by Ben Russell
It might come as a surprise to find that there are coral reefs off the coast of Weymouth, but while they might not be as large or spectacular as Australia’s Great Coral Reef, they belong to one of the most biologically diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on earth. Sculptor Ben Russell has chosen three different reef dwellers and recreated them in larger-than-life-size Portland stone, which nestle together on the Promenade, surrounded by coastal planting.
All three creatures live off the Dorset coast, though one of them has a special connection to the town: the Weymouth Carpet Coral was first described here in 1860, which is why it bears its name. The other two are cold-water sponges: the so-called Crater Sponge, and an antler-shaped sponge called Adreus fascicularis, which is also a Dorset speciality, though it’s scarce elsewhere.
Ben Russell has strong Weymouth connections too, having studied architectural stonework and conservation at Weymouth College before working on the stonework of many famous buildings, including the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament. Returning to Dorset in 2017, he set up his own studio near Bridport, where he creates sculptures inspired by organic shapes and the natural world. As he says, ‘I am fascinated by the interaction of seemingly soft and flowing organic forms within a hard natural material.’
Location: Seafront promenade, DT4 7AT
Weymouth’s beach and Esplanade is probably the first thing most people think of in connection with the town, but what we see today was originally just a narrow spit of sand, with the sea on one side and the wide, marshy estuary of the River Wey on the other. Until the 18th century there were hardly any buildings here, but that all changed after George III started holidaying on the seafront at Gloucester Lodge in 1789.
His arrival transformed the town, and by way of thanks, a statue of the King made from artificial Coade stone was erected in 1809. Within a few years the Esplanade extended as far as Brunswick Terrace, though it was badly damaged in the Great Storm of 1824: if you look carefully you can find a plaque commemorating the event on the beach office building nearby.
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