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Mumbles Marble and Margam

Mumbles Marble and Margam


Introduction

Until recently little has been written of Mumbles Marble and its associated industry and published details are brief but often relate to Margam. Its study and the search and recording of further examples are on-going.


What is Mumbles Marble?

Mumbles, also known as Swansea or Cambrian Marble is a marble in the commercial sense being a limestone capable of taking a polish to produce an attractive appearance. Mumbles Marble is a limestone formed some 350 million years ago during the Carboniferous Period of geological time. Then Mumbles was located South of the Equator beneath a shallow sea and probably had a tropical climate, the sediments that accumulated on the shallow sea floor were compacted into limestone, became uplifted and subsequently quarried some millions of years later.

Today the limestone can be seen at many natural outcrops in the Mumbles area. 200 years ago some of the limestone was selected for cutting and polishing to produce the Mumbles Marble which is grey of various shades, veined with white streaks of calcite and occasionally fossils can be seen. There is also a liver coloured variety, limestone stained by iron oxides.


The production of Mumbles Marble

The stone is not well known today but was widely used during the 19th Century. Advertisements at the time refer to the availability of articles such as chimney pieces, monuments, tombs, hall pavements, baths, tables, dairy slabs and plain jambs, heads and slabs available at four shillings a foot.

The layers, slabs or beds of limestone used to produce Mumbles Marble were probably quarried at the Colts Hill Quarry at Mumbles then taken by horse drawn cart to the marble mill to the north of where the West Cross Hotel now stands, known then as Norton Burrows. The marble works at West Cross is believed to have closed by 1837.

Philip Rogers Snr had left the Mumbles Marble Works in 1826 and set up business as Philip Rogers Marble Works in Swansea Philip Rogers Jnr, entered the business and records indicate that Philip Rogers & Son Marble Works traded until circa 1876. The marble monuments they produced remain and are important in the context of Mumbles Marble. Philip Rogers Jnr died on 24th February 1902 at 2 De La Beche Street, Swansea aged 93, and was at that time Swansea’s oldest inhabitant.


The people and Mumbles Marble at Margam

Four people were associated with the marble works at West Cross, William Gubbins, Charles Wallis, William Watts and Mr Griffiths and were also involved with the major restoration works at Margam Abbey which began in 1805 and completed in 1809.

Charles Wallis, a Swansea architect, was superintendent. William Gubbins was appointed master mason, charging four shillings a day for his labour with Mr Griffiths assisting Mr Gubbins and Mr Watts involved with the painting.

William Gubbins was also the master mason involved with the building of Thomas Mansel Talbot’s Tomb and the Orangery at Margam. He died on the 1st May 1823, aged 81 and is buried at Margam Abbey, residing at Cefn Cribbwr at the time of his death.

Records show that the designer of the tomb of Thomas Mansel Talbot was one William Weston Young of Bristol and Neath – artist, illustrator of Swansea porcelain; land surveyor; miller ; merchant; architect; draughtsman; wreck raiser and salvage operator.. a remarkable man and possessor of formidable talents! Among the Margam manuscripts at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth are the four large coloured drawings which he prepared for the design of the tomb. He was an inventive genius, but lacked business acumen and in his commercial dealings often faced financial disaster. Misfortune followed his every move and his declining years were spent in impoverished circumstances


The use of Mumbles Marble at Margam

Examples of articles made of Mumbles Marble are recorded both at the Abbey Church of St Mary and Margam Castle

Margam Castle

There is a bill from Mr Philip Rogers, dated 1833, to C.R.M.Talbot Esq.M.P. of Margam. It mentions one Mumbles Marble Gothic Chimney piece at £6.00 and seven other Mumbles Marble Chimney pieces, of these only four now remain and these are of varying condition of preservation.

Mumbles Marble fireplaces are made of limestone with a pseudobrecciated texture, white calcite veins and include fossils such as corals, brachiopod shells and gasteropods. The new fireplaces are in the style of a fireplace at Singleton Abbey, Swansea which has been attributed to the Philip Rogers Marble Works

Margam Abbey

The Tomb of Thomas Mansel Talbot

The tomb of Thomas Mansel Talbot is sited beneath the Mansel mural at the east end of the Talbot Chapel. A year after his death at his villa at Penrice, in 1813, the family and Trustees of the estate commissioned William Weston Young of Bristol and Neath to design and erect a suitable imposing monument to his memory. The preparation of plans and detailed specifications was to occupy Young intermittently for seven years, the greater part of the work was completed in 1815-1816 and the cost of the project, which was completed in early 1820, was£168.16s.71/2d

The tomb is a fine example of the worked marble and documents authenticate stone from Mumbles, a grey limestone with streaks of white calcite, being used for the upper moulding of the tomb at a cost of £18.3s.6d and another account of expenses connected with the erection of the tomb is as follows:

‘Stone from the Mumbles, 25 feet, £5: 2 days processing £2.20’

In Margam Abbey Church there are many fine different marbles including some from Wales, Ireland and Italy. The examples of Mumbles Marble are of particular interest

Elsewhere in the Margam Abbey there are numerous memorial tablets on the walls that are of relevance:

One tablet to the memory of William Bruce Knight, a former incumbent at the Abbey, also bears the name of the supplier P.Rogers, Swansea and this tablet is held in place by a block of polished limestone which has been identified as Mumbles Marble, as is another to the memory of William Llewellyn held in place by two further pieces of Mumbles Marble. Another tablet, in the Talbot Chapel, is held in place by a block of polished Mumbles Marble.

The font at the Abbey is recorded as being of Mumbles Marble, and is illustrated in the story of Margam Abbey however recent examination reveals that the top and base are of two distinct and different rock types and it is considered more likely that the fawn-coloured top is of a coarse crinoidal limestone, from Denbyshire, and the base, reddish in colour, is very different and is possibly of Cork Red Marble from Ireland, very popular from the 1830s until the 1920s, and commonly known as Victorian Marble.

Major restoration works were undertaken at the church between 1872 –73 and there is reference to the replacement with a ‘fine crinoidal limestone’ of that installed during the restoration of 1805-09…….this raises the question as to what became of the original font made of Mumbles Marble – was it given to another church in the area?


Further locations of examples of Mumbles Marble

For those intrigued by this stone, another recorded example and a place to visit locally is St Mary’s Church at Aberavon

Unfortunately, many of the larger houses of the area have now been demolished or rebuilt. Fortunately many churches remain and are potentially very rewarding


The disappeared font

… further information on this, or other suspected local examples of Mumbles Marble, would be much appreciated.


Selected further reference on Mumbles Marble at Margam

  • Adams,D.J.,1984, The restoration of Margam Abbey Church in the 19th Century
  • Adams,D.J.,1988,The Tomb of Thomas Mansel Talbot, An Anthology
  • Austin, R.L. 1999,Mumbles Marble and its association with Swansea and District
  • Austin, R.L & Murray,A.,2001,Mumbles Marble – An Update