Ashford in the Water Black Marble

Famous for having the most photographed bridge in Britain and for its chocolate box image, Ashford in the Water is also famous for its rare black marble. The dark limestone which is quarried from mines near the village is a very highly decorative and sought after stone, with a shiny black surface once it is cut, turned and polished. It can be cut and inlaid with other decorative stones and minerals using a technique called ‘pietra dura’, the term for the inlay technique of using cut and finished, highly polished coloured stones to create images. It is not a true marble in the geological sense, but a very fine-grained sedimentary rock.

The use of this decorative local black mineral has been found and recorded way back in prehistoric finds. It’s very first famous customer to go on the records was Bess of Hardwick in 1580. The uncle of Derbyshire geologist White Watson, Henry Watson is one of the key figures in the development of the local industry. He more or less invented the inlaying of Ashford black marble, way back in the 1750s. Living and working in Ashford in the Water, he was very well respected and owned a water powered mill, which turned out a thriving trade in the manufacture of decorative items from the black marble during the late 18th and early 19th century. Ashford church today houses a wonderful example of an inlaid tabletop.

Henry Watson also invented a machine for cutting and polishing the marble and his factory continued working until the early part of the 20th century. A museum in Matlock Bath dealt in black marble, owned by John Mawe, the British mineralogist.  Anne Rayner engraved pictures.

There are now some spectacular examples of black marble in local collections, including those of Buxton Museum, Derby Museum, and in Chatsworth house. In 2009 huge blocks unworked marble were excavated near the Seven Stars pub in Derby. The original plan was to auction them off because of the rarity of the unworked black marble. It is thought the rocks had been abandoned when an Ashford black marble manufacturer moved in the 1880s.