Black marble isn’t really a marble but a grey limestone from the top of the Peak District Carboniferous limestone dome where it has been coloured by bitumen- type material from the (formerly) overlying shale. It was mined and quarried near Ashford –in- the- Water, two miles from Bakewell and made into fireplaces, memorials, etc and inlaid ornaments. On polishing it is black. It was inlaid with a variety of materials (displayed in Bakewell Old House Museum), mostly to give floral patterns, in a number of workshops in Bakewell, Ashford and Matlock. Being black, it was particularly popular in late Victorian times but the craft died out soon after Queen Victoria’s death and the reaction in taste.

Black marble was used for a fireplace in Hardwick Hall dating from c. 1590 and floor tiles in Chatsworth House a century later. In 1748, Henry Watson, grandson of Samuel Watson who did much of the carving at Chatsworth, set up a water-powered marble mill at Ashford (and patented it). It was followed by other mills, including one in Bakewell. That was worked by John Lomas who won medals at the 1851 Great Exhibition.

Bakewell Old House Museum also displays a rarity, a geological section made with the actual rocks in a black marble setting. These sections were uniquely made by White Watson, Henry’s nephew, who lived in Bakewell and was one of the group of early geologists who elucidated stratigraphy. He also made a number of black marble memorials seen in local churches.

Here are a few articles about the Marble Works:

John Lomas and the Black Marble Works in Bakewell - By Stephen Briggs and Andy Brigg - (pdf)

The Black Marble Mines of Ashford-in-the-Water - Trevor D Ford (1964) - (pdf - 5Mb)

The Ashford Marble Works and Cavendish Patronage 1748-1905 - Trevor Brighton (1995) - (pdf - 2.5Mb)