."

It is of interest to note some other places at which this Cornish granite was used. This list of dressed stones supplied by Messrs. J. Freeman and Co. is only for dock and harbour works, bridges and lighthouses (Hill and MacAlister (1906))

Gibraltar, 1899 to 1904 (large order - 1,250,000 cubic ft.)
Keyham, 1897 to 1905 (large order - 1,891,400 cubic feet)
Cardiff, 1899 to 1904
Portsmouth, 1894 to 1896
Folkestone, 1897 to 1904
Dover Harbour Board, 1892 to 1901.
Barry, 1892 to 1898

Kew, 1899 to 1902
Rutherglen, 1893 to 1895
Tower Bridge, 1887 to 1889

Fastnet, 1898 to 1902

In addition a large part of the city of Truro was built from the stone. By 1906 the granite industry was undergoing a period of depression because of its inability to compete with Norway. The decline of the industry was being severely felt in the district of Penrhyn, where some of the skilled workers emigrated to America.

Go back to top

6.6 HURST CASTLE continued
Cornish Granite of the Outer Castle Walls - Mineral Composition

In composition the Cornish granites are composed of feldpar, quartz and the two micas - biotite and muscovite. Obviously petographic study under the microscope is necessary for observing the details. In the field, as at Hurst Castle, only the major aspects can be seen by eye and with a hand-lens. The rock is to some extent porphyritic with moderate-sized laths of a white, translucent feldpar. This is probably orthoclase (a potassium feldspar) and, indeed, some simple twinning can just be seen in the photograph above. The abundant cleavage of the feldspar is obvious, but the details of this are not easily observed. There is, in some cases, some preferential orientation to the feldspar laths.

Next most conspicuous is the dark mica - biotite. With these black crystals there is white mica - muscovite, but this is very difficult to see without a microscope. The quartz is, as usual in granites, anhedral (xenotopic) and is visible as clear, glassy-looking grains. Cornish granites also contain plagioclase and micro-perthite (an intergrown feldspar) but you will not recognise these components in the field. Tourmaline, the boron silicate, can be a common component and there willl be other minerals that occur in the granites but would be very difficult to see on an exposed rock face. The Carnmenellis granite differs from some of the other southwest England granites in having feldspar phenocrysts of about 2.5 cm in length and smaller than those in the others.

Aplite vein in Cornish granite at the western end of Hurst Castle, Hampshire

Here is an aplite vein in the Carnmenellis Granite. This is a light coloured vein of quartz and feldspar. It generally lacks the mafic minerals. Such veins are products of late-stage fluids that were residual after most of the granite had crystallised. They are common in granites and can be white or pink and not necessarily thin like this. They can be metres thick.

A rosette of orthoclase feldspar and tourmaline in Carnmenellis Granite used in the walls of Hurst Castle at Hurst Spit, Hampshire

The photograph above shows the typical, rather finer-grained type of Carnmenellis Granite with a interesting rosette of orthoclase feldspar and tourmaline (the black mineral, in this case, notable for containing boron - it is a complex borosilicate of aluminium, together with alkali metals or iron and magnesium). The boron content of the southwest England batholith is and interesting problem. One possible explanation is assimilation of boron-containing evaporites in the magma.

Footnote: Density of Granite.
It is interesting to consider the bulk density and specific gravity of granite. A block of granite may seem heavy but, do not be misled, it is not, because the constituents have a high density. Ignoring porosity, granite is a relatively light rock. In fact the specific gravity of granite, 2.6 to 2.8, is almost the same as aluminium (2.6) and if its other properties were appropriate it would good for the construction of aeroplanes!

Of course, the relative lightness of granite is well-known and is a major aspect of plate-tectonic theory (students - please explain this!). The low SG is because of the relatively deficiency of high-density mafic minerals (e.g. pyroxene). Quartz, feldpars, and mica have fairly low SGs - near 2.6 to 2.8. The overall SG of granite is close to that of a zero-porosity limestone (2.7).

If the SG is constant, then the factor which controls the bulk weight of a block of a fixed size, that is the bulk density, is the porosity. Many limestones, such as the Portland Stone, are quite porous and the pore spaces effectively reduce the overall weight and bulk density. The porosity of the Portland Stone is about 13 percent. It is almost entirely calcite, the SG of which is 2.7. Thus you can see that the bulk density of Portland Stone is about 2.3, whereas granite with no significant porosity (because it is of igneous origin) has a bulk density of about 2.7.

This is only one variable which we discuss now as a matter of passing interest; it is not the important factor here where the rock must be resistant to the impact of shells!

Go back to top


Hurst Castle Prospect

(Lymington and New Milton, Hampshire - Petroleum Exploration License - PDL089 - Wessex Exploration Ltd.)

Earlier information about the Hurst Castle Prospect was given in 2006 by the UK Onshore Operators Group, (2006. OOG News and Press Releases. Re Hurst Castle Prospect).

"Offshore Licence P1153
P1153, located in the Wessex–Channel Basin also contains the Hurst Castle prospect which straddles the Hampshire coastline. The main reservoir objective is the Sherwood Sandstone with secondary potential in the Bridport Sandstone.
The offshore well 98/7-2 driilled by BP in 1987 is of particular significance regarding the prospectivity of this licence. 98/7-2 is situated approximately six kilometres from the southwest corner of Licence P1153 and encountered oil in the upper section of the Triassic Sherwood Sandstone. This well tested 1095 bopd of 43 degree API oil from the Sherwood Sandstone interval, the same reservoir as in the Wytch Farm field. This oil is lighter gravity than that at the Wytch Farm field which is 36 degree API.
The significance of this well is that it indicates that oil has migrated and is preserved east of the main hydrocarbon trap at Wytch Farm. This is believed to be the result of the basin configuration at the time of oil migration. Early formed structures of pre-Upper Cretaceous age such as that at Hurst Castle are potential traps for migrating oil."

A map and more recent information follows:

The Hurst Castle Prospect for oil in the Sherwood Sandstone, near Hurst Spit, Hampshire

Part of the New Forest region near Lymington has been under investigation for petroleum resources by Wessex Exploration Ltd. Details can be found by going to their website at: Wessex Exploration Limited. (not necessarily available now).

Here is a small extract from the start of the webpage to draw attention to their work. Particularly see the good maps. Note the information on the Hurst Castle Prospect.

"Wessex Exploration Limited, bidding on its own in the 9th Landward Bid Round was awarded Petroleum Exploration and Development License (PEDL) 089 on 4 September, 2000. PEDL 089 is located in southern Hampshire near the towns of Lymington and New Milton, on the mainland opposite the western end of the Isle of Wight. The work obligation for the initial term of the PEDL was met when Northern Petroleum drilled the Bouldnor Copse 1 well, and fifty percent of the PEDL was relinquished in September, 2006. The PEDL is now in its second exploration period.

Wessex on 11 September, 2002 made an "Out of Round" application for a Petroleum Production License over the area immediately offshore from and adjacent to PEDL 089. Wessex was awarded License P1153 over this offshore area, effective 3 October, 2003. The primary term of this license expired in October, 2007, but was renewed by DBERR into a second exploration period.

A preliminary structural map of the Hurst Castle Prospect at the Sherwood Sandstone level is shown. Estimated P10 oil-in-place is of the order of 190 million barrels for the Sherwood reservoir alone, with possible recoverable reserve of 36 million barrels. A separate structural map shows four-way dip closure offshore, with possible P50 recoverable reserves in the 16 million barrel range." ... [continues].

See further details of the Hurst Castle Prospect.

They report that the Hurst Castle Prospect has potential recoverable reserves of the order of 36 million barrels from the Sherwood reservoir, in a Wytch Farm type fault-block feature. The primary reservoir is the Triassic Sherwood Sandstone. The Bridport Sands is a secondary objective as is the Frome Limestone (Great Oolite). In the same region an exploratory well was drilled at Boulder Copse across the West Solent on the Isle of Wight. The results were negative but Wessex Petroleum did not consider that this impacts on the prospectivity of the Hurst Castle objective.

Note that it is of interest regarding the New Forest National Park that the reservoir objectives are the same as those of Shell at Denny Inclosure (Lyndhurst - A).

Go back to top

Go back to top

Visit another shingle spit - the Chesil Beach?

Go back to top

Go eastward to Hordle Cliff and Milford?

Go back to top


I much appreciate the helpful discussion in the field with Robert Nicholls who has studied Hurst Castle Spit in great detail. I thank Barry Marsh for the photographs of the storm. I am grateful to the various students and members of my family who have worked with me on field trips or projects in this area. I thank the Open University Geological Society, Wessex Branch for field discussion and appearing in photographs. Very useful information has been kindly provided by New Forest history specialist Mr. J.J. Greenwood and I much appreciate his help. I am particularly obliged to the staff of the The Channel Coastal Observatory , National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, for kind permission to use their excellent aerial photographs. I thank the Custodian of Hurst Castle and the Ferry captain for helpful information regarding the history of the area. The helpful cooperation of the School of Ocean and Earth Science, Southampton University, is very much appreciated.

Go back to top


(See also Solent Geological Bibliography)
Allen , L.G. 1991. The Evolution of the Solent River System during the Pleistocene. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Cambridge.

Allen, L.G. and Gibbard, P.L. 1993. Pleistocene evolution of the Solent River of southern England. Quaternary Science Reviews, Elsevier, 12, 503-528. Authors are both from the Subdepartment of Quaternary Research, Botany School, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EA, UK. Abstract: The Solent River no longer exists since most of its course was drowned by eustatic sea level rise during the Flandrian Stage (Holocene). Previously, it flowed eastwards across southeast Dorset and south Hampshire as an extension of the River Frome. As such, it formed the axial major stream of the Hampshire Basin. A sequence of fluvial aggradations, ranging in height from 125 m O.D. to below sea level, provide evidence of the former courses of this substantial river and its tributaries. Detailed study of the deposits, supported by analysis of clast lithological assemblages provide the basis for the recognition of a series of lithostratigraphical units throughout the area. The facies and sedimentary structures indicate that the bulk of the deposits accumulated in a braided river environment under periglacial climates. Late Pleistocene fossiliferous sediments of Ipswichian and Flandrian age provide a biostratigraphical framework.The results demonstrate that the Solent River was a substantial system, comparable in size to the present Thames, and was a tributary ofthe 'Channel River' during periods of low sea level (cold stages). Evolution of the river reflects its response to climatic change, local geological structure and long term tectonic activity. Although datable deposits limit determination of the age of the Solent River sequence, it is undoubtedly of considerable antiquity and potentially extends back to the Early Pleistocene. Discussion of the sequence includes placing the events within their regional context. [End of abstract. - Notes: This is an important paper on the Pleistocene deposits of the southern Hampshire Basin. Many gravel terraces are recognised and named, but are not correlated in detail with the numbered terraces of the British Geological Survey (Southampton and Bournemouth sheets). The paper includes discussion of the following gravel terraces in the Bournemouth-Southampton area from lowest to highest: Pennington Gravel (Pennington near Lymington, and with Ipswichian Interglacial deposits); Lepe Lower Gravel (Lepe Beach, under the Interglacial deposit, pre-Ipswichian); North End Copse / Holdenhurst Gravel; Pennington Gravel / Burton Rough Gravel/ Southbourne Gravel; ; Lepe Upper Gravel (Lepe Beach, Devensian); Milford-on-Sea Gravel / Bransgore Gravel /Knighton Lodge Gravel; Stanswood Bay Gravel / West Southbourne Gravel / Taddiford Farm Gravel / High Cliff Gravel / Ensbury Park Gravel; Tom's Down Gravel (near Fawley); Old Milton Gravel; Mount Pleasant Gravel; Setley Plain Gravel (New Forest); Beaulieu Heath Gravel (New Forest); Tiptoe Gravel; Sway Gravel; Holmsley Ridge Gravel (western New Forest); Whitefield Hill Gravel. The Wareham-Dorchester Pleistocene gravels are also discussed. The paper includes interesting data on gravel composition, mostly flint and chert and including the presence of Portland Rhaxella chert and oolitic chert and Upper Greensand chert.]

Allen, L.G., Gibbard, P.L., Pettit, M.E., Preece, R.C. and Robinson, J.E. 1996. Late Pleistocene interglacial deposits at Pennington Marshes, Lymington, Hampshire, southern England. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, London, vol. 107, 39-50. By Lorraine G. Allen, Phillip L. Gibbard, Mary E. Pettit, Richard C. Preece and J. Eric Robinson (First three authors from the Subdepartment of Quaternary Research, Botany School, University of Cambridge; Preece from University Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge and Robinson from Department of Geology, University College, London.). Abstract: Fossiliferous organic sediments interstratified within fluvial gravels at Pennington Marshes, Lymington, have been recovered in boreholes and investigated. The organic deposit, here defined as the Pennington Organic Bed, occurs between -3.9 to -5.3 m OD and has been traced 200 m across the immediate area. Pollen analyses indicate a temperate flora of interglacial character. Molluscan and ostracod assemblages contain no brackish elements and are typical of a shallow, freshwater stream or abandoned channel. A change from an aquatic to a terrestrial molluscan fauna indicates progressive drying out of the water body. The Pennington Organic Bed cannot be confidently attributed to any particular stage, but since it occurs within a lower terrace than that at Stone Point, 15 km to the NE, it is probably younger and an early Ipswichian age (Ip Ha?) is suggested. The Pennington Lower Gravel, below the organic deposit, is therefore probably Wolstonian and the Pennington Upper Gravel, above them, Devensian in age. The estuarine interglacial deposits at Stone Point, previously believed to have been Ipswichian, are likely to belong to an earlier stage. It is possible, although less likely, that they accumulated during a later part of the Ipswichian as the transgression aggraded to the level of the higher terrace surface. Similarly, if the gravels at Stone Point resulted from a tributary river, rather than the Solent River itself, this could also explain the altimetric differences and allow the organic deposits to be attributed to different parts of the same stage. However, there is no evidence to support either of these alternative possibilities.
Barber, K.E . 1987, Wessex and the Isle of Wight - Field Guide. Quaternary Research Association, Cambridge. Prepared to accompany the Annual Field Meeting held at Southampton and Cowes, 21-25 April, 1987. 180 pp. paperback. Edited and compiled by Professor Keith Barber, Department of Geography, Southampton University. With 20 contributions mostly relevant to the Solent area, the New Forest and the Isle of Wight.
Bird , E. 2000. Coastal Geomorphology: an Introduction. John Wiley and Sons Ltd., Chichester, 322 pp. [Hurst Castle Spit - pp. 163-164 with diagram.]

Cole, A. 1926. Postmaster of Milford on Sea. Some Further Recollections of Milford, no. 23. Milford-on-Sea Record Society: Occasional Magazine, Volume 3, no 4, 1926.

"In September, 1882, a tidal wave broke on the beach at Sturt filling up a considerable portion of Sturt Pond and the outlet, the salt water came up the Dane Stream, killing the fish, roach, carp, etc., and destroyed many of the apple trees in the gardens abutting on the stream. A new cutting was made near the original, but this soon filled up and the present one [in 1926] was made."

Davison M., Currie, I. and Ogley, B. 1993. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Weather Book. Froglets Publications and Frosted Earth, Froglets Publications Ltd., Brasted Chart, Westerham, Kent, TN16 1LY. Paperback, 168pp. By Mark Davison, Ian Currie and Bob Ogley. With numerous monochrome photographs, many of them old and of historic interest.
"Everybody is fascinated by the ever-changing moods of the weather and the patterns of the sky. Our climate is a perpetual talking point, particularly in the days of great floods and freezes, tempests and tornadoes, droughts, hailstones and heatwaves. In recent years, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight have experienced all these variations. The sheer intensity of rain has turned quiet rivers into raging torrents, a clash of air masses has led to a spectacular snowstorm, global warming has been blamed for the longest drought in history, tidal waves, 20 feet high, have pounded the coast, a jet aeroplane has aquaplaned onto a motorway and opposing air streams have twice brought hurricane-force winds to change the face of the landscape. There has been more - much more - and in this unique pictorial record of the weather in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, we have the evidence."
Defoe, D. 1705 [Probable date. Refers to 1703 storm which was obviously then recent and contains many letters dated 1704. Date not seen on the title page.] A Collection of the Most Remarkable Casualties Disasters which happen'd in the Late Dreadful Tempest both by Sea and Land on Friday the Twenty-fixth of November, Seventeen Hundred and Three. To which is added Several Suprising Deliverances. The Natural Causes and Original of Winds. Of the Opinion of the Ancients that this Island was More Subject to Storms than Other Parts of the World. With Several Other Curious Observations upon the Storm. The Whole Divided into Chapters under Proper Headings. 2nd Ed. George Sawbridge, London, 272 pp.
[In this storm the Eddystone light was destroyed and all its occupants drowned, and within the first six hours of the storm the Royal Navy had lost twelve ships and over 1700 men. In all some 8,000 people were killed, thousands more injured, and Britain looked and felt as if it had been transformed overnight into a war-torn country with a battlefield in every village and town. The author Daniel Defoe was in London at the time, and he used his own experiences of "this terrible Providence" as material for what became his first full-length book, The Storm, which he published the following year. Richard Hamblyn suggests that it was a hurricane boosted in its passage from North America to Britain.]
Dyer , K.R. 1970a. Sediment distribution in Christchurch Bay, S. England. Journal of Marine Biological Association, U.K., 50, 673-682. By Keith Dyer.

Dyer, K.R. 1971. The distribution and movement of sediment in the Solent, southern England. Marine Geology, 11, 175-187. [Wrongly dated as 1970 in Dyer, 1972]. Abstract: Echo sounding, oblique Asdic surveying and sampling has shown the Solent to be extensively floored by gravel dunes. The dune asymmetry and the sediment distribution indicates transport eastwards from the principal source at Hurst Spit though with recirculating edies within the Solent. Current measurements show that the water flow meanders and that the recirculating eddies of sediments are associated with the positions of the meanders. The observed sediment distribution when compared with that predicted from the water flow shows that the gravel is often oversaturated with sand where currents are equal and opposite. Where the currents are asymmetrical the gravel is undersaturated with sand. Modified scree slopes appear where abrupt changes in the direction of sediment movement occur. [End of Abstract].

Dyer, K.R. 1972. Recent Sedimentation in the Solent Area. (Extrait du) Memoir Bureau Rech. Geol. Min., No. 79, 271-280. Abstract: Sparker surveys have shown that the river system, of which the Solent is a remnant, was incised to a base level of at least -50 m. Recent infilling of these channels in the east has been complex and is still continuing. In the west, evidence of the river channels has been mainly obliterated by erosion. Oblique asdic surveys have shown that the sea bed over much of the area is covered with dunes. Analysis of sea bed samples has shown that the dunes in the West Solent are composed of sandy-gravel with low shell content. Elsewhere sand and muds are important and shell content is generally higher. The predicted sediment transport paths show that coastal erosion in Christchurch Bay, on Selsey Bill and on the Isle of Wight is the main source of sediment. The relationship between the tidal currents and the sedimentary characteristics are discussed. [end of abstract]
Extract from the start: Introduction: The Solent and Southampton Water form the drowned remnants of a previously extensive river system, the " Solent River", that drained the Hampshire Basin. The southern side of this basin was a land area which extended from Dorset through the Isle of Wight. During the Pliocene period the sea level stood at about + 200 m O. D. (Wooldridge and Linton, 1955), and most of the present land surface was under water. Subsequently the land rose relative to the sea, but with pauses that cut gravel covered levels. Some of these levels have horizontal segments thought to have been beaches formed of material eroded from older terraces (Everard, 1954a). Everard (1954 b) has also described submerged gravel and peat within Southampton Water. The maximum incision recorded within Southampton Water is to -24.4 m O. D. (Curry, Hodson and West, 1968). The breaching of the Isle of Wight - Purbeck ridge probably occured fairly late in the ensuing Flandrian transgression, but must have been followed by rapid erosion of the soft, plateau gravel covered, Tertiary rocks. Rapid erosion is still occuring in Christchurch Bay, on Selsey Bill and on certain sections of the Isle of Wight cost. The Solent now separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland of Hampshire. Within the Solent, the maximum water depths are 60 m in Hurst Narrows at the western end, and about 32 m in the Spithead. Elsewhere the channel depths are about 15 m, but shoals and banks occur, especially in the East Solent... [continues, with useful maps including those of carbonate content of sediment, mean grain size, distribution of dunes, and seismic profile surveys]

Dyer, K.R. 1980. Sedimentation and sediment transport. Pp. 20-24 in : Burton, J.D. 1980. The Solent Estuarine System: an Assessment of Present Knowledge. N.E.R.C. Publications Series C, No. 22 November 1980, ed. J.D. Burton, 100 p. NERC. [Extract:] Introduction: The Solent, Southampton Water and their tributary inlets form the drowned remnants of a previously extensive river system (see Section 2) which was incised to at least - 45m below present sea level. During the ensuing Flandrian transgression, the Isle of Wight Purbeck ridge was breached, and this has been followed by fairly rapid erosion during the last few thousand years, of the soft, plateau-gravel covered Tertiary rocks which has released large quantities of clays, sands and gravel. Continuing erosion indicates that an equilibrium configuration has yet to be attained.
    The tidal conditions within the area are complicated (see Section 5) with a tidal range that can reach 5m at Southampton. Within the Solowing a smooth curve, the currents change direction before high or low water. There is generally only a short period of slack water during the tidal cycle and the currents are almost symmetrical. The small differences that do occur, however, appear to be significant in the sedimentation patterns. In contrast, slack water within Southampton Water and the other inlets coincides with high or low tide, and complicated effects due to a double peak on the flood tide and a double high water at spring tides are present. These factors produce a fast, short duration, ebb flow and a slower, longer flood flow, with a long period of slack water at high tide.
   The coastlines of the area are exposed to wave action which is generally from a SW or SE quarter due to the sheltering effect of the Isle of Wight. Maximum surface currents exceed 2m sec-l in the West Solent and l.5 m sec-l in the mouths of inlets such as Portsmouth Harbour.
    Thickness of Sediment: Over most of the Solent area, seismic profiling has shown the sediment to be less than 2m thick. However, bare rock is not very extensive, and occurs only on the steep slopes of the channel in the West Solent, particularly in the vicinity of the Tertiary limestone ledges. The presence of other outcrops is shown by rolled clay fragments in some samples. Thicker sediments occur where the old river valleys have been filled in (Dyer, 1975), especially beneath the Brambles Bank, between the Nab Tower and St Helens Roads and beneath Calshot Spit, where a depth of 25m can be found.
    Sedimentary Topography: Coastal features indicative of longshore sediment movement are common in the Solent area. Most of the estuaries and inlets have well developed spits (called 'duvers' on the Isle of Wight) which have been derived mostly from material from local cliff erosion (Fig 1), and some of the smaller inlets have been effectively sealed off. Tidal deltas occur at the entrances to Langstone and Chichester Harbours, while elsewhere it seems that the currents across the mouths of the inlets are too strong for deltas to be formed. However, bars are present across smaller inlets with low tidal prism volumes. There are three main banks within the Solent. The Solent Bank in the West Solent previously had a barchan shape, but is now of much lower relief (Hydraulics Research Station, 1977)...[continues].

Dyer, K.R. and King, H.L. 1975. The residual water flow through the Solent, South England. Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 42, 97-106.
Everard , C.E. 1954a. The Solent river; a geomorphological study. Transaction of the Institute of British Geographers, 20, 41-58.
Fouquet, M-P., Green, C.H. and Tunstall, S.M. 1992. Hurst Spit: an assessment of the benefits of coast protection: final report. Report commissioned by New Forest District Council, Middlesex University, Flood Hazard Research Centre. ISBN: 1859240682
Fox, W.D. 1862. When and how was the Isle of Wight separated from the mainland? Geologist, 5, 452.
[Initial theory of the Solent River. By the Reverend Fox. Although short - a classic! Full article follows: ]


- On two different occasions inquiries have been made in the pages of the 'Geologist,' as to the period at which the Isle of Wight was torn from the mainland and entrusted to the rude guardianship of the ocean. The subject is an interesting one, especially in its geological aspects; and as I have given some attention to it, I will attempt to reply to the inquiries of your Lymington correspondent.    
I am not aware that there is the least particle of historical evidence that gives countenance to the famous passage in Diodorus Siculus that has been interpreted by various writers as proving that, when he lived, the channel of the Solent was fordable at low water. As the particular island of which Diodorus is speaking, was one from which the miners of Cornwall were in the habit of exporting their minerals, and there is a small isle (St. Michael's) on their own coast, to which such minerals could easily have been conveyed, and which, in its connection with the mainland, answers pretty closely to the historian's remarks; and further, as I know of no argument worth listening to why the miners of Cornwall should have transported their tin to the Isle of Wight for exportation, - on all these several grounds, I think one may safely conclude that neither Diodorus, nor any other writer of note, has left any evidencv whatsoever about the fordableness of the Solent, within historical times.    
The severance of this island from the mainland, it appears to me, was effected under very unusual circumstances, and at a very distant period. The present channel of the Solent, being pretty nearly equally deep and equally broad throughout its entire length of twelve or fourteen miles, proves at once that it was not formed in the usual way of island-severing channels, that is, by gradual encroachments of the sea on the two opposite sides of a narrow neck of land. If so formed, the middle part of tbe channel would naturally have been both narrower and shallower than the two mouths that first admitted the tide towards it; but this is not the case. Nor are there any important indestructible obstructing rocks on either side of the channel that could account for this peculiar formation. It is to be accounted for, therefore, not by the excavations of a gradually approaching sea, but, as I shall hereafter have to attempt to show, by its being originally the trunk or outlet of a very considerable river.    
Again, at the western mouth of the Solent, there is almost an immeasurable accumulation of rolled flints, with which are mingled a sufficient sprinkling of fragmental fossil shells of various genera and species to show us from whence, the whole mass was originally transported This accumulation forms a sort of natural breakwater, two miles in length, one hundred yards in breadth, and many feet in thickness, extending between the mainland at Milford and a point beyond midchannel, where Hurst Castle was erected three centuries ago. Where the castle stands, this bank of flints becomes expanded so as to cover a circular space of fully twenty acres. Now all this enormous accumulation of flints, together with another one probably much larger on the island side of the main channel, and lying under the sea, in front of Alum Bay and the Needles, are formed of drift and broken fossils from the Barton beds ; the fossils themselves plainly pointing to the formation whence the whole mass was derived. It would add too much to the length of my paper, to account for this vast lodgment of drift around the mouth of the Solent; neither is this needful as respects the objects of my remarks: only I would have my readers to understand that it depends upon the flow of tide through the channel of the Solent. And when it is remembered that the annual supply of drift along the Barton cliffs is comparatively small, it will then be seen that it must have required a period reaching far back in time to gather together the vast accumulations referred to above, and consequently they may be regarded in themselves as visible and lasting memorials of the very great antiquity of the separation of the Isle of Wight from the mainland.    
Nay, I will venture to hazard an opinion, even though I stand without geological authorities to support me, that will place the date of the formation of the Solent Sea still further back in the dimness of the past; an opinion to which both the peculiarities of the channel itself above referred to, and the geological formation of the surrounding country,-bear very strong testimony. Whoever as a geologist examines the vertical strata of the chalk at the Needles, nay, and throughout the whole length of the Isle of Wight, and the strata of the same rock in exactly the same unusual, position on the bold white cliff on the Dorsetshire coast some twenty miles westward of the Needles, will not doubt but that the two promontories were once united, forming a rocky. neck of land from Dorset to the Needles. This chain of chalk might, or might not, be so cleft in twain as to, allow the rivers of Dorset and Wilts. to find a passage through them to the main ocean. My opinion, however, is that they had no such outlet, but that, at that far distant period, the entire drainage of more than two counties; embracing the rivers that join the sea at Poole and Christchurch, flowed through what is now called Christchurch Bay, down the Solent, and joined the sea at Spithead.    
According to this theory, the Solent was at that time an estuary somewhat like the Southampton Water, having but one opening to the British Channel; but of so much more importance than the latter as it was fed by a vastIy greater flow of fresh water; and it further supposes that the bed of the Solent was scooped out originally by a river, which from the extent of its drainage one may guess to have been little inferior to, the Thames or the Humber. And this opinion acquires countenance from the circumstance that it accounts, in a most satisfactory way, for the equality of depth and breadth in the Solent Sea. Of course, according to this view, this sea would lose its original condition as an estuary at the time when the British Channel had so far made a breach through the chain of rocks connecting the Isle of Wight with Dorsetshire as to give an opening into itself for the Dorsetshire rivers, somewhere opposite to the town of Christchurch. From that time forth the Solent would become what it is at present; losing its character as an estuary, and assuming that of a long narrow sea. And at the same period, of course, the Isle of Wight would part with its peninsular character, and be severed from the mainland, but at a point far apart from that at which the severance is usually supposed to have taken place. The distant period at which such changes took place it would be hopeless to guess at, amid the dimness of the data on which calculations could be founded. It could not be less, however, than many thousands of years, seeing that since that time, the British Channel has not only made a broad breach of twenty miles through a chain of slowly yielding rocks, but has also pushed its way gradually across the broad extent of the Poole and Christchurch Bays.    
In conclusion, I would observe, that if your correspondent at Lymington simply put his question about the separation of the Isle of Wight as an archaeological inquiry, I fear he will consider my answer to it as somewhat dreamy. But I am confident, if he and others who may honour me with a careful perusal of my observations, are tolerably acquainted with the geology of the neighbourhood, and have had their minds disciplined for realizing the operations of nature on a large scale and through lengthened periods of time, they will perceive in this paper opinions indicative of more than novelty, having, as I believe, very important geological facts to uphold them.

Yours, etc.,
W. Fox.
Brixton, Isle of Wight, Nov 8, 1862.

Hampshire County Council. 1984. Hampshire's Countryside Heritage: 7 The Coast. 47 page paperback introductory guide book with illustrations. There may be later editions.
Hatch , F.M., Wells, A.K. and Wells, M.K. 1949. The Petrology of the Igneous Rocks. Tenth Edition. Thomas Murby and Co., 467 pp. [This does not mention Hurst Spit but has a good description of the igneous rock larvikite, which is used in the sea defences].
Hill , J.B. and MacAlister, D.A. 1906. The Geology of Falmouth and Truro and of the Mining District of Camborne and Redruth. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of England and Wales; Explanation of Sheet 352. His Majesty's Stationery Office, London. 335 pp. with 24 photographic plates. Hard cover, original price, 7s 6d. With petrological notes by J.S. Flett. [Relevant to Hurst Castle because it discusses the mining of the Cornish granite. This rock was used in the Victorian extension to Hurst Castle, but the book does not make specific reference to Hurst.]
Hinchcliffe , J.C. 1978. Death stalks the secret coast: Diving sites of the British Isles.Triton, vol. 23, no. 2, Feb. 78, p. 56-57. "On the seabed directly beneath Durlston Castle, above whose cliffs is poised the giant stone globe of the world, a further curious phenomenon is found. Here the seabed is bubbling. In 10 metres of water, long columns of bubbles ascend. Some sources are continuous, others spasmodic. I recently collected a sample of this gas, and as suspected it proved to be an inflammable natural gas. An even more curious phenomenon here is the large numbers of huge bass and pollock which tend to swim about near these bubbles. Do they mistake the hydrocarbon gas for oxygen? [This is a hydrocarbon seep - methane. There is also a gas seep on the Lulworth Banks, and an oil seep at Osmington Mills.].
James , J. 1986. Hurst Castle: an Illustrated History. 134 pp. with many figures, including maps and photographs. Preface by Lord Montague of Beaulieu. The Dovecote Press Ltd, Stanbridge, Wimborne, Dorset, BH21 4JD. ISBN 0 946159 39 4. Original price £15.95p. By Jude James, former President of the Hampshire Field Club, and born at Barton-on-Sea. [This is an interesting book and the various maps reveal the extent of coast erosion and aggradation. It is particularly recommended to anyone studying changes in the morphology of the spit, and especially in relation to the fixed point of Hurst Castle.]
Larsen , A.O. The Langesundsfjord site; the minerals from the Norwegian syenite pegmatites. The syenite pegmatites in the Larvik plutonic complex in the Oslo Region, Norway, are famous for their diversity of minerals. To date, 175 different mineral species have been found in these classic localities, and 23 species have their type locality in the district. More than 200 years have passed since the first mineral discoveries were made here, and still there are much to be found. This homepage is dedicated to the study of these minerals. [continues].


Legg , R. 1999. Bridport and Lyme Regis: The Story of Dorset's Western Coast. Dorset Publishing Company. 192 pp. ISBN 0-948699-66-3. [With 37 monochome illustrations at the front and 61 at the back, many of them of old photographs, paintings and sketches. Local events, mostly regarding the coast are recorded in chronological order from the year 774 to 1998. Although references to sources are not given (and can be searched for elsewhere), this book contains much interesting information and informative old photographs. It is a paperback and at low cost - £7.95 p. reduced to £4.99 in April 2004. It should be found in the shops of Bridport and Lyme Regis. It is not a geological publication but has points of geological interest. The relevance of this book to Hurst Castle Spit is only in connection with storm events.]
Lyell, C. 1835. Principles of Geology, 4th edition, vol. 2. On page 45: "in the great storm of November 1824, this bank of shingle (the Hurst Castle Spit) was moved bodily forward for forty yards (roughly 40 metres) towards the northeast [i.e. towards the marshes and estuary]; and certain piles which served to mark the boundaries of two manors were found, after the storm, on the opposite side of the bar."
New Forest District Council. 1997. Hurst Spit: A Long Term Stabilisation Strategy. Coastal Report, Spring, 1997. A special newspaper of 12 pages. In colour. Subtitle: Hurst Spit: The Guardian of the Western Solent.

Hurst Spit, Hampshire, stabilisation works, 1996-7, New Forest District Council Newsletter

Title Page:
"Strategy: The long term stabilisation of Hurst Spit is an important part of New Forest District Council's coastal strategy. It is a major step in the development of the New Forest Coastal Management Plan and is the culmination of an extensive programme of research and monitoring. The strategy has been designed to provide an effective form of coast protection to the low lying land adjoining the Western Solent, whilst maintaining the sensitive environmental balance of the area. This newspaper describes the background of the project, the construction of the engineering works and the future management strategy for Hurst Spit."

Extract from page 2.
Hurst Spit is sometimes aptly referred to as ''The Guardian of the Western Solent". The Spit is a prominent coastal feature which lies at the eastern end of Christchurch Bay. It was once a natural shingle barrier, sheltering the western Solent from severe wave action in south westerly storms.
It still performs that same role now, but can no longer be termed a natural feature in the purest sense. Before the scheme, the Spit was considerably smaller than it had been in the past and survived only as the result of artificial beach renourishment and reforming of the crest of the beach after severe storms.
Rooted to the mainland at Milford-on-Sea, Hurst Spit extends for some 2.5 kilometres to Hurst Castle and Hurst Point - the closest point on the mainland to the Isle of Wight. Beyond Hurst Point the Spit recurves back and extends in a north westerly direction into the western Solent as far as the mouth of the' Keyhaven river.

The Problem:
The Spit was once fed with a large natural supply of shingle from the beaches to the west, and from the local beach material which was eroded from the low cliffs that were once exposed at Milford-on-Sea.
That natural supply of material has now been reduced, due largely to the construction of coastal protection works further to the west. This has resulted in a rapidly changing coastline and a considerable threat to the safety of the low lying land in the western Solent. The problem at Hurst Spit is, like many other coastal sites. around the country, partially the result of man's own efforts to protect the shoreline from erosion, as well as the result of natural processes. Historically much coast protection work in the U.K. has been carried out in response to local erosion problems. In many instances the response has been to provide a solution at that site with little regard for the effects that the work might have further along the coast. Complex legislation, unnatural administrative boundaries and difficulties in funding of the work has often meant that inadequate consideration has been given to the influence of the works at other sites. Recent changes in government funding, and improved understanding of coastal processes and design methods have resulted in much improved management of the coastline and design of more appropriate coastal protection schemes. Many structures that were built twenty or thirty years ago would not now be considered as sensible solutions to the same problem.
The evolution of Hurst Spit is undoubtedly linked with the development of towns and villages along the coast of Christchurch Bay, and with the coast protection works that have been built to protect these developments from the sea. The problems at Hurst Spit are to some considerable extent the results of earlier coast protection schemes. The seawall at Milford-on-Sea provides protection to property from the sea, preventing erosion of the weak gravel cliffs, which were once exposed on the shoreline.
It has however stopped the natural supply of shingle from the eroding cliffs, which previously supplied Hurst Spit. Similarly the construction of groyne systems which are needed to maintain a beach in front of the seawalls have resulted in slowing the rate of longshore transport of beach material on to Hurst Spit. Previous attempts to stabilise the western end of Hurst Spit have resulted in the construction of a rock armoured revetment. This has been extended on a number of occasions and is now 550 metres long. Whilst the problem appears to have been solved locally, it has been transferred further to the east as a result. Even the construction of a terminal groyne at the junction of the shingle beach and the rock revetment has not been successful in preventing further erosion. As a result the natural alignment of the beach has been interrupted and it cannot reach a natural equilibrium position without becoming detached from the mainland and Hurst Castle. This will remain the case as long as the beach is connected with both Hurst Castle and the mainland. The only way that Hurst Spit could survive as a natural feature now would be by demolition of the seawalls, rock revetment and groynes at Milford, exposing the old cliffs once again. This would of course mean that much residential property would be lost and frequent flooding of Milford would occur, due' to blockage of the Danes Stream, which provides drainage to the area. Clearly this is not an option that could seriously be considered. As the supply of beach material to Hurst Spit has been reduced, the volume of the Spit has declined. The longshore transport of beach material along Hurst Spit is faster than the supply of beach material from the west. An estimated 30,000 tonnes of sand and shingle are lost from the Spit each year as a result. As the volume of the Spit has declined, it has become more vulnerable to breaching during storms. Prior to 1954 there are no records of breaches, although overtopping of the crest undoubtedly occurred. Since then however, the frequency of storm damage to the Spit has increased. In 1962 severe flooding of Keyhaven, occurred following breaching. Similar damage occurred in 1965, when the army was called upon to help rebuild the Spit. This was the introduction of the rock armour from Milford-on-Sea which has subsequently been extended and rebuilt on a number of occasions. A number of breaches occurred between 1973 and 1983, and the Spit was breached at least 9 times in 1983-84. The most severe damage along the full length of the Spit occurred in 1989, when the Spit was flattened along 800 metres of its length. The crest of the beach was lowered by as much as 2 metres during the storms. The shingle Spit rolled back towards Keyhaven across the salt marsh area by as much as 80 metres during one storm. Large areas of salt marsh which normally lay on the sheltered north eastern side of the Spit became exposed on the seaward side of the Spit following the storms. About 30,000 cubic metres of shingle was displaced into the Mount Lake river channel (the channel to the lee of the Spit), rendering the boat moorings inoperable and destroying large areas of salt marsh. Fortunately prompt action by New Forest District Council prevented more severe and permanent damage from occurring.

Coast protection work at Hurst Spit is carried out by New Forest District Council. Prior to 1974, virtually no maintenance was carried out on the shingle bank, although coast protection work had taken place at Milford-on-Sea at the western end of the Spit during the 1960s. Maintenance of the Spit is usually carried out by reforming the beach crest with mechanical plant following storms, and by importing gravel rejects from gravel pits, or from an offshore dredging area. Hurst Castle has needed sea defence structures to protect it virtually since it was built in the 16th century and the works around the castle have been replaced regularly. Maintenance costs have risen quite dramatically on Hurst Spit since the 1970s. By 1982 maintenance costs had risen from a few thousand pounds per year to £10,000 and to £40,000 in 1983. Such large sums of expenditure on maintenance were a considerable annual burden on New Forest District Council and concerns were expressed about the cost effectiveness of the maintenance work. Following. a report by consultants, all the organisations with interests in the Spit met to discuss whether the Spit should continue to be maintained. The answer was a resounding "yes". It was agreed also that a research programme and long term planned stabilisation programme should be developed over the next few years to replace unplanned emergency work. This research programme commenced in 1987, but in 1989 the costs of repairs following the severe winter storms was in excess of £440,000. This resulted in acceleration of the research work to provide a long term stabilisation programme."
[end of page 2, continues with Geology, etc].

New Forest District Council. 2004. New Forest District Coastal Management Plan, February 2004. [downloadable pdf file]. C5 Zone 5: Hurst Spit - Keyhaven and Lymington Marshes.
"Features and interest
C5.1 This zone extends from Hurst Spit to the Lymington River. It includes the Spit itself, Keyhaven and its estuary and the extensive area of marshes to the east as far as the Lymington River. As a landscape, this area is of considerable value, offering panoramic views of the coastal hinterland, and of the Solent and the Isle of Wight. Keyhaven and the marshes are within the New Forest National Park.
C5.2 Close to the shoreline at Manor Farm, Pennington there is an extensive area of gravel workings. The excavations are gradually being filled with domestic and inert waste, and restored for agricultural use. C5.3 The zone is generally low lying and protected from flooding by Hurst Spit and the Lymington-Keyhaven sea wall. Following extensive damage and flooding during the winter storms of 1989/1990 the sea wall was rebuilt and raised in height. This varied coastal zone is dominated by Hurst Spit and the well-known coastal landmarks of Hurst Castle and lighthouse that guard the western approaches to the Solent. The land is low-lying and particularly susceptible to flooding. The Spit and sea wall are the first line of defence against the sea, but historically both have been breached or over-topped. The complex system of saltmarshes and mudflats lying in the lee of the Spit are renowned for their outstanding scenic beauty, ecological significance and historical importance. The area has for many years been used for a variety of recreational activities, and is a popular visitor destination on the New Forest coast..." [continues]
Nicholls , R.J. 1985. The stability of shingle beaches in the eastern half of Christchurch Bay. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Southampton. By Robert J. Nicholls, now Professor Robert Nicholls.

Nicholls, R.J. 1987. Evolution of the upper reaches of the Solent River and the formation of Poole and Christchurch Bay. pp. 99-114 in: Barber, K.E . 1987, Wessex and the Isle of Wight - Field Guide. Quaternary Research Association, Cambridge. Prepared to accompany the Annual Field Meeting held at Southampton and Cowes, 21-25 April, 1987. 180 pp. paperback. Edited and compiled by Professor Keith Barber, Department of Geography, Southampton University.

Nicholls, R.J. and Clarke, M.J. 1986. Flandrian peat deposits at Hurst Castle Spit, Proceedings of the Hants Field Club and Archaeological Society. 42: 15-21.

Nicholls, R.J. and Webber, N.B. 1987a. The past, present and future evolution of Hurst Castle Spit. Progress in Oceanography, 18, 119-137. Abstract: Previous models of the evolution of Hurst Castle Spit over-emphasised longshore growth at the expense of other processes, particularly rise in sea-level. Initially, a Pleistocene valley system was submerged creating a tidal strait, the West Solent, between Christchurch Bay and the East Solent. this almost certainly caused a major hydrodynamic change, transforming much of Christchurch Bay and the West Solent from a low to a high energy environment. Hurst Castle Spit and the Shingles Bank then began to form due to a combination of easterly littoral drift, offshore gravel movement due to the high tidal energy, a rising sea-level, the transformation of Hurst Beach due to overwashing and the formation of recurves due to waves in the West Solent. The growth of the Shingles Bank due to offshore sediment movement from Hurst Castle Spit was of particular importance because of the influence of wave energy along Hurst Beach. Significant local supplies of shingle in the vicinity of Hurst Castle Spit, reworked from Quaternary deposits were also of importance. Thus, it is not a classic multi-recurved spit and the transgressive segment, Hurst Beach, has much in common with barrier coastlines... The same processes are are continuing to shape Hurst Castle Spit at present, with additional effects of human interference in the coastal sediment system. The construction of sea defences at Milford-on-Sea in the period 1936 to 1968 has modified the sediment budget and Hurst Castle Spit is experiencing a phase of rapid evolution: maximum recession rates have increased from 1.5 metres per annum (1867-1968) to 3.5 metres per annum (1968-1982). It is difficult to quantify the exact role of sea-level rise in the present evolution of Hurst Castle Spit... The future evolution of Hurst Castle Spit will depend largely on man. If there is no further interference, which is highly unlikely, the beach will continue to decline, resulting in a further increase in the rate of recession. Ultimately, a true tidal breach will probably form, marking a new phase in the evolution of Hurst Castle Spit and its environs. However, shingle renourishment on another coastal engineering solution will probably be undertaken. The future rate of sea-level rise will have important long-term influences on all these options.

Nicholls, R.J. and Webber, N.B. 1987b. Coastal erosion in the eastern half of Christchurch Bay. In: Culshaw, M.G., Bell, F.G., Cripps, J.C. and O'Hara, M. (eds), 1987. Planning and Engineering Geology. Geological Society, London, Engineering Geology Special Publication, No. 4, pp. 549-554.
Abstract: Christchurch Bay has a long history of shoreline recession and this has given rise to some major coastal engineering problems. An area of particular concern is Hurst Beach at its eastern end, where the maximum rate of recession has increased from 1.5 m per annum (1867 to 1968) to 3.5 metres per annum (1968 to 1982). Hurst Castle itself is now subject to wave attack on part of its frontage. The littoral sediment movement was assumed to be essentially continuous around Christchurch Bay, but, in fact, a littoral drift sub-cell boundary (i.e. a partial barrier to littoral drift) is present in the vicinity of Hordle Cliff. Therefore, the increased recession of Hurst Beach is a local problem. Milford-on-Sea is situated on a thick sequence of Pleistocene Gravels, whose erosion contributed substantially to the maintenance of Hurst Castle Spit as a major physiographic feature. However, a series of coast protection works were constructed to protect Milford-on-Sea between 1936 and 1968, removing this important source of sediment.
In the long term, without any further human interference, recession rates of up to 6 metres per annum will probably occur along Hurst Beach. A breach of Hurst Beach is a major concern, as it would create an island at Hurst Castle and expose the vulnerable, low-lying, northern coast of the West Solent, including the village of Keyhaven, to increased wave attack and tidal scour. Ecologically important saltmarshes would also be destroyed.
Shingle renourishment is the only environmentally acceptable engineering solution. Limited renourishment has already commenced. Any cost benefit decisions must consider the wider implications of a breach in Hurst Beach, including environmental and ecological considerations.
This case study demonstrates the importance of a detailed understanding of both the littoral and offshore sediment movement for the planning of coast protection.
Parker , D.J. 1990. Coastal zone protection in east Dorset and Hampshire, United Kingdom. Research report to the OECD, Middlesex Polytechnic, Flood Hazard Research Centre. ISBN: 1859240429.
Payne-Galloway , P. (Ed.) 1893 (and 1971 reprint). The Diary of Col. Peter Hawker, 1802-1853. [Peter Hawker was a notable wild-fowler who had a cottage at Keyhaven, near Hurst Spit.]

Poole and Christchurch Bays, Shoreline Management Plan - SMP - Key Publications

See these important documents on the plans for the coastal management or shoreline management of the area. Summarised contents of a version are given below and look for the section of interest. However, this SMP is not the final version, and there will be an update. If you do not find it directly from the links here, search by Google etc for the latest version, using the keywords - "Poole Christchurch SMP".

Poole and Christchurch Bays Coastal Management Group. 2010. (SMP - Shoreline Management Plan)
Poole and Christchurch Bays Coastal Management Plan (or SMP - Shoreline Management Plan). Draft SMP2. Draft version of the SMP, later to be replaced by final version (see this when it is available. SMP2 is due to be published in April 2010.). Available online as PDFs at Poole and Christchurch Bays Coastal Management Plan.

Contents: Draft SMP2
Section 1, Introduction
Section 2, Environmental Assessment
Section 3, Basis for Development of the Plan
Section 4, Appraisal of Options and Rationale for Preferred Plan:
Section 4.1, Introduction.
Section 4.2, Policy Development Zone 1 Central and Eastern Sections of Christchurch Bay (Hurst Spit to Friars Cliff).
Section 4.3, Policy Development Zone 2 Christchurch Harbour and Central Poole Bay (Friars Cliff to Flag Head Chine).
Section 4.4, Policy Development Zone 3 Poole Harbour and Associated Coastline (Flag Head Chine to Handfast Point, including Poole Harbour).
Section 4.5, Policy Development Zone 4 Swanage (Handfast Point to Durlston Head).
Section 5, Summary of Preferred Plan and Implications
Section 6, Policy Summary, including Policy Summary Map.
Appendices (all documents open in a new window)
Appendix A, SMP Development.
Appendix B, Stakeholder Engagement.
Appendix C, Baseline Process Understanding, including Coastal Process Report and Flood and Erosion Mapping. Accessible from a separate page including No Active Intervention (NAI) and With Present Management (WPM) assessments, and summaries of the data used in assessments.
Appendix D, Natural and Built Environment Baseline (Thematic Review).
Appendix E, Issues and Objective Evaluation.
Appendix F, Strategic Environmental Assessment.
Appendix G, Scenario Testing.
Appendix H, Economic Appraisal.
Appendix I, Estuary Assessment.
Appendix J, Habitat Regulation Assessment - Appropriate Assessment.
Appendix K, The Metadatabase, GIS and Bibliographic Database is provided to the operating authorities on CD. It will be included in the final SMP.
Appendix L, Water Framework Directive (WFD)
Appendix M, Review of Coastal Processes and Associated Risks at Hengistbury Head.

Redman, J.B. 1852. On the alluvial formations and local changes, of the south coast of England. Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers, 11, 191-193. [Both Hurst and Calshot Spits seem to have undergone little change in their general outline for many centuries.]
SCOPAC (Standing Conference on Problems Associated with the Coastline). Undated. Webpage:

  • SCOPAC - Hurst Spit to Calshot Spit The West Solent comprises the tidal channel between Brambles Bank to the east and Hurst Narrows in the west. It has an average width of 4.5km, and is narrowest (1,480m) at its western entrance. It is strongly asymmetrical in cross-section, with a much wider and shallower inter-tidal shoreface (up to 2,000m in width) along the mainland between Hurst Spit and the mouth of the Beaulieu River than on the Isle of Wight side. The main channel is on average 10-15m deep, but reaches 20m in depth at its eastern end and 60m at Hurst Narrows. Included within this unit is the low-lying northern Solent shoreline extending from the fixed, but partial transport boundary of Hurst Spit Photo 1) in the west to Calshot Spit Photo 2) in the east. Both boundaries are by-passed by the transport of fine fine sediment... [continues].
    Steers , J.A. 1946. The Coastline of England and Wales, pp.xix + 644. University Press, Cambridge.
    Strecheisen , A.L. 1974. Classification and Nomenclature of Plutonic Rocks. Recommendations of the IUGS Subcommission on the Systematics of Igneous Rocks. Geologische Rundschau. Internationale Zeitschrift für Geologie. Stuttgart. Vol.63, p.773-785.
    Tyhurst , M.F. and Hinton, M.T. 199? The evolution of Poole and Christchurch Bays: Another Look at the Flandrian Transgression. By M.F.Tyhurst and M.T.Hinton. Engineering Services Team, Christchurch Borough Council. Civic Offices, Bridge Street, Christchurch, BH23 1AZ, 16 pp. Abstract: The development of (Poole and Christchurch Bays) cannot be assessed by reference to sea level rise alone; tidal range may have been the single nwst important factor. Similarly, coastal erosion processes must also be taken into account in understanding the mechanisms of development.    
    [The first part of the text now follows: Introduction: There have been many contributions over the years to the vexed question of how Poole and Christchurch Bays were born of the ancient Solent River complex. All agree that the Flandrian Transgression was the primary mechanism, with the latest evidence suggesting that the whole process started pre-Flandrian times. The authors, members of an operational coastal engineering team became interested during the preparation of the Poole and Christchurch Bays Shoreline Management Plan, the principal author serving on the Steering Group. They have now approached the subject from a coastal processes point of view and with a particular local focus on Christchurch, their "home" base.    
    Earlier Work: Probably the most popularly reproduced early image of the proto-Solent was by Reid, 1902 (1), who was studying the geology around Ringwood, Hants. He envisaged the Solent River starting life as the modem Frome, flowing through what is now Poole and Christchurch Bays on its way to north of the Isle ofWight. Everard, 1954 (2) looked more closely at the Hampshire Basin and showed the chalk ridge now more usually called the Isle of Wight monocline as a major directing influence on the route of the proto-Solent. West, 1980 (3) recognised the possibility of a breach in the chalk bastion, allowing the southerly capture of the Frome and ultimately to the disintegration of the proto-Solent. Nicholls, 1987 (4) studied many of the early contributions and developed a more detailed model for this southerly capture. More recently, Velegrakis, 1999 (5) demonstrated that the capture was-pre-Flandrian. Figures 2 - 5 illustrate the first four of the above-mentioned.    
    Crenulate Bays: Any experienced coastal engineer would be familiar with the crenulate (or spiral) shape of Poole and Christchurch Bays, as shown in Figure 6. Bays of this type form when soft cliffs attempt to reach a stable shape when constrained between hard headlands. Figure 6 would also indicate to the engineer that Christchurch Bay is much less developed than its sister and therefore younger. Poole Bay is well advanced and even has "offspring" mini-crenulates at its western end. The shape of the Bays, further, indicate the principal direction of attack, in this case from the southwest. Theory suggests that without intervention, Poole Bay would reach an equilibrium state when its development behind Ballard Down gave sufficient shelter for erosion to cease. A similar scenario can be applied to Christchurch Bay, the danger of which is discussed later. [continues]
    Tomalin , D. 2000a. Geomorphological evolution of the Solent seaway and the severance of the Isle of Wight: a review. Pp. 9 - 19 in: Collins, M. and Ansell, K. 2000. Solent Science - A Review. Proceedings in Marine Science, 1. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 385 pp including location and subject indexes. ISBN - 0-444-504-65-6, hard cover only. By David Tomalin, County Archaeologist, Isle of Wight Council, Newport, Isle of Wight. This is a particularly interesting paper considering both the legend of an ancient causeway to the Isle of Wight when known as Ictis, and stimulating ideas about possible drainage westward of the Lymington River and the Western Yar. The subsections are:
    Early Questions concerning the Severance of the Isle of Wight.
    Thomas Webster and the Wight-Purbeck Ridge.
    William Fox and the Solent River Theory.
    Clement Reid's Umbilical or Isthmus.
    Marine Geophysical Prospecting.
    The Loss of an Arm.
    Present Knowledge, Outstanding Lacunae

    No abstract is provided so the start of introduction is given here as an example of the text:
        "It was more than 400 years ago when the first historians and geographers began to enquire into the nature and origins of the Solent as an open east-west seaway and the date at which it had precipitated the severance of the land of Wight The first recorded questions are those of William Camden, whose first edition of Britannia (published in 1586) included the mischievous speculation that the Isle of Wight, with its Roman name of Vectis, might perhaps be equated with a prehistoric island, otherwise known as Ictis.
        A British island called Ictis had been cited in the 1st century BC, by the classical writer Diodorus Siculus; however, we should note that in describing Britain or "Prettanike," this classical historian commonly used the expressions "we are told" or "they say". The style of Diodorus indicates that he was relating the accounts of others and, unlike the earlier Greek explorer Pytheas, who had visited the Cornish coast in the 3rd century BC, it seems that he could offer no personal experience. His gatherings tell of an island close to the shore of southern Britain where the natives could cross at low tide whilst drawing wagons loaded with tin ore or ingots. These consignments were loaded into visiting ships bound for the Atlantic seaboard of Gaul (Rivet & Smith, 1979). Diodorus added that it was people dwelling near the promontory of Belerion (Land's End) who prepared this tin and transported it to the tied island of Ictis".. [continues]

    Velegrakis , A.F. 1994. Aspects of the Morphology and Sedimentology of a Transgressional Embayment System: Poole and Christchurch Bays, Southern England. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Department of Oceanography, Southampton University, 319pp.

    Velegrakis, A.F. and Collins, M.B. 1992. Marine Aggregate Evaluation of Shingles Bank, Christchurch Bay. Southampton University Technical Report, SUDO/TEC/92/14C, 13pp.

    Velegrakis , A. 2000. Geology, geomorphology and sediments of the Solent System. Pp. 21-43 in: Collins, M. and Ansell, K. 2000. Solent Science - A Review. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 385pp.
    The Solent (Figure 1) forms the largest estuarine system of the southern coast of the UK. The constituent components of the system include the West and East Solent and their approaches, Southampton Water, Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester Harbours and other smaller tributary river estuaries (e.g. Beaulieu, Lymington and Yar) found along the southern Hampshire and Isle of Wight coastlines. Parts of the coastline are characterised by coastal accumulation forms, such as barrier spits and islands (e.g. Hurst and Calshot Spits in the West Solent and Hayling Island in the East Solent), inter-tidal flats and salUnarshes (e.g. Lymington Flats). Erosional coastal environments (Le. coastal cliffs) are also present, particularly along the coastline of the Isle of Wight The offshore areas also show complex morphology (Figure 1), associated with several offshore banks and deeply-incised channels (e.g. Hurst Narrows).
    The Solent has attracted a great deal of human economic development, including extensive urban and industrial development, agriculture, shipping, fisheries, recreation, marine aggregate extraction and offshore oil exploration (Shell, 1987). At the same time, the area is associated with important conservation areas such as the National Nature Reserves (NNR), Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI), Local Nature Reserves (LNR), as well as important archaeological sites. This diverse human activity both influences and is influenced by the physical characteristics and dynamics of the natural environment Therefore, frequent monitoring is necessary, in order to assess the human impact on the environment and its evolution and, equaIly important, to understand and predict the influence of such evolution on the regional economic development The understanding of the dynamic interrelationships between nature and economic development forms the 'backbone' of 'sustainable development' policies, which emerge as the main UK and European Union environmental strategy.
    The objective of this contribution is to review the present state of knowledge and identify gaps in information on some of the physical characteristics of the Solent Estuarine system and, particularly, its geology, geomorphology and sedimentology. In this sense, this contribution forms an update of the meticulous reviews of West (1980) and Dyer (1980)... [continues]
    West, I.M. 1980. Geology of the Solent Estuarine System. In: The Solent Estuarine System: an Assessment of Present Knowledge, N.E.R.C. Publication Series C., No. 22 , November 1980. pp 6-18. Ed. J.D. Burton. [A concise review of knowledge of the geology of the estuaries up to 1980 with reference list, including discussion of the Eocene strata, the Pleistocene gravels and interglacial deposits, and the Flandrian Transgression of the submerged and partly buried valley system.]

    West, R.G. and Sparks, B.W. 1960. Coastal interglacial deposits of the English Channel. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B., Biological Sciences, No. 701, Vol. 243, pp. 95-133, 27th October, 1960, with an Appendix on the Mammalia by A.T. Sutcliffe. Published by the Royal Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1. Communicated by H. Godwin, F.R.S. Addresses of authors: R.G. West - Subdepartment of Quaternary Research, University of Cambridge; B.W. Sparks, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge. Abstract: Fossiliferous Late-Pleistocene deposits on the foreshore of the English Channel at Selsey (Sussex), Stone (Hampshire), and near Arromanches (Calvados), have been investigated. At each site analyses of pollen, macroscopic plant remains and Mollusca have been made and from these vegetational, faunal, environmental and climatic conditions have been reconstructed. ... At Selsey, it is shown that the deposits, which lie in a channel cut in Eocene rocks, are of Ipswichian (Eemian or Last) Interglacial age. Pollen analysis of the sediments of the channel filling show that they formed during zones b, c, d, e and f of this interglacial, which show the succcession from open parkland vegetation to birch-, to pine, to oak-dominated forests. Analysis of the macroscopic plant remains and of the molluscs suggests a rapid climatic amelioration at the beginning of the interglacial, so that by the beginning of zone f there are indications of summer warmth exceeding that of the present day in the area. In the upper part of the channel filling, estuarine deposits overlie freshwater deposits. It is shown that the marine transgression causing the change was taking place in zone f and was probably responsible later for the raised beach deposits which overlie the channel deposits and form the cliff at Selsey Bill. ... At Stone pollen analysis shows that brackish water deposits, below present high tide level were formed in zone f of the Ipswichian Interglacial. At that time Quercus, Pinus, and Acer were the chief trees forming the forest in that region. The macroscopic plant remains and the Mollusca indicate that the deposit was formed under saltmarsh conditions. As at Selsey, the raised beach gravel found overlying the interglacial deposit is related to the same marine transgression that produced the brackish water conditions... Near Arromanches, at St Come de Fresne and Asnelles-Belle-Plage, two deposits showing a change from marine to freshwater sediments were investigated. The analysis of pollen and the Mollusca showed the prevalence of pine forest and its replacement by open steppe-like conditions as the marine regression occurred. After the regression, limon covered the freshwater deposits. The fossiliferous deposits are tentatively correlated with zone i of the Eemian Interglacial... The relative land and sea-level changes indicated by the deposits are considered. It is concluded that in the English Channel, during the Ipswichian (Eemian) Interglacial, sea-level rose above its present height in zone f and fell below it during zone i. The Selsey-Brighton raised beach and the Normannien II raised beach are correlated with the same marine transgression. It is pointed out that if the Selsey-Brighton raised beach is to be correlated with the Monastirian II level of 7-8m, then this level should be correlated with the Ipswichian (Eemian) Interglacial. [end of abstract.]
    White , H.J.O. 1915. The Geology of the Country near Lymington and Portsmouth. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of England and Wales, pp.v + 78. By H.J. Osborne White, F.G.S. Explanation of Sheets 330 and 331 (Mainland).
    Wright, D. 1998. Hurst Spit: the local authority perspective. Pp. 256-266 in: Bray, M. and Hooke, J. 1998b. Geomorphology and management sites in Poole and Christchurch Bay. (with contributions by other authors) Pp.233-266 in: Hooke, J. 1998. Coastal Defence and Earth Science Conservation. The Geological Society of London, Burlington House, London. 270 pp. ISBN 1-897799-96-9. [This provides a very good account of erosion,sea-defence works and related investigations and is recommended. Quantities of material used and costs are given.]

    Wright, P. 1982. Aspects of the coastal dynamics of Poole and Christchurch Bays. Unpublished Ph.D Thesis. Department of Civil Engineering, University of Southampton, 201pp.

    Go back to top


    The generous help of Robert Nicholls is very much appreciated. He collected reworked fossil shells with me, many years ago, and helpfully discussed the origin and features of the beach which he was investigating for his Ph.D. thesis. More recently, I am particularly grateful to the New Forest historian - Jeremy Greenwood, for kindly providing me with information on the history of flooding in the area, and drawing attention to errors or weaknesses regarding historic matters. This has been very helpful. Various field parties have entered into discussion of Hurst Spit on field trips, and their comments are much appreciated.

    Go back to top

    |Home and List of Webpages |Field Guides Introduction. |Hordle Cliff |Barton and Highcliffe |Highcliffe, Barton and Hordle - Bibliography |New Forest Geology |Solent Estuaries - Introduction |Lepe Beach |

    Copyright © 2016 Ian West, Catherine West, Tonya Loades and Joanna Bentley. All rights reserved. This is a private, academic website intended to be useful for research, reference and educational purposes. Images and text may not be copied for publication or for use on other webpages such as MOOCs or for any commercial activity. A reasonable number of images and some text may be used for non-commercial, non-charged, non-online and non- published academic purposes, including field trip handouts, student projects, dissertations etc, providing the source is acknowledged. All images so used must contain the original caption, including the copyright statement. Some images are not those of the author and the copyright is that of the original photographer and these are not for any use without specific permission from the source photographer. This particularly applies to aerial photographs, but also to some sets of field photographs.

    Disclaimer: Geological fieldwork involves some level of risk, which can be reduced by knowledge, experience and appropriate safety precautions. Persons undertaking field work should assess the risk, as far as possible, in accordance with weather, conditions on the day and the type of persons involved. In providing field guides on the Internet no person is advised here to undertake geological field work in any way that might involve them in unreasonable risk from cliffs, ledges, rocks, sea or other causes. Not all places need be visited and the descriptions and photographs here can be used as an alternative to visiting. Individuals and leaders should take appropriate safety precautions, and in bad conditions be prepared to cancell part or all of the field trip if necessary. Permission should be sought for entry into private land and no damage should take place. Attention should be paid to weather warnings, local warnings and danger signs. No liability for death, injury, damage to, or loss of property in connection with a field trip is accepted by providing these websites of geological information. Discussion of geological and geomorphological features, coast erosion, coastal retreat, storm surges etc are given here for academic and educational purposes only. They are not intended for assessment of risk to property or to life. No liability is accepted if this website is used beyond its academic purposes in attempting to determine measures of risk to life or property.

    Go back to top

    Dr Ian West, author of these webpages

    Webpage - written and produced by:

    Ian West, M.Sc. Ph.D. F.G.S.


    at his private address, Romsey, Hampshire, kindly supported by Southampton University,and web-hosted by courtesy of iSolutions of Southampton University. The website does not represent the views of Southampton University. The website is written privately from home in Romsey, unfunded and with no staff other than the author, but generously and freely published by Southampton University. Field trips shown in photographs do not necessarily have any connection with Southampton University and may have been private or have been run by various organisations. Therefore they may not necessarily show Southampton University procedures.