Ashford Black Marble

The village of Ashford in the Water is justly considered to be one of the most attractive villages in the Peak District National Park. But its fame rests on more than its idyllic setting, for its name will forever be associated with a remarkable rock, a jet black bituminous limestone known as the Ashford Black Marble which is found in the hills surrounding the village. This rock has been quarried and mined for over 300 years and was originally used for a variety of architectural purposes. However, in the early years of the 19th century one of the Peak's petrifactioneers, William Adam, having presumably seen examples of Florentine pietra dure in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire at nearby Chatsworth House, realized that the Black Marble could be employed as a suitable base material for this work. And thus the craft and, I am tempted to say, industry of Ashford Black Marble Inlay began.

The work produced was very much in tune with the predilections of Victorian English society and was in such demand that the whole village was taken over by its manufacture. The work produced was equal to the finest produced in Florence, and examples from several craftsmen were shown at the great exhibition in 1851.

But the very popularity of Ashford Black Marble Inlay was, unfortunately, also its nemesis. Cheap substitutes - painted designs on treated slate - eventually took their toll. The industry was in terminal decline by the end of the 19th Century, although individual craftsmen carried on the tradition up to about 1930, and "new" pieces could still be bought in the 1950's.

Unlike a good deal of Florentine pietra dure or Florentine "mosaics", Ashford Black Marble Inlay is true inlay : the elegant floral designs formed from a variety of semi-precious stones, shells and ceramics are set into recesses gouged in the Black Marble. The resulting "pictures in stone" will not only last but also retain their original freshness eternally.

Materials Used in Inlaying Ashford Black Marble

Material Appearence Notes
Floral inlays:    
Verde d'Arno marble Olive green, grey, brown Most leaves
Malachite Bright green, banded Occasionally for leaves
Clam shell Dead white Petals, jasmine, Lily of the Valley etc.
Conch shell Pink, but often faded Dog rose petals
Enamel, slag, glass Turquoise Speedwell petals
     
Geometrical inlays:    
- - - the above materials + - - -    
Duke's Red Marble Brick red a.k.a. "Derby Rosso"
Siena marble Dull yellow  
Lapis Lazuli Bright blue  
Goldstone Brown, sparkling Artificial, Venetian glass with copper fillings
Iona marble Pale green  
Connemara marble Identical to Iona marble  
Oakstone Brown, banded Discovered in 1832 so provides a dateline
Rosewood marble Brown/black banded  
Large birdseye marble Black with white dots Derbyshire fossil coral
Small birdseye marble Black with small white dots Different variety of coral
Cornish serpentine Mottled red / black  

Ashford Black Marble to Purchase:

We endeavour to keep a stock of antique pieces although, of necessity, these are not always easy to find. We currently have the following items in stock. Prices quoted do not include postage and packing.
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Pendant Cross
Exceptional example with a complex floral inlay achieved in a small cross a mere 2½" x 1½".
£265
Desk Inkwell
Fine desk inkwell, the base inlayed with intertwined jasmines and some 9" in diameter.
£575
Large Brooch
Silver-mounted round brooch 1½" (40mm) in diameter. Inlay is perfect . . . and please note, this IS Ashford work and not Italian pietre dura.                       
£295
Candlestick
Delightful candlestick standing 4½" tall with a 4½" diameter base. Two rings of malachite scrapwork inlay contrast beautifully with the polished black marble.                          
£395
Pendant Cross
Very shapely cross 3¼" long fitted with a metal ring for wearing as a pendant. One tiny chip which is virtually invisible and a really outstanding floral inlay.                          
£395
Scrapwork Thermometer
Fine thermometer standing 7¾" tall with scrapwork inlay around the ivory-backed thermometer. The latter, unusually, is signed "S. Bright & Co. BUXTON". Very nice condition with only a couple of the very tiniest chips.                                
£525
Large Obelisk with Thermometer
Typical obelisk almost 16" tall with scrapwork inlay around the ivory-backed thermometer and a fine inlay of Lily-of-the Valley on the pedestal. Incorporates many local materials; oakstone, rosewood marble, Duke's Red Marble etc. etc.                               
£595
Fine Tall Candlestick
Impressive candlestick standing some 11" tall and of an unusual and most pleasing design. Three rings of scrapwork inlay of mostly local stones.                                      
£525
Large Inkwell
Substantial base over 7" in diameter has a fine ring of inlaid pieces, mostly Derbyshire but with a few "foreigners" - Sienna Marble, malachite and even one piece of Lapis Lazuli. The inkwell itself is a replacement and is actually fashioned from ebony with a hallmarked silver ring around the hole in the lid. The condition of the base is good with perfect inlay, and I note only a thin crack in the top of the inkwell itself.                                             
£385
Large Desk Set
Desk set with inkwell measuring 12" across with colourful scrapwork and in exceptional condition.                                
SOLD
Paperweight
Typical paperweight with a striking jasmine motif in clam and malachite. Nice inlay, but with the number of "nibbles" around the edges of the piece reflected in the price.  Size? 5¼" x 3¼".                            
SOLD
Pair of Floral Candlesticks
Fine pair of candlesticks standing 4½" tall with inlaid bases of a similar diameter. Matching "mirror image" inlays of jasmines and speedwells.                        
SOLD
Desk Set
An exceptional desk set with a classic jasmine inlay and perhaps the finest Lily-of-the-Valley I have ever come across. 11½" x 9"                        
SOLD
Modern Paperweight
Rectangular paperweight 4" x 2" (x 1" thick), the work of Eddie Fisher, a name more usually associated with Blue John. The paperweight has a base of Derbyshire crinoidal limestone from the Once-a-Week Quarry at Sheldon, with a thick veneer of Ashford Black Marble and a decorative malachite and Mother-of-Pearl motif.
SOLD
Pendant
Exquisite small pendant some 1½" x 1" with a jasmine inlay.                                
SOLD
Paperweight
Large paperweight 5½" x3¼" x 1" thick with inlets along the edges for finger and thumb and a typical jasmine group inlaid into the top. Nice condition: a fine example of this popular Victorian souvenir/
SOLD
Scrapwork Cross
Cross standing just over 6" tall and inlayed with a variety of mostly Derbyshire materials including Oakstone, Blue John, Duke's Red and Rosewood Marble.
SOLD
Desk-top Paperweight
Paperweight some 5" x 3¼" (x ¾"  thick) with scrapwork inlay including Blue John, oakstone, Rosewood Marble and other local stones. The paperweight has a shapely knob, four slots for pens and is in good condition noting, inevitable, some small "nibbles" around the edges.                                   
SOLD
Fine Pair of Floral Candlesticks
Matching pair of candlesticks with typical jasmine motifs standing 4" high with 4¼" diameter bases. Some restoration but the candlesticks display well.                                    
SOLD
Dressing Table Centrepiece
Flat base supported on three balls some 6" in diameter with a fine inlay of jasmines in clam shell and malachite with a cut-glass cosmetic jar at the centre. Originally formed a set with the two candlesticks below but I will sell them as separate items.                                   
SOLD
Spill vase
Vase stands 5" tall and is in very good condition. The raised ring of inlay contains a number of local stones (including Blue John).                                         
SOLD
Large Candlesticks
Exceptional pair of matching candlesticks just under 12" tall with four different inlyed motifs - dog rose, Lily of the Valley etc.                                                   
SOLD
Scrapwork Brooch
Victorian brooch some 2" (5cm) in diameter with a colourful inlaid ring of stones, some local (including 3 pieces of Duke's Red marble) and some imported (Siberian malachite, Afghan lapis lazuli). Very good condition.                                                    
SOLD
Pair of Earrings
Neat pair of inlaid earrings, typical jasmine and speedwell motif and tiny - just under 1" (23mm) in diameter. Nice condition, the small amount of stem loss not really detracting from the appearance of theses delightful little gems.                                                 
SOLD
Thermometer
Typical desk thermometer with malachite and clam-shell inlays of jasmines and lilies of the the valley. The ivory thermometer scale has the signature of a Torquay retailer. Excellent condition                                        
SOLD
Unusual Paperweight
Paperweight some 5½" x 3½" (x ¾" thick) with a stylish knob and a restrained ornament of alternating strips of shell and Duke's Red Marble - probably originally part of a specially-commissioned desk set.                                                   
SOLD
Large Spill Vase
Vase stands over 6" tall with a base some 4½" in diameter. It is in good condition with a very nice inlaid dog rose. There is a small repair to the rim but this is barely perceptible                                          
SOLD
Matching Obelisks
A very elegant pair of matching obelisks standing 15½" tall with malachite inlaid into the "needles" and "mirror image" floral inlays of jasmines in the bases. Excellent condition.
SOLD
Pendant
Very attractive pendant with a jasmine and forget-me-not motif beautifully executed (note the skilled use of shading to make the main flower come alive). The stone is just over 1½" x 1¼" and is fitted with a large silver bail which would take a heavy chain or, in Victorian fashion, a ribbon.                                    
SOLD
Small Paperweight
Unusually small paperweight, just 3½" x 2½" (x ¾" thick). A few very tiny chips but nothing of any significance and a perfect inlay in the form of the typical jasmine and buds. inlay                                      
SOLD
Pair of Candlesticks
Perfect matching pair of candlesticks their bases just over 3¼" in diameter. Nice "mirror-image" jasmine + speedwell inlays with only a little stemming missing.
SOLD
Miniature Ewer
Small ewer standing 10½" tall and mounted on a "dish" 5" in diameter. The piece would have had a thin, curved handle when made but these were attached fairly weakly and often came off as I would imagine has happened here. Apart from this the piece is in fine condition with no chips etc. and an extravagant inlay of dog roses and buds. An unusual piece.
SOLD

 

Teapot Stand
Superb oval  stand some 6½" x 4½" mounted on four button feet with excellent floral inlay of jasmine, speedwells etc.                                             
SOLD
Thermometer
Stands just over 5" tall. Very nice inlay with nothing missing and a delicate use of shading within the shell pieces to suggest depth. Good mercury thermometer on an ivory scale.
SOLD 
Matching Spill Holders
Not common objects because of the difficulty in hollowing out this particular shape. These examples are 5" tall with two "different but matching" floral inlays, Nice condition with only very minor chips around the lower edges of the bases.
SOLD 
Thermometer
Typical inlaid thermometer with a wide variety of decorative stones from Derbyshire. The item is just under 8½" tall and is in good condition; I note only a couple of small chips and two repaired areas
SOLD 

 

Perfume Flask
An unusual item in a very pleasing shape standing some 4½" tall and the base also 4½" in diameter. Attractive scrapwork inlay in both the flask and the large stopper with many Derbyshire stones including oakstone and Blue John
SOLD
Candlestick
A most unusual early piece when the floral inlay was based on designs from the Taj Mahal rather than the later Florentine motifs. The candlestick stands just over 4" tall with its base just under 4" in diameter. Excellent condition
SOLD
Thermometer
Typical inlaid thermometer with a wide variety of decorative stones from Derbyshire. The item is just under 7" tall and the ivory backing to the thermometer itself is signed "BRIGHT & CO., BUXTON", a manufactory active around 1860.
SOLD
Inkwell
An unusual piece some 3¼" in diameter with a fine ring of Derbyshire stones including oakstone, galena and Blue John.
SOLD  
Pendant Cross
Small cross a little under 2" long with a typical jasmine inlay. Two tiny sections of stem missing, otherwise perfection.
SOLD
Letter Scale
Unusual item, and Ashford marble patchwork base with a brass sprung letter scale. Overall some 7" tall, the base 3¾" in diameter. Perfect condition.
SOLD
Desk Set
Very fine, large desk set with a superb inlay of jasmines in excellent condition. Of its type this is not only the best we have been able to offer but I think the best I have ever seen. No chips, high polish - practically mint!
SOLD 
Postal Scales
Set of brass scales with inlaid plaques forming the centre of each "pan". The scales are engraved "Melliship & Harris, 111 Westbourne Grove" and come with 2oz, 1oz, ½oz and ¼oz weights (the largest being a replacement).

SOLD  
Vesta Box
Small box around 2¾" x 1½" decorated with  scrapwork . An unusual item, an engrved strip on the underside (for striking) suggests it may have been intended for vestas. An early repair and a few very tiny chips do not detract from a delightful little item
SOLD

 

For a full account of the history of Ashford Black Marble we recommend (and can supply) the recently published book:-

"Derbyshire Black Marble" by John Michael Tomlinson.95pp. Soft back. Colour plates.

£12  (including postage & packing)

 

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