CANTERBURY HISTORICAL 

& ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY (CHAS)

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Basics

Geology: freshwater shelly limestone

Rock unit: Durlston Formation

Age: Lower Cretaceous

Provenance: Purbeck Marble

 

Where to see examples

tomb of Archbishop Walter (died about 1205)

tomb of Archbishop Langton (died 1228)

tomb of Archbishop Peckham (died 1292)

tomb of Black Prince (died 1376)

tomb of Archbishop Sudbury (died 1381)

 

Description

Provenance: Isle of Purbeck, Dorset was quarried (open-pit and underground) from discrete geological beds that outcropped east to west from the coast at Swanage inland towards Corfe. While the stone’s ability to take a good polish had long been recognised  it was the period 1170 to 1540 that saw an increase in consumption of polished marble products in the form of architectural features and funerary memorials. During the mid-13th century manufacturers of effigies and tombs began to specialise and the marblers became recognised as craftsmen distinct from those masons who worked with freestone.  Large prestigious commissions such as a tomb with effigy for an archbishop would have been  bespoke, whilst more standard products (perhaps the tomb slab in the Mary Magdalene Chapel would be an example) were produced from pattern books or made en masse and bought ‘off the shelf’.

 

On the island of Purbeck a group of marblers arose, sometimes referred to as the Corfe marblers, who produced high quality items of locally quarried and polished marble. Commissions needed to take into account the bed thickness of Purbeck Marble (usually between 40 and 60cm) and with a good supply of stone and a popular product a team of workmen proficient at marketing, carving, polishing and selling the stone developed.

 

The precise location of the marblers "works" is still debated, but once an item was ready for conveyance, shipments departed the ’isle’ for destinations countrywide (and to France) either by way of wharfs at Wareham or via those at Swanage. Large quantities of unworked (or partly worked) blocks of Purbeck Marble, together with sizeable slabs of the stone, were also shipped to London. In the capital there was Royal patronage and other wealthy clients, both secular and religious, as well as access to a regional market.  London workshops producing Purbeck Marble products including memorials developed and prospered from the 13th century and successfully competed with, or complemented, the output from Purbeck.

 

 

 

 

Purbeck Marble – for memorials

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©  Geoff Downer  2019

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