George Burt’s Great Globe gets a steam clean at Durlston

As the crowning glory to the restoration of the Pleasure Grounds at Durlston Country Park in Dorset, the iconic stone Great Globe has been given a clean.

The Great Globe was created in 1887 from 15 segments of Portland stone, with a diameter of three metres and weighing 40 tons.

Globe gets steam cleaned
Durlston Country Park

Halfway through the steam cleaning the Great Globe appears to differentiate between day and night!

Huge globe of the world

The huge sculpture was commissioned by quarry owner George Burt – the man dubbed the King of Swanage – who invested a great deal of time and money into improving Swanage during the Victorian era.

He built Durlston Castle and laid out the surrounding Pleasure Gardens, which have recently been restored for a modern era with money in the region of a million pounds from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Within the grounds there are many interesting features carved from stone with the most unmissable being the huge globe of the world.

Businessman George Burt made no secret that enhancing Durlston was part of a grand plan to build a housing estate along the coastline. Fortunately most of the buildings didn’t materialise and the beautiful country park remains as his legacy.

The Globe being steam cleaned
Stonemasons of Dorset

Before the work begins the inscriptions on the globe are hard to read

Durlston Globe gets a steam clean

After the work, the detail can be seen from a distance

Getting hard to decipher the writing

The Globe’s intricate carvings of land, sea and place names were starting to be hard to decipher as lichen took hold over the surface of the stone.

It had been cleaned about 15 years ago using toothbrushes and water but research by the Durlston team revealed that steam cleaning would be less abrasive, quicker and more effective.

Jet washing was ruled out as being too harsh for the Grade II listed monument.

Ian Viney Restoring the Great Globe at Durlston

Founder of Stonemasons of Dorset Ian Viney even discovered fossils in the stonework

“The skill is knowing when to stop!”

Ian Viney from Stonemasons of Dorset was called in to do the intricate cleaning work. He said:

“Once permission was granted by the conservation officers to undertake the cleaning, we could get to work. I started with the pressure low and the steam set to about 150 degrees centigrade.

“As a stonemason you get to feel if you are doing any damage, so I could slowly increase the pressure until I felt it was at an optimum. The temperature kills the spores of the lichen which will slow regrowth.

“You can do 90 percent of the damage in the last 10 percent of the cleaning if you’re not careful. It’s very easy to attack the thing and carry on blasting. The skill is knowing when to stop!

“The aim wasn’t to make the globe look brand new but it had become hard to read the words and see the outline of the land – it was all quite dark. I think it’s come up really well – there’s still bits of lichen but they should die back over the following weeks.”

Durlston Globe gets a steam clean

Once steam cleaned, some of the joints were carefully repointed to stop water getting in in the future and causing damage

Ali Tucket Restoring the Great Globe at Durlston

Project leader of the Pleasure Grounds project Ali Tuckey admires the newly cleaned globe

“Practical, creative and philosophical”

The Great Globe and the stone plaques and the text surrounding the sculpture are such an extraordinary sight that it can be quite a surprise for the unsuspecting visitor taking a stroll along the coast path – and often difficult to immediately fathom what it all means.

Durlston Country Park ranger and project leader of the Pleasure Grounds project Ali Tuckey said:

“I think we can glimpse a bit of George Burt’s character in the globe and the tablets. He left school early with little formal education but he was a Methodist.

“At this time in the Victorian era, the Church of England was very much about knowing your place in the world. But the Methodists believed that it was your duty to God to fulfil your potential.

“He went from a lad in a quarry to a businessman owning quarries across Purbeck and Portland, as well as Guernsey and Scotland.

“Here inscribed are quotes from poets and the Bible, as well as information about the natural world. It gives me the impression of a guy who was practical, creative and philosophical.

“I think he’s making you stop and think by asking, ‘Where are you in the world, what have you achieved, what more could you do?’. It’s definitely not your standard piece of sculpture!”

Durlston Globe gets a steam clean

Set in the breathtaking location of Durlston Head

Durlston Globe gets a steam clean

Taking care with the finishing touches

Maintenance plan in place

Dorset County Council, as it was known then, bought the 99 year lease for Durlston Castle in 2003. At the time the building was in a dire state of repair with wet and dry rot and serious structural problems. The restoration of the castle was completed in 2011.

The second phase was the rescue of the grounds from being overwhelmed by ivy and self seeded trees. The Pleasure Grounds project started in 2018 and resulted in a whole programme of impressive improvements.

This included new places to sit and admire the view, a new woodland play park enjoyed by children and big kids alike, wheelchair and buggy friendly paths edged by repaired drystone walls, a shed that acts as a base for everyone to meet up, and the restoration of lots of quirky Victorian features.

There’s now a maintenance plan in place to keep everything that’s been restored in good order, making sure it’s never allowed to slip back into disrepair and continues to be protected for the future.

Durlston Globe being carved
Swanage Museum

The Great Globe being carved in Greenwich in London by George Burt’s men

Durlston Globe being installed
Swanage Museum

It was shipped to Swanage and rolled into place at Durlston in 1887. The plaques behind the globe and the railings were added at later dates

“The heart of Burt’s vision”

Ali added:

“It’s really nice that the globe is officially the last thing of the Pleasure Grounds project to be completed.

“It’s symbolically the heart of Burt’s vision and is still quite jaw dropping today. So unique – combining art and science – a really amazing thing!”

Watch the steam cleaning by Stonemasons of Dorset

Further information

  • More about the Pleasure Grounds project
  • Durlston Past exhibition can be viewed 10 am to 5 pm daily at the Fine Foundation Gallery in Durlston Castle from Monday 2nd October to Tuesday 17th October 2023
  • Find out about the work of Stonemasons of Dorset
Ina Viney Restoring the Tablet at Durlston

Ian Viney also steam cleaned the nearby tablet showing the coastlines of Purbeck and France

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