Exploitation of Decorative Stone in Victorian Ireland: From Quarry to Building
Citation:Caulfield, Louise Mary, Exploitation of Decorative Stone in Victorian Ireland: From Quarry to Building, Trinity College Dublin.School of Natural Sciences, 2022
Ireland contains a diverse range of rock types that are characterised as igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic in origin, which have been widely utilised for building, and to a lesser extent decorative, purposes over the past 2000 years and more. Nineteenth century Britain and Ireland experienced a revival of medieval Gothic style architecture, inclusive of polychromatic design features, which paralleled with industrial advancement, as well as a sweeping curiosity for science, including geology, certainly increased the demand for coloured stone and encouraged the development of the Irish decorative stone industry. In consequence the mid-nineteenth century marked the departure point for widespread investigation and exploitation of varicoloured decorative stone on a commercial scale. An interdisciplinary investigation of native decorative stone in Victorian Ireland (1837-1901), this study, which was achieved primarily through historical research allied with scientific considerations and site visits, endeavoured to develop a holistic interpretation of its extraction, fabrication and utilisation. Initiatives, including countrywide mapping by Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Geological Survey of Ireland, the advent of industrial education, founding of the Museum of Irish Industry, advancements in transport and infrastructure and the promotion of industry at trade exhibitions gave impetus to widespread industrialisation of decorative stone. The interweaving of disparate activities be they government supported or promoted by enthusiastic capitalists or members of the architectural fraternity allowed for rapid development of an extensive stone extractive and fabrication industry in Victorian Ireland. While Irish decorative stone was excavated and exported as far back as the early seventeenth century commercialisation of the industry was not established until 1730 in Kilkenny and spread to Galway at the beginning of the 1800s. Timeless black limestone and Connemara green serpentinite marble, comparable to the acclaimed verde antico, were extracted in these localities. The Kilkenny and Galway enterprises paved the way for widespread quarry development in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the emergence of polychrome architecture created a market for the stone. Decorative stone quarries surfaced throughout Ireland, the locations of which were boundless on account of the extensive and dominant underlying limestone lithologies, which were worked as superior marbles. Some quarries operated for a short time and remained small scale, opening only to meet local demand, while others steadily prospered and widely traded their stone in domestic and foreign markets. The primary locations of decorative limestone and marble extraction (outside of Kilkenny and Galway) were Armagh, Donegal, Offaly, Westmeath, Clare, Limerick, Cork and Kerry. The development of quarrying corresponded with a growth in native marble fabrication and the expansion of mills. The nineteenth century was an important time for marble working in Ireland when mechanisation of fabrication processes allowed for increased accuracy and output, which was imperative to the success of the trade. By the latter part of the Victorian period many proprietors of prominent marble mills were also leasing decorative stone quarries, from which they sourced cheap native polychrome stone. The Killaloe Marble Works, operated by Messrs Manderson in the mid-1800s, was a unique standalone provincial mill unlinked to quarries. Mandersons pioneered the use of Irish stone in architectural decoration and structural polychromy and were responsible for the fabrication of stone in the Museum Building of Trinity College Dublin (1853-57). The conception of this building, which marked the commercial debut of a wide variety of indigenous limestones and marbles, was pivotal in the development of the decorative stone industry. It showcases the first instance of native polychromy and promoted a taste for coloured stone, which spread across Ireland and beyond. During the Victorian era stone and architecture danced with each other around the same paths, but regrettably the Irish stone industry never reached its true potential largely due to an inherent prejudice against native materials and manufactories. By the 1930s the majority of quarries and marble works had closed permanently and the growth in popularity of concrete during the twentieth century inevitably resulted in the ultimate demise of the industry. The innovation of Victorian quarry owners and marble workers and their success, albeit short lived, in raising and fabricating native decorative stone to a high standard is largely unknown, however their legacy survives through the buildings and monuments that display their skilful craft.
Author: Caulfield, Louise Mary
Publisher:Trinity College Dublin. School of Natural Sciences. Discipline of Geology
Type of material:Thesis
Availability:Full text available