Frosterley Marble

Natural outcrop of Frosterley marble exposed in the bed of the Bollihope Burn in Harehope Quarry, Frosterley.
Source: North Pennines AONB Partnership.
Copyright: North Pennines AONB Partnership.

Frosterley Marble

Fragment of the rim of a beautifully carved medieval font of Frosterley marble, found by local resident Kieran Aston during Altogether Archaeology excavations at St Botolph’s Chapel, Frosterley, in 2013.
Source: Paul Frodsham.
Copyright: Paul Frodsham.

Frosterley Marble in Mumbai Cathedral

The pulpit in St Thomas Anglican Cathedral, Mumbai (Bombay), India, has a base and columns of Frosterley marble.
Source:  Patricia Robbins.
Copyright:  Patricia Robbins.

The Tortie Stone
Original Location: Frosterley, Weardale
Current Location: Durham Cathedral (and many other places) Theme: Ritual
Period: Medieval (& post-medieval)
Date: 13th century onwards

What is it?
Frosterley marble is an ornate form of fossiliferous limestone, occurring in a thin band up to a meter thick beneath much of Weardale and outcropping near the village of Frosterley. It was formed beneath shallow tropical seas some 325 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period. Its attractive appearance is due to the presence of white fossils, largely of corals, within a very dark grey or black matrix.

It has been exploited since the 13th century, possibly earlier, and used in numerous important buildings, perhaps most notably Durham Cathedral where many fine columns of it can be seen in the beautiful Chapel of the Nine Altars, dating from about 1280.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
Frosterley marble has only been quarried in one place, near the village of Frosterley in Weardale. From here it has been exported to numerous churches and other important buildings throughout northern England and further afield, even as far as Mumbai (Bombay) where it was used for the ornate pulpit within the Cathedral of St Thomas. (How this came to be, and exactly when and how the Frosterley marble was exported to India, is an intriguing research project for someone!).

The Boldon Book of 1183 records ‘Ralph the Crafty’ in Frosterley, and ‘Lambert the marble cutter’ in Stanhope, both perhaps craftsmen working with Frosterley marble. 

In 2013 and 2014, during archaeological excavations at the little medieval chapel of St Botolph within the village of Frosterley, two fragments of a Frosterley marble font (probably 12th or 13th century) were found, and similar medieval fonts are known from other County Durham churches. The stone was widely used in medieval times for church objects such as fonts, effigies and coffins, and decorative slabs are often found built into the floors of churches and other buildings dating from medieval times through into the early 20th century. For example, it can be seen in Auckland Castle, York Minster, and the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.  More recently, several stone sculptures by north-east sculptor Keith Murray have been erected in public places in Weardale, for example on Frosterley Railway Station and at the Dales Centre in Stanhope.

Why is it important?
Frosterley marble combines the industrial heritage of the North Pennines with the ancient links extending back into medieval times between Weardale and the Bishops of Durham. It also illustrates the close links between geology and archaeology that underlie so much of the area’s cultural heritage. It is an icon of Weardale, occurring in numerous important buildings throughout the north-east and further afield.

Further Information

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