Monday, November 03, 2008

Ashford Marble

Chatsworth, Derbyshire UK

Above: The black marble mines of Ashford-in-the-Water Derbyshire [map from Peak Heritage]

Above: Ashford marble columns in the chapel at Chatsworth

Above: A large Ashford marble vase with hard stone inlay

Above: Ashford marble steps and columns

Above: Black Ashford marble columns

The Chatsworth house collection comprises some of Europe's finest private art collections, representing 400 years of European culture and craftsmanship.

Among the interesting features are two examples of Ashford Marble. The Ashford marble mill was founded by Henry Watson on the River Wye in 1748, the main source was from Arrock Quarry beside the road to Sheldon, close to Chatsworth house.

The marble existed in prehistoric times, a dressed slab was found in a tumulus on fin cop above Monsal Dale. Strictly speaking Ashford marble is not a marble but an impure form of limestone naturally impregnated with a bitumen, Because it changes from a grey to a glossy black when polished.

At Chatsworth Bess of Hardwick commissioned a black marble chimney piece in 1580. About 1700 the great Grandson, of Bess of Hardwick, the 4th Earl of Devonshire, used the marble for interior building work during his major rebuilding off Chatsworth. In the 1830's the 6th Duke had a massive marble doorway executed at Ashford for his new wing at Chatsworth, as well as ornamental gritstone balustrades for the stairs and external battlements.

The work produced was very much in tune with the tastes of Victorian English society and was in such demand that the whole village was taken over by its manufacture. Ashford marble found popularity as a decorative material when polished the black marble provided a perfect background for mosaic and inlaid patterns. Local workers made tourist souvenirs of inlaid ornaments. In 1835 William Adam began working floral inlay designs, some believe the 6th Duke of Devonshre encouraged this after he had been to Italy and seen the inlay there. The work produced was reputed to be equal to the finest produced in Florence and examples from several craftsmen were shown at the great exhibition in 1851.

Most prized was the rare Duke's red, found in limited supply in the Ashford locality. The entire supply was stored at Chatsworth on the orders of the 7th Duke of Devonshire, in 1970's Duke's red marble was incorporated in the Cavendish crest, a serpent laid near Chatsworth house.

The very popularity of Ashford black marble was also its nemesis as cheap substitutes of painted designs on treated slate were frequently being created. Ashford marble remained popular throughout the reign of Queen Victoria, but towards the end of the century tastes were changing. The quarry closed in 1905 though inlay work continued for a few years until the marble reserves were used up. The site of the marble works was partly lost in the construction of the A6.

There are still two examples of Ashford marble at Chatsworth. The chapel features black marble columns and steps and there is also a fine example of a large Asford marble inlaid vase.


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