The main photo for this post is the beautiful marble-tiled paving of the chancel at All Saints Church, Babbacombe in Devon. It is made up of coloured Devon Marble varieties from the Petitor beds – a form of limestone that can be polished for a marble effect (not a true metamorphic marble).

The Petitor (or Petit Tor) varieties came from a single area in the cliffs at Babbacombe.

In Babbacombe church William Butterfield made great use of the varieties in his columns, font, pulpit, paving, reredos and altar rail (refer to post: Butterfield in Babbacombe). According to information in All Saints Babbacombe, the chancel and sanctuary paving use every one of the 50 Devonshire varieties of marble, mainly from the local Petitor quarries.

In the 17th C, during the reign of Charles I (1625-1649), it was discovered that limestone from the Petitor beds could be polished up to the appearance of marble. However, it wasn’t until the late-18th C that the marble industry began to develop in South Devon. The settlement of St Marychurch, just by the Babbacombe cliffs, developed from its medieval origins in the late 18th C due to the quarrying and marble industries.

The marble works for Petitor were established in 1807, after Daniel Woodley purchased the lease for Petitor quarries. The works were well in production by the 1840s. In 1851 Daniel’s son, John Woodley, won a medal at the Great Exhibition for a marble table he displayed. In 1852 an order of marble ornaments for Osborne House was placed. Later King Edward VII purchased a table inlayed with Devon Marble. These purchases provided Woodley with a Royal warrant.

The Babbacombe Corinthian Sailing Club in St Marychurch was originally the showroom for the Petitor Marble Works, hence the Royal Coat of Arms displayed in the pediment (although painted white as the Sailing Club does not have a Royal Warrant).

Devon Marble has been used in buildings across the UK. It has not just been quarried from Babbacombe as there are other beds across South Devon. The industry died as cheaper marbles were being imported from Italy.

In South Devon the marble is used in churches for pulpits, chancel screens, fonts, columns, reredoses, panels, flooring, stairways and whole galleries. It can be found in the features of Victorian villas and houses, such as fireplaces.

In Exeter there are slabs of Torquay Marble in the cathedral. The County Chambers in Queen Street (no. 75 and now a hairdressers) has marble on the external façade. Unpolished marble was used in walls and for kerbstones (as in Ashburton – Ashburton Marble is another Devon Marble).

Outside of Devon it is found in:

The cathedrals of Salisbury, Hereford, Guildford, Chichester and Oxford

Keeble College, Oxford

St. Augustine’s Church in South Kensington

Birmingham Art Gallery & Museum

St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge

Oxford Museum of Natural History

The Royal Palaces

Purbeck Marble from Dorset, is another limestone that lends itself to being highly polished and was used in many of the English cathedrals in the medieval period. Purbeck Marble is a dark-grey colour. Devon Marble, when cut and polished provides array of colours, textures and fossils. No wonder it was a favourite of some of the mid to late-19th C architects.

Devon Marble was formed during the Carboniferous Period (occurring around 360 million years ago). Originally made up of corals, brachiopods and crinoids from the Devonian Sea, Devon Marble is considered Madrepore (coral-rich). It was exposed to sufficient heat and pressure to reconfigure its formation but not enough to metamorphose it, like true marble. Hence why the fossil traces are still exposed. However, this partial metaphoric process made the stone in the beds stable and hard enough to be cut and polished to imitate a true marble. With true marble the fossils are destroyed and fossil content (or lack of it) is a good indicator of how true a marble is.

Figure 2: Florence Cathedral & Giotto’s Campanile. The white Carrera Marble is relatively blemish free – i.e. fossil traces not visible


George Gilbert Scott incorporated Devon Marble in his Foreign Office building (1861-75) in Whitehall. This helped to promote the ‘Britishness’ of the marble in buildings. The Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge holds 26 polished Devon Marble specimens.

It is worth keeping an eye out for the 19th-C application of the beautiful Devon Marble in cathedrals, churches and buildings – even outside of Devon!



‘Ashburton Marble: A Devonian Limestone’, The Architectural Forum <> [accessed: 11 November 2019]

‘Devon Marble’, Torquay Museum <> [accessed 10 November 2019]

Fisher, John, revised by Hal Bishop (2005) ‘St Marychurch Conservation Area Character Appraisal’, Torbay Council, April 2005, p. 21

‘Royal Petitor Marble’, Babbacombe and St Marychurch Local History Society <> {accessed 1 October 2019]

Walkden, Gordon, ‘Finding our marbles’ The Geological Society, [accessed 1 October 2019]