Review of ‘Derbyshire Blue John’, by Trevor D. Ford

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 8th January 2001, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Trevor D. Ford
ISBN 1-873775-19-9 (2001)

Whilst Blue John is an undoubted asset to the local tourist industry, it is also held in real affection by people who live in the area. It is almost a rite of passage for young women of the Peak to be given a piece of Blue John jewellery and very many families count both jewellery and larger articles amongst their heirlooms.

This semi-precious stone and its sources have been referred to in numerous publications since the earliest known reference of around 1766, yet Derbyshire Blue John by Trevor Ford is the first comprehensive account ever written. Published by Landmark Publishing of Ashbourne, the work combines logical conclusions, such as the probable origin of the name Blue John and other traditions, with exhaustive research into its mining history and claims for uniqueness.

Front Cover

The author was awarded the O.B.E. in 1997 for services to geology and to cave science, a greater part of which has centred on his research into the geology, minerals, mines and caves of the Peak District. In Derbyshire Blue John he first considers the stone with a scholarly interest, referring to unimaginable time-scales, as in '... say 300 to 280 million years ago' and the reefs and lagoons which once occupied the Castleton region. Regarding the mineralogy of Blue John, of which a single sample may contain as many as fifty alternating layers, we also learn that fluid inclusions in the stone can have a salt content up to ten times higher than sea water. Illustrations of scanning electron micrographs are used to show 5mm samples enlarged to almost 7cm.

The story takes us forward from the days when fourteen tons of Blue John were sold in one particular year, through to more recent times when hundreds of tons went into blast furnaces as ordinary fluorspar, bringing to light tales of a buried secret cache. Blue John has appealed to the likes of George III and the Empress Catherine of Russia and magnificent pieces are also to be found in Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Warwick Castle, the White House and, naturally, Chatsworth. Blue John decorative work can be seen in far less grand surroundings in many corners of the Peak, to which Trevor Ford refers amongst notable and unusual uses of the stone. Nevertheless, we do well to be reminded of the stone's fragility, on which an early Duke of Devonshire commented, 'Blue John is like a baby, it should not be dropped'. The present Duchess of Devonshire has written a foreword to the book and excellent colour photographs do the work full justice.

Anyone who owns even a single piece of Blue John will be fascinated by this excellent publication.

Review by Julie Bunting

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