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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Ashford Black Marble Spool
Interesting little item some 1½" tall, the ends just over 1" in diameter. Only one end is inlayed (with Duke's Red, small Birdseye, Connemara Marble etc.), the other end just polished. Could be a spool for thread . . . or perhapsa miniature table for a doll's house.
Postal Scales
A fine piece, the first of its type I have come across. The round base is 8½" in diameter inlaid with two Ashford classics, jasmine and Lily of the Valley. The brass scales themselves are attractively engraved as are, most unusually, the weights themselves. Very nice condition.

Spill Holder
Shapely spill holder some 2¼" in diameter and 4¼" tall. Beautiful condition with a contrasting ring of Siberian malachite.

Postal Scales
A set of postal scales stamped "Martin & Co., Cheltenham". The scales are on an oval base 5½" long and are fashioned from brass with the "pans" containing two ABM inlays. The scales were probably made by Sampson Morden in London, finished with inlays in Ashford and retailed by Martin & Co. in Cheltenham. They are in nice condition and come with the original complete set of weights.
Black marble paperweight some 5" x 3" x 1" with an attractive, restrained motif. Nice condition with a few tiny "nibbles" but nothing of any consequence.
Pen Stand
Black marble pen stand the base a little over 6" x 4". Some restoration to a couple of the corners but a nice lily-of-the-valley motif with malachite leaves. The pen is included . . . !
Large Cross
Impressive cross standing 12" tall. Some restoration to the back.
Vesta Holder . . . "Go-to-Bed"
Container for vestas standing some 4½" tall with a striker on the base and a small hole in the knob to hold the lit vesta and give the bearer enough light to get upstairs to bed! Inlaid with a ring of mostly local, Derbyshire stones; Rosewood Marble, Duke's RedMarble etc. etc.
Pendant Cross
Exceptional example with a complex floral inlay achieved in a small cross a mere 2½" x 1½".
Desk Inkwell
Fine desk inkwell, the base inlayed with intertwined jasmines and some 9" in diameter.
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.                          
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.                                
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.                               
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.                                             
Large Paperweight
Extra large paperweight 6½" x 3¾" (x ¾" thick) with an extravagant jasmine motif. A few tiny nibbles around the edges but nothing unacceptable.
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.                                      
Paperweight / Pen Rest
Black marble paperweight some 5" x 3½" x ¾" with four grooves to take pens or pencils. An unusual design with leaves in Connemara Marble and only the very tiniest of nibbles to mark the passage of . . . 150 years?
Spill Holder
Fine spill holder some 2¼" in diameter and 4¼" tall. Beautiful condition with a delightful inlay.
Exceptional Paperweight
Black marble paperweight some 5½" x 3½" with an inlaid bunch of grapes very reminiscent of the remarkable "grapes table" in Buxton Museum and featured on the cover of Tomlinson's book. The paperweight is in very good condition. As an interesting "extra" there is a stock label on the base showing it to have been sold at one time by the Victorian London mineral dealers Gregory Bottley.
Decorative Plate
Black marble plate 8" in diameter with a fine inlay of jasmines with malachite leaves. The plate is in excellent condition with no chips or cracks; probably as nice an example of its type as you will find.
Large Desk Set
Desk set with inkwell measuring 12" across with colourful scrapwork and in exceptional condition.                                
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".                            
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"                        
Exquisite small pendant some 1½" x 1" with a jasmine inlay.                                
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.
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.                                   
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.                                    
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.                                   
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.                                                    
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.                                                 
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                                        
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.
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.                                    
Teapot Stand
Superb oval  stand some 6½" x 4½" mounted on four button feet with excellent floral inlay of jasmine, speedwells etc.                                             
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
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
An unusual piece some 3¼" in diameter with a fine ring of Derbyshire stones including oakstone, galena and Blue John.
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.


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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