Rural Settlement in the Isle of Purbeck For a zipped version of the html files, please click here.
Abstract
The Isle of Purbeck has long been a popular study area for geographical field groups because of the variety of geology, relief and land use evident within a relatively small area. These factors have had an important influence on the pattern of rural settlement, making it a good case study for many of the major issues that affect rural populations today.

‘The modern village is defined as a small group of houses, none of which can get pizza delivered. Many urban dwellers have a secret dream of living in a beautiful collection of rose-covered cottages nestled around a wide village green overlooked by the church spire and village pub. Many people who live in real villages also have this dream.’
Dorset Rural Facilities Survey, 2002.

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small globe icon Location and historical development

The Isle of Purbeck forms the southeastern part of Purbeck District in Dorset (Figures 1 and 2). It is an area of about 200 km2, bounded by the sea to the south and east, and by the River Frome and Poole Harbour to the north. The Isle of Purbeck does not constitute a formal administrative area and, as such, its western boundary is open to debate. Figure 2 shows the boundary extending west to Lulworth Cove, but some writers would not go beyond Worbarrow Bay.

Figure 1. Location map of Dorset.

Figure 1. Location map of Dorset

Figure 2. Location map of Purbeck District and the Isle of Purbeck.

Figure 2. Location map of Purbeck District and the Isle of Purbeck.

Figure 3 is a north-south transect across the area showing the main geological strata and how physical and human characteristics vary with geology. Settlement, both rural and urban (the latter in the form of Swanage), is concentrated on the Wealden Clay, the most fertile of the main geological strata. Fieldwork and analysis of OS maps show the greatest concentration of farms in this region, explaining the agricultural origin of villages and hamlets. Swanage, as a seaside resort, grew slowly during the nineteenth century, but after the railway arrived in 1885, the resort really expanded. In the twentieth century, tourism also became an important influence on other settlements in the Isle of Purbeck, particularly Corfe Castle and Studland.

Figure 3. Transect across the Isle of Purbeck.

Figure 3. Transect across the Isle of Purbeck.

Rural settlement is less dense on the higher and steeper Jurassic limestone to the south, where the soil is not as fertile as on the Wealden Clay (Figure 4). Here, some settlements, such as Acton and Langton Matravers, owe their origin more to the mining and quarrying of Purbeck and Portland Stone than to agriculture.

The steep and narrow chalk ridge to the north is understandably devoid of modern settlement, with the ruins of the medieval Corfe Castle standing astride the gaps eroded in the ridge by East Brook and West Brook, which join north of the castle to form the Corfe River. The castle, run by the National Trust, was once the most fortified in England. The village of Corfe Castle extends south of the castle and the chalk ridge in a broadly linear fashion. The A351, sometimes referred to as the spine of Purbeck, follows the gap in the chalk ridge, through the village of Corfe Castle and on to the southeast towards Swanage.

The Bagshot Beds form the northern part of the Isle of Purbeck. Here heathland dominates on the sandy, infertile soil, resulting in a very sparse population. Some rural settlement originally developed in this area due to the extraction of ball clay. This area contains the UK’s largest on-shore oil field at Wytch Farm.

Figure 4. Geology of the Isle of Purbeck.

Figure 4. Geology of the Isle of Purbeck.

small globe icon The hierarchy of settlements

The Isle of Purbeck is classed as a remote rural district in the
hierarchy of settlements. Here the rural settlement is concentrated in clustered villages (Figure 5), with Corfe Castle being the largest. Although these villages are set in a network of isolated farms and houses, there are relatively few hamlets in the region. Lower-order urban services are provided by the towns of Swanage and Wareham, with higher-order urban services being found in the Bournemouth-Poole conurbation, as it has increasingly become known in the region. Wareham is just north of the River Frome and is therefore considered outside of the Isle of Purbeck. Once a significant port in the Middle Ages, it is sometimes referred to as ‘the gateway to the Isle of Purbeck’.

Figure 5. The village of Studland with Poole Harbour in the background.

Figure 5. The village of Studland with Poole Harbour in the background.

The interaction between the various levels of the settlement hierarchy is an important factor in understanding the main issues concerning rural settlement in the region. The growth of the Bournemouth-Poole conurbation, with a population now approaching half a million people, has had an increasing influence on the rural settlement of the Isle of Purbeck, with the region developing an important dormitory function. The resulting commuter traffic at peak periods presents particular problems on the peninsula.

For reasons that will be discussed below, most rural settlements have lost key services in recent decades, with service provision being increasingly concentrated at the two urban levels of the settlement hierarchy.

Figure 6. Village pub at Worth Matravers.

Figure 6. Village pub at Worth Matravers.

small globe icon Population change

Figure 7 shows that the population of Purbeck District as a whole (seen in Figure 2) has risen consistently over the past 40 years, although the rate of growth has varied by parish. Of the parishes illustrated in Figure 7, only Studland and Church Knowle had lower populations in 2001 than they did in 1961.

Figure 7.   Population of some Purbeck Parishes 1961–2001.

Parish

1961

1971

1981

1991

2001

Hectares

Persons/Ha

Arne (including Stoborough)

1,066

1,062

1,050

1,159

1,420

2,483

0.57

Church Knowle

391

341

338

332

320

1,183

0.27

Corfe Castle (including Kingston)

1,381

1,292

1347

1,341

1,460

3,745

0.39

Kimmeridge

87

70

77

96

110

402

0.27

Langton Matravers

950

953

902

910

1,030

896

1.15

Studland

635

620

432

473

480

2,053

0.23

Worth Matravers (including Harman’s Cross)

580

576

518

605

660

1,098

0.60

Purbeck District

32,075

36,688

40,414

42,383

44,441

40,442

1.10

West Dorset

     

91,060

 

10,8153

0.84

Source: Environmental Studies in Purbeck – Handbook by David Kemp, 1996.
Later data from PDC and WDCC

Figure 8 compares the population structure of Purbeck District with the UK average. The population of Purbeck District is considerably older than that of the country as a whole, mainly because of the popularity of the area for retirement. However, the out-migration of young adults in search of wider economic opportunities and lower-cost accommodation is also a factor. In 2001, the crude birth rate for Purbeck District was 10.1 per 1000, while the death rate was 11.9 per 1000, resulting in a natural decrease in the population. In some areas of Purbeck, the crude death rate was much higher. For example, in Castle Ward, which comprises the parishes of Corfe Castle and Studland, the crude death rate was 19.6 per 1000.

Figure 8. Population pyramid comparing Purbeck with the UK average.

Figure 8. Population pyramid comparing Purbeck with the UK average.
Source: National Statistics website.

small globe icon The rural housing problem

Figure 9 shows that house prices in the area have risen at a rate above the national average over the last decade or so. This has been due largely to competition from a number of different groups of people:

This high level of competition for a limited number of available properties has pushed the cost of housing to a level well beyond the reach of most local people. The problem is compounded by the fact that local employment opportunities are limited and wages are low. The average weekly wage for people living in Purbeck District in 2004 was only £449, nearly six per cent below the national figure.

The right to buy local authority housing has reduced the potential stock of moderately priced rented properties. This, combined with the inability of many in the established population to compete with newcomers, has led to significant fragmentation of some local communities.

Figure 9.   House price increases 1998–2003.

Area

House price increase in per cent

England and Wales

86

Purbeck

100

South West

119

Dorset

114

Source: Purbeck District Council – Draft Local Development Scheme, March 05.

small globe icon Rural service decline

Dorset County Council sees access to services as a key issue in the county. Service decline can have a huge impact on rural populations. This is an issue that has affected virtually all rural areas in Britain in recent decades. The Dorset Rural Facilities Survey 2002 found a continuing decline in rural services in the Isle of Purbeck and throughout Dorset (Figures 10, 11 and 12). Some services had declined more than others in the previous decade. The survey noted a ‘dramatic decline in the number of shops selling general produce, whether they are incorporated within a post office, garage or as a stand-alone general store’. The survey looked at the following services:

Figure 10. Rural post office closures in Dorset 1991–2002.

Figure 10. Rural post office closures in Dorset 1991–2002.
Source: Dorset Rural Facilities Survey 2002.

Figure 11. Public house closures in Rural Dorset 1991–2002.

Figure 11. Public house closures in Rural Dorset 1991–2002.
Source: Dorset Rural Facilities Survey 2002.

Figure 12. Rural petrol station closures in Dorset 1991–2002.

Figure 12. Rural petrol station closures in Dorset 1991–2002.
Source: Dorset Rural Facilities Survey 2002.

In particular the survey noted that for Dorset as a whole:

However, the Survey also noted some service gains. Six village surgeries had opened since 1991 and there had been no rural school closures in the previous decade. The village church, or chapel, continued to be the facility most available in rural Dorset (Figure 13). However, the trend in recent years has been for parishes to be grouped and served by one minister or priest. This has resulted in churches, particularly in the smaller villages, not being used as regularly as in the past, but rather on a rota basis. The number of Dorset villages with village halls has remained constant over the last two decades. Over three-quarters of villages with a resident population of 100 or more have a village hall. The village hall acts as a focal point for many rural communities, providing a venue for a wide range of activities.

Figure 13.   Churches and Village Halls in rural Dorset – survey results in 1984, 1991 and 2002.

Year

Per cent of villages with churches/chapels

Per cent of villages with village halls

1984

84

56

1991

84

56

2002

80

52

Figure 14 shows the rural service situation in 2004 in the Isle of Purbeck. It includes the villages of Wool and West Lulworth that some writers would regard as being just outside the western boundary of the region. Corfe Castle has by far the best level of service provision. It is interesting to compare Corfe Castle with Langton Matravers. Both have broadly similar populations, but service provision in Langton Matravers is considerably below that of Corfe Castle. Clearly Corfe’s tourism function has been an important positive influence on services, while Langton Matravers' close proximity to Swanage (and thus a high level of competition) has undoubtedly deterred some services that might otherwise have been inclined to locate in the village. Other anomalies also stand out. For example, Ridge, with a population of almost 300, lacks a village hall. Ridge is one of six settlements in Dorset of a broadly similar size lacking this facility that a number of smaller settlements have (Figure 15).

Figure 14.   Rural facilities on the Isle of Purbeck.

Source: Dorset County Council, 2004

Figure 15.   Villages with a population of over 350 with no village hall.

Charlton Down

West Dorset

Milton Abbas

North Dorset

West Knighton

West Dorset

Winterbourne Abbas

West Dorset

Ridge

Purbeck

Sutton Poyntz

Weymouth & Portland

Source: Dorset Rural Facilities Survey, 2002

Rural settlements are constantly in fear of losing services such as a post office or the one remaining pub. Privately owned services are lost more quickly than public services because, for the latter, the decision to remain open is not purely an economic one since social and political considerations are also important. Figure 16 clarifies some of the main factors determining the viability of privately owned services. Service decline makes people more reliant on transport, both public and private, to gain access to basic services.

Figure 16.   Threshold populations and village services.

Threshold population for
a village service

Village population and threshold areas

Number of customers
using a village service

Requirement increases with an increase in costs that cannot be passed on to the customer without affecting demand [i.e. a large increase in rent for a village pub]

Requirement decreases with a reduction in costs [i.e. a fall in the business rate]

F

- 1000 -

E

- 800 -

D

- 600 -

C

- 400 -

B

- 200 -

A

Demand decreases when

1.       Depopulation occurs

2.       Consumer retail habits change, i.e. shopping mainly at urban or edge of urban superstores; buying cheap French beer and drinking at home

Demand increases when

1.       Counterurbanisation affects an area and population increases

2.       When the number of non-residents visiting the area rises, i.e. due to tourism or new rural manufacturing

3.       Villagers agreed to spend a certain amount on a service in order to safeguard it

In terms of causal factors for rural service decline, the Dorset Rural Facilities Survey pointed in particular to:

It is now the policy of Dorset’s District Councils not to permit the change of use of public houses in rural settlements unless it can be demonstrated that:

There have been some high-profile cases over the last decade or so where the local community has fought to save their village pub, sometimes with success but not always.

Figure 17. Post office and general store in Studland.

Figure 17. Post office and general store in Studland.

small globe icon The decline of public transport

Public transport in the Isle of Purbeck is limited. It exists in the form of the 150 bus from Poole to Swanage via the Sandbanks/Studland ferry and the 142/143/144 via Holton Heath, Sandford, Wareham, Corfe and, variously, Kingston, Langton Matravers, Worth Matravers and Harman’s Cross to Swanage. There is extra minibus coverage through volunteer schemes but this is also limited in extent. The decline in public transport in rural areas usually becomes a vicious cycle (Figure 18).

In terms of rail transport, Wareham Station is on the London Waterloo to Weymouth line. The line between Wareham and Swanage was cut in 1972, along with many other rural railway lines around the country. A connection from Wareham to Furzebrook was, however, maintained to serve the railhead for the oil well at Wytch Farm. Swanage does boast a steam railway but this is basically a tourist facility. The Swanage Railway currently operates on the six miles of track between Swanage and Norden, passing the ruins of Corfe Castle. However, a prime objective of the Swanage Railway Trust is to restore the rail link between Swanage and Wareham, re-establishing a daily service to connect with mainline trains.

Figure 18. Model of the decline in public transport in rural areas.

Figure 18. Model of the decline in public transport in rural areas.

small globe icon Rural deprivation

Although rural deprivation is often less obvious than urban deprivation, it affects a considerable number of people including communities in the Isle of Purbeck. The following types of rural deprivation can be recognised:

Deprivation is concentrated in the long-established population. Those who have migrated into the area generally have a significantly higher level of income.

small globe icon The village of Corfe Castle

Located in the centre of the Isle of Purbeck, the village has a population of 1,040 people, about two-thirds of the population of the parish of Corfe Castle. Because of its position and size, the village acts as a local service centre for the parish and surrounding areas. The A351 passes through the village, linking it to the towns of Wareham to the northwest and Swanage to the southeast, both of which are approximately five miles away. The nearest town, Poole, is fourteen miles away.

Corfe is linear in shape, having developed along two streets, East Street and West Street. West Street is the older, having been important in the medieval stone industry. East Street, which forms part of the A351, has taken most of the recent residential development, mainly in the form of a large number of cul-de-sacs on its eastern side.

In terms of retail provision, the village contains a post office, a general store, a newsagent, a butcher and a baker. This is a higher level of provision than all other rural settlements on the Isle of Purbeck and better than most villages in the entire county of Dorset. Corfe Castle has an important tourist function, reflected in its National Trust gift shop, three cafés, a confectioner, a rock and gem shop, a specialist photo gallery, two specialist toy shops and a designer jeweller. A hotel and four pubs provide services for both tourists and residents. A small garage provides service and repairs but does not offer petrol sales. At the time of writing, a reliable local source said that the village butcher was close to retirement and there was concern that the shop might close down for good.

Figure 19. Primary school in Corfe.

Figure 19. Primary school in Corfe.

Figure 20. Sheltered housing for the elderly in Corfe.

Figure 20. Sheltered housing for the elderly in Corfe.

The primary school (Figure 19), a vital aspect of village life, serves the whole of Purbeck. Corfe also boasts a library with limited opening hours, and a doctor’s surgery. The village hall is another important aspect of the social life of the community.

Most housing in Corfe is owner-occupied but there is also some private and public rented housing. The National Trust has been a major landlord in Corfe, although in recent years the Trust has sold a number of properties to private individuals. The number of Local Authority houses has declined due to the right-to-buy facility that was introduced nationally by the Conservative government in the early-1980s. As in so many other similar settlements, there is a pressing need for low-cost rented accommodation for young people. In recent years, two small Housing Association developments have been completed, but this has not been enough to satisfy demand. New housing in Corfe Castle has been largely restricted to infill within the village boundary, but there is now little land of this nature left.

The village is, to a certain extent, a retirement centre (Figure 20), but it is also a commuter settlement for Swanage and Wareham and also offers reasonably easy access to the Bournemouth-Poole conurbation via both Wareham and the ferry from Studland to Sandbanks. The relatively high level of service provision (Figure 21) within the village provides a reasonable number of employment opportunities, but employment in agriculture now provides very few jobs.

Figure 21. Map of Corfe.

Figure 21. Map of Corfe.

Figure 22 provides socio-economic data for the parish of Corfe Castle and for Purbeck District.

Figure 22.   Socio-economic data for the parish of Corfe Castle and for Purbeck District.

 

Corfe Castle Parish

Purbeck District

Economic activity of residents

Full-time employees

Part-time employees

Self employed

Unemployed

Students

Retired

Other economically inactive 1



310

147

156

16

21

221

145

30.5%

14.5%

15.4%

1.6%

2.1%

21.8%

14.3%



36.8%

14.2%

11.4%

1.9%

5.0%

18.6%

12.1%

Type of employment of residents

Agriculture/hunting/forestry; fishing

Mining/quarrying

Manufacturing

Utilities; Construction; Transport & Communication

Wholesale/retail trade/motor repair

Hotels and catering

Financial; Real estate

Public administration; Education

Health and social work

Other 2



43

10

63

73

77

75

99

78

62

51

6.8%

1.6%

10.0%

11.6%

12.2%

11.9%

15.7%

12.4%

9.8%

8.1%



3.1%

1.0%

13.1%

13.3%

14.3%

8.2%

15.0%

15.9%

10.4%

5.7%

Social Grade of residents

AB Higher and intermediate
managerial/administrative/professional

C1 Supervisory; clerical; junior
managerial/administrative/professional

C2 Skilled manual workers

D Semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers

E On state benefit; unemployed; lowest grade
workers



235


392


173

145

259

19.5%


32.6%


14.4%

12.0%

21.5%



20.4%


31.8%


17.5%

14.6%

15.6%

Distance to work for residents

Works mainly at or from home

Less than 2km

2km to less than 5km

5km to less than 10km

10km to less than 30km

30km to less than 60km

60km and over

No fixed place/outside UK/offshore



112

98

44

131

157

6

38

37

18.0%

15.7%

7.1%

21.0%

25.2%

1.0%

6.1%

5.9%



11.9%

22.1%

13.9%

14.8%

25.1%

2.3%

3.6%

6.3%

Excluding people who work mainly at or from home:
Residents working (wherever they work)
People working in Parish (wherever they live)

511
540*

 

*380 of these are recorded working outside Corfe Castle Village – many of these will have been employed at Wytch Farm

Source: 2001 Census, Office for National Statistics (via Neighbourhood Statistics website)


[1] Looking after home/family, permanently sick/disabled and other
[2]Other includes: other community, social and personal service activities; private households with employed persons and extra-territorial organisations and bodies

small globe icon Conclusion

The desire to live in or to move to a rural area of noted scenic beauty is strong in the UK. However, many people are largely unaware of the significant problems that affect most rural regions. Although government at both national and county levels have signalled their intent to improve a number of aspects of rural life, success may well be difficult to achieve.