Contact Harry: 07974 753287 or Email:

Goat Island and the great landslip of 1839

We are all too familiar with landslips following prolonged rainfall whether it’s along the Monmouth Beach or out along the Charmouth Beach. One of the biggest ever took place in 1839, 174 years ago between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Landslip 1839Along the Undercliff at Bindon Manor, after weeks of continuous heavy rainfall, twenty acres of farmland split away. About three‑quarters of a mile in length and about one field in breadth, the land was projected forward 300 feet and down into the sea leaving a deep chasm behind. Off shore a reef was pushed up. Five weeks later, on 3 February 1840, a second much smaller landslip collapsed nearby.

As chance would have it, a certain William Conybeare, the vicar of Axminster, was also a great geologist. He was in the perfect location to study the details of the landslip closely. It was in fact the first major landslip to be scientifically studied.

Dowland landslipThe reef disappeared, but the detached block, which became known as Goat Island, still had a sown wheat field on top. This strange phenomenon attracted thousands of visitors including Queen Victoria. The canny local farmers charged sixpence for entrance. When the wheat eventually ripened the next August, they held a grand reaping party with girls dressed as nymphs. Pictures of the resulting landscape are on view at Lyme Regis’ Philpott Museum.

On a calm day, instead of a Lyme Regis mackerel fishing trip, Harry May will sometimes take Marie F west along the Undercliff for a scenic cruise so that his passengers can get a good view of Goat Island and the great landslip of 1839 from the sea.

Published on 24/01/2013.

More of Harry's news >