Among the huge slabs of honey-coloured Purbeck stone near Acton, Kevin Keates is a real gem. He’s warm, kind and a great storyteller, but he also has a secret skill: he can read the rocks under our shoes like a book. He can tell which ones are lying too close to a fault-line to be sound, and which ones will shape up into a perfect building stone. That’s because quarrying is in his blood; he’s the thirteenth generation of his family to work here. His son and grandson make that fifteen.

 Kevin says he feels easy in his skin up here on the hill, and, like many people in Purbeck, can’t put his finger on why he loves the place so much.  He just loves it! 

Quarrying is hard work, especially when the wind and rain blow in during the winter months, but it’s been, literally, the bedrock of the Purbeck economy for centuries. Kevin feels proud to be part of this long tradition. When stonemasons need to make repairs to beautiful buildings such as Salisbury Cathedral, it’s to Purbeck they must come. The ‘marble’ that adorns most of the great cathedrals in southern England is only found under these hills.  It’s why Kevin believes quarrying must be slow and steady - sustainable for the long term. Life, he tells me, should not be driven by greed. He has a framed picture in the office, captioned in Dorset dialect: “Contentment is a constant feast. He is richest who do want the least.”

This must be the only quarry in the world that has a poem inscribed in stone outside the works office. It was written by his dear friend and fellow quarryman, Geoff Hooper, who died in 2003.  Geoff told him that working the stone was a meditative experience. Kevin agrees that it makes for a particularly deep connection to the Purbeck landscape. 

As work shuts down for the day, rabbits start bounding through the quarry. Kevin tells me there’s a fox that sometimes lies down and watches him work; that pied wagtails are regular nesters; and that he’s seen stoats and badgers on site.  One spring morning, the crew discovered tiny wren fledglings flying about in the cutting shed. Outside, was a hungry carrion crow. They decided to keep the shed door closed so the wrens could better get their wings. In these - sometimes unexpected - ways, Kevin is a custodian of Purbeck life.  An hour in his company is an hour well spent.

Interviewed by Sue Western - Sept 2021
Part of the Why we love Purbeck series, local Residents tell us what Purbeck means to them.

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