In Chapter 42 of Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet finds that she is not to go north to The Lakes with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, but is to travel only as far as Derbyshire and the Peak. She ruefully justifies her visiting Darcy’s home country thus:
With the mention of Derbyshire there were many ideas connected. It was impossible for her to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. “But surely,” said she, “I may enter his county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without his perceiving me.”
She was referring -by mixing two terms, petrified and spars- to the tourist trade in minerals and in petrified objects that abounded in the area. Petrified objects- that is objects that have been “turned to stone” by being hung in the path of the local water, and calcified as a result of calcium deposits collecting on the surface-were on sale in this part of Derbyshire during the 18th and 19th centuries for tourists to buy, together with objects made from Derbyshire’s most famous and unique mineral, Blue John. Blue John is a rare, semiprecious mineral found at only one location in the world, a hillside near Mam Tor, just outside Castleton, in the Derbyshire Peak District National Park. Here is a section of a map of Matlock and Buxton, taken from my copy of John Feltham’s Guide to All the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc (1805), which I have annotated for you.
Number 1 shows the position of Castleton, Number 2 shows Chatsworth, which Elizabeth and the Gardiners visited while they were staying at Number 3, Bakewell.
The name Blue John derives from the French, Bleu Jaune which literally means, Blue Yellow and refers to the beautiful colours in the mineral. Blue John is a form of fluorite and was discovered when miners were exploring the cave systems around Castleton for lead, and objects have been made from it since that discovery in the mid 18th century.
I will be writing much more, much more, on this topic next year-The Year of Pride and Prejudice- when I will be concentrating on writing solely about the novel in a sort of very long group read;) -but for now you might be interested in seeing some very grand ornaments made of Tennant’s next Two Day Sale, to be held next week, in Leyburn in Yorkshire, which is one of the handsomest sale rooms of my acquaintances. You might like to speculate if Elizabeth Bennet might have bought something like them, though she is unlikely perhaps to have bought items made by a French artist. There are two lots of ornaments made of Blue John to interest us. The first is Lot 986, a pair of Ormolu Mounted Blue John Obelisk Candelabra:
Also for sale are two neo-classical urns made of Blue John, in Lot 987:
And there is this intriguing silhouette glass,circa 1790, Lot 35: