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Curiosities & Features

alabaster

alabaster
Alabaster
One of the most distinctive geological features of the cliffs at West Street are the seams of alabaster.

Alabaster is a translucent form of gypsum (see 'Watchet Geology' Eric Robinson). It is a soft material and can be carved easily and an impression can be made with a thumbnail. It is generally considered unsuitable as an exterior building material, it was however used by the ancient Egyptians as a decorative facing to the pyramids near Cairo. A little closer to home in Swain Street it has been used as a decorative keystone above the doors and windows of 'Boy o boy'.

Its particular qualities make it an ideal material for carving and it is often found in churches in tomb decoration. The font in St. Peters church, Williton is made of Watchet alabaster. It has a date of 1666 and has two sets initials carved into it - R.W. and R.P and appear to be contemporary with the font. It was a superstition that alabaster had certain healing qualities and these were enhanced if removed from a religious site which is why alabaster effigies often have small pieces missing.



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