Updated 13 Mar 2010

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Petrifaction, Petrification, Petrifactioners and Petrifying Wells were big business in Matlock Bath between 1800 and 1900. Every-day objects were turned to "stone" for the amusement of tourists. The Royal Museum was one of the largest (see coloured postcard, perhaps taken in 1890). A sign ouside reads "The largest Principal Petrifying Well in Matlock". Margaret Howard sends the interesting article below, dated 1868.
Lists of Petrifactioners are given for: Parish Registers in Wirksworth and Matlock, the Census, and tradesmen in: 1831 and 1857

The Great Petrifying Well, Matlock Bath

The Royal Museum, South Promenade, Matlock Bath, from a postcard possibly taken 1890. Another postcard, posted 1904, shows a large sign on the right of the Royal Museum which reads "The Largest Principal Petrifying Well in Matlock"

From a postcard, unused. A host of articles left in the well to become covered with water scale, and so "petrified". Most are unrecognizeable, but I have spotted: a bottle, bowler, basket of eggs, kettle, cross, and sheep's head.

    From: Margaret Howard Subject: [DBY] Petrification Date: Wed, 20 Apr 2005 12:53:51 +0100 To: DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com Hi List, The following is an extract I've found in "On Foot Through The Peak" by James CROSTON printed in 1868, page 224, describing Matlock Bath, it's rock shops etc. that I thought might be of interest to the List. "The inhabitants are employed chiefly in the manufacture of gypsum and spar ornaments, and in the inlaying, engraving, and etching of marble - a branch of trade that has arrived at great perfection, and is now carried on to a considerable extent. On the parade there are several spar shops, or "museums," as they are generally designated, the windows of which are crowded with articles, natural and manufactured. These repositories form a pleasant lounge for visitors, and in the inspection of the different objects which they contain, an agreeable half hour may be spent. The principal dealer is Mr. Walker, the successor to Mr. Vallance, of the Centre Museum, to whose establishment we paid a visit. [See Petrifying Well and Museum]. In the show-room we found a choice assortment of vases, statues, figures and ornaments, in spar and Derbyshire marble, with others exquisitely scultptured in Cararra and Italian alabaster; among the chief attractions we noticed some tables executed in Ashford black marble, beautifully inlaid with wreaths of flowers worked in different coloured stones; some excellent specimans of minerals, native and foreign, fossils, shells, and petrifactions, or rather preparations of calcareous matter, may also be enumerated as among the objects of interest in the exhibition. Petrification working, as it is called, has become an important, and certainly not the least lucrative branch of the "curiosity" business at Matlock, there being several wells in the tufa, where this curious and interesting operation of nature is carried on. The process of incrustation is an exceedingly simple one, the articles to be operated on (embracing almost every conceivable object, but chiefly birds' nests, baskets of fruit, moss, and the leaves and branches of trees) are placed on stands, and the water that filtrates through the tufa allowed to drip gently upon them; the moisture in percolating through the concrete mass becomes strongly impregnated with lime, and on reaching the open air, rapidly evaporates when a calcareous deposit is formed that in time completely incrusts the object on which it falls, and gives to it the appearance and hardness of stone." Margaret Howard, Bonsall

Roger Findall writes:
I would like to point out a mistake that is present on your own and several other websites. This is that, however surprising it may seem, petrifactionists were not the owners of petrifying wells, despite the rather misleading quotation from James Croston.

By the eighteenth century, ‘petrifactions’ was the local name given to spar and flowstone. When the spar working industry was established during the mid-eighteenth century, the most usual term for its practitioners was ‘petrifactioners’. During early Victorian times, this term was gradually supplanted by ‘marble workers’ or ‘spar turners’ etc. So far as I am aware, the term ‘petrifactioner’ is not recorded in the census returns after 1851, although petrifying wells were at their peak and continued to be popular until the end of that century. However, several spar workers did own petrifying wells as a side line.

As proof of the above, the Universal British Directory for 1791 in its coverage of Derby and its immediate vicinity mentions four ‘petrefactioners’ and there were certainly no petrifying wells thereabouts. This source is available on the Belper Research Website, which makes this same mistake.

Cheers, Roger

    Extracted from the National Gazetteer 1868


    The Spa, which is famous for the clearness of its water and considered efficacious in glandular and other complaints, was first applied to medicinal uses in 1698. The warm springs are situate about a hundred feet above the level of the river, and possess 68° of Fahrenheit, but a much higher temperature prevails some depth below the surface. There are also three petrifying wells.

    The original bath was rebuilt by the Rev Mr Fern of Matlock, and Mr Hayward of Cromford afterwards disposed of it by leave to the Messrs Smith and Pennell, who erected two buildings with every convenience for using the waters, constructed a carriage road alongside the river from Cromford, and improved the road from Matlock Bridge. Two other springs have been subsequently discovered and buildings erected in connection with them all, the springs being within a short distance of each other.

    Among the various places of attraction are Cliff House, Old Bath, Dungeon Tor, and High Tor, this last is 396 feet in height, and commands a fine prospect; also Cumberland, Rutland, Devonshire, Speedwell and other caverns. The Lover's Walk is situated on the opposite side of the river, and consists of various pathways cut through the dense woods, all of which lead to certain points where the beauties of the Dale are seen to the best advantage. There is a Museum of Fossils, replete with natural curiosities of the district, including urns and vases formed of spar, marble, and alabaster obtained in the county. The parish is within the honour of Tutbury, and forms part of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Baptisms to Petrifactioners in Wirksworth PRs

C 1814jan16 VALANCE Henry=(son)John/Mary(Matlock)[Petrifactioner],dob=1813feb16

C 1814may29 WALKER Eliza=(dau)Richard/Elizabeth(Matlock Bath)[Petrifactioner],dob=1814jan30
C 1822feb20 WALKER William=(son)Richard/Elizabeth(Matlock Bath)[Petrifactioner],dob=1821dec11

C 1822apr07 MARTIN George=(son)Joseph/Mary(Matlock)[Petrifactioner],dob=1821apr30
C 1822jun16 MARTIN Thomas Wood=(son)George/Ellen(Matlock)[Petrifactioner],dob=1822may12
C 1823oct26 MARTIN William=(son)Joseph/Mary(Matlock)[Petrifactioner],dob=1823sep06
C 1825sep11 MARTIN Joseph=(son)Joseph/Mary(Matlock Bath)[Petrifactioner],dob=1825aug10

C 1822jun23 SWIFT Elizabeth=(dau)John/Sarah(Cromford)[Petrifactioner],dob=1822may29
C 1827jun24 SWIFT Lucinda=(dau)John/Sarah(Cromford)[Petrifactioner],dob=1827may19
C 1827jun24 SWIFT William=(son)John/Sarah(Cromford)[Petrifactioner],dob=1818mar31

C 1824jun07 BODEN John=(son)Joseph/Sarah(Matlock)[Petrifactioner],dob=1813dec24
C 1824jun07 BODEN Thomas=(son)Joseph/Sarah(Matlock)[Petrifactioner],dob=1823jun23

Baptisms to Petrifactioners in Matlock PRs

C 1829may03 BUTLAND William=Richard/Mary(Matlock)[Petrifactioner] dob:1829apr09

C 1843apr30 KING Joseph=James/Caroline(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner]

C 1825sep25 MARTIN Francis=George/Ellin(Bath moor)[Petrifactioner] dob:1825aug26
C 1828mar02 MARTIN Charles=George/Ellen(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1828jan31

C 1827jun17 OGDEN Martha=James/Mary(Bath wood)[Petrifactioner] dob:1827may30

C 1816feb25 PEARSON James=James/Hannah(Matlock bath)[Petrifactionure]
C 1820sep10 PEARSON Thomas=Joseph/Ellen(Bath Wood)[Petrifactioner]
C 1823feb09 PEARSON James=Joseph/Ellen(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1823jan12
C 1823feb09 PEARSON Ellen=Joseph/Ellen(Matlock bank)[Petrifactioner] dob:1821jun07
C 1827sep15 PEARSON Mary ann=Joseph/Ellen(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1827jul04
C 1827sep15 PEARSON Joseph=Joseph/Ellen(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1825jun04
C 1835sep13 PEARSON James=Joseph/Ellen(Bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1829jul13
C 1835sep13 PEARSON Lydia=Joseph/Ellen(Bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1831sep09

C 1841sep19 ROBINSON Emma=Thomas/Ann(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1841aug20

C 1841may13 SIMONS Ellen maria=George/Elizabeth(Matlock bank)[Petrifactioner]

C 1819dec16 SMEDLEY Thomas=John/Ealoner(Matlock)[Petrifactioner]
C 1821jan28 SMEDLEY Joseph=John/Ellen(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner]
C 1824apr18 SMEDLEY Peter=John/Ellen(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1823may12
C 1826may21 SMEDLEY Eleanor=John/Eleanor(Bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1826apr26
C 1829may10 SMEDLEY Samuel=John/Ellen(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner] dob:1829apr04

C 1839dec29 SMEDLEY William=William/Mary(Matlock bath)[Petrifactioner]
C 1842oct02 SMEDLEY Lindsey=William/Mary(Matlock)[Petrifactioner]

C 1828nov29 TURNER James=Anthony/Bathia(Limetree lane)[Petrifactioner] dob:1828nov02

Petrifactioners in Matlock Census

1841 Census
---Scarthin Nick---[Matlock]----------
Mk056a   John      SWIFT  49  m  Y  Petrifactioner
Mk056b   Sarah     SWIFT  52  f  Y
Mk056c   Sarah     SWIFT  21  f  Y  Cotton spinner
Mk056d   William   SWIFT  20  m  Y  Cotton spinner
Mk056e   Elizabeth SWIFT  19  f  Y  Cotton spinner
Mk056f   Harriett  SWIFT  10  f  Y

1851 Census
#067---Music Low---[Matlock]---
Mk202a   Ellen     PEARSON  Head   W  59  F  Lodging House   Wensley
Mk202b   Thomas    PEARSON  Son    U  31  M  Petrifactioner  Matlock
Mk202c   Ellen     PEARSON  Dau    U  28  F  At home         Matlock
Mk202d   Mary Ann  PEARSON  Dau    U  23  F  At home         Matlock
Mk202e   Lydia     PEARSON  Dau    U  19  F  At home         Matlock
Mk202f   Mary      DEAKIN   Lodger U  46  F  -               Stanley YKS

Pigot's 1831 Directory of Derbyshire

Matlock and Matlock Bath

Bowden   Joseph,  Matlock Bath
Buxton   William, Matlock Bath
Martin   George,  Matlock Bath
Mawe Mrs,         Matlock Bath   (and Royal museum)
Pearson  Joseph,  Matlock Bath
Smedley  John,    Matlock Bath
Smedley  peter,   Matlock Bath
Vallance John,    Matlock Bath and 232 Regent St London
                              (Royal centre Museum,repository &
                              manufactory of Derbyshire spar,
                              black & Italian marble,alabaster
                              vases,obelisks,figures,ornaments &c)

Petrifactioners in 1857 Directory of Derbyshire (Matlock)

BIRD    Edwd.  [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Museum,Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr

BODEN   Jas.   [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr
BODEN   Sarah  [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr
BODEN   Sarah  [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifying Well

BUXTON  Hy.    [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Museum,Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr

GREGORY Edw.   [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr

HARTLE  Robt   [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Museum,Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr

KING    Jas.   [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr

PEARSON Thos.  [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifying Well
PEARSON Thos.  [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Museum,Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr
PEARSON Wm.    [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr

SMEDLEY Thomas [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Museum,Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr
SMEDLEY Thos.  [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifying Well
SMEDLEY Wm.    [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr
SMEDLEY Wm.    [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr

WALKER Thomas  [Matlock Bath, Matlock] Royal Museum, Petrifaction+Spar Dealer & Mfr

Research Notes

See also: Petrifying Wells
from White's 1857 Directory of Derbyshire
(in this website)

Internet references:

The Royal Museum Petrifying Well, Matlock Bath

Caverns and Mines in 1840

Petrifying Wells - Medicinal Springs

Compiled, formatted, hyperlinked, encoded, and copyright © 2005, John Palmer All Rights Reserved.