Serpentine

Geology

Serpentine

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Millions of years ago, in the place that would one day become Cornwall, something was moving deep beneath the ocean. Parts of the Earth’s mantle were being forced through the crust and exposed to seawater, resulting in the formation of the ‘rock of a thousand hues and tones’ known as Serpentine. Serpentine, so named for its scaly, ‘reptilian’ texture, forms the cliffs at Kynance Cove and has been utilised by humans worldwide for over 30,000 years. In Cornwall written evidence of serpentine usage dates back to 1828, however local traditions would have existed significantly earlier. The popularity of Cornish serpentine as a building material took off after the Great Exhibition of 1851, in which Prince Albert ordered several pieces and souvenirs to be displayed. The Lizard Serpentine Company established a factory at Poltesco in 1855, producing serpentine stonework until 1870. Due to rising costs and falling demand the factory shifted focus to working with marble until finally closing in 1893, the remains of which can still be seen at Carleon Cove. Most of the smaller family-led workshops surrounding Kynance Cove have also since closed, and today only five local craftspeople remain.

By Jacob Hannam (Intern from University of Exeter)

Sources:
The Lizard Serpentine Works | History
British Pathé – Serpentine Rock (1963)
Kirby, G. A. (1979). The Lizard Complex as an ophiolite. Nature, London, 282, pp. 58–61.
Sagar-Fenton, Michael; Smith, Stuart B (2005). Serpentine. Mount Hawke: Truran
Bates, Robin; Scolding, Bill (2000). Beneath the Skin of The Lizard. Truro: Cornwall County Council. pp. 19–23.