Book review: Devonshire Marbles: Their geology, history and uses (vols 1 and 2), by Gordon M Walkden

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Jon Trevelyan (UK)

The Geologists’ Association have extended their excellent series of geological guides by producing what some people (including me) would think at first was a slightly self-indulgent couple of volumes on ‘Devonshire Marbles’. However, for my part, I soon realised that this view is entirely wrong. These two books on the (sadly now vanished) industry producing the classic polished rocks used in some the great buildings, churches and country houses – and their furniture and ornaments – of this country (for example, Goldsmith Hall in London and the Birmingham Grand Hotel) and abroad.

The volumes cover the Devonian coral sea geology of these ornamental (stonemason) marbles and, for the collector of both rocks and fossils, where they can be found and what fossils they contain, with detailed excursions taking you to the disused and overgrown quarries. They also cover how the marbles were worked and what they were turned into: tables, columns, staircases and fine (often gothic) interiors, to name but a few of the ways they were once used.

Obviously, the guides contain large quantities of fine, full colour pictures and the high standard of diagrams that we have become accustomed to from the GA in its guides. Some of the photos of the marbles take your breath away and show that these volumes are an excellent effort to bring these neglected masterpieces from Victorian times to our attention. It is also a reminder that science and art have not always been considered to be separate domains, but rather are part of a continuum. It is clear that these marbles should be scientifically recognisable and intrinsically attractive, and hopefully, this is what these guides will achieve.

Gordon Walkden is Emeritus Professor at Aberdeen University and a limestone expert. He began his research career with Derbyshire Carboniferous limestones, moving on to develop a wide knowledge of British rocks and decorative marbles. He has also published widely on carbonate and sedimentary environments, and many other subjects, including vertebrate fossils and meteorite impact effects.

Devonshire Marbles: their geology, history and uses: Volume 1. Understanding the marbles by Gordon Walkden, the Geologists’ Association, London (2015). 232 pp., softback, ISBN: 978 0900717 76 5

Devonshire Marbles: their geology, history and uses: Volume 2. Recognising the marbles by Gordon Walkden, the Geologists’ Association, London (2015). 484 pp., softback, ISBN: 978 0900717 81 9

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