There was a time when small children and adults alike flocked to
see the wonders created by water dripping onto a variety of
objects and gradually giving them a stone covering. The Matlock
Bath spring water contains calcium carbonate and some other salts
so when the water comes into contact with a particular item,
it slowly enshrouds it as the water evaporates, thus petrifying
Petrifaction had grown as a local industry in the very early
nineteenth century; Pigot's Directory of 1828-9, for example,
shows seven petrifaction warehouses already established in the
An early visitor to a Matlock Bath petrifying well was the eight
year old Elizabeth Barrett, who later married Robert Browning.
She describes her experience in one of her poems, written
after the family's visit in 1814.
Almost sixty years later, in 1871, the Emperor and Empress of Brazil
Matlock Bath stayed overnight at the New Bath. The following day
they visited the Petrifying Well near the Fishpond.
The postcard above, dated 1932, shows just some of the items
that were being petrified at The Great Petrifying Well in Matlock
Bath. Although they aren't easy to see, they included small mugs,
teapots, jugs, pots of all shapes and sizes, plates, vases and
bottles, crucifixes, leaves, nests, fruit and eggs, shoes, hats
and even an umbrella. The type of thing people wanted to be petrified
had changed since the nineteenth century, perhaps because the smaller
the item, the more easily it could be taken away.
And tastes had also changed.
The water came from a pipe or spout in the roof of the well and
slowly dripped from the holes in the pipe onto the objects below,
which had been arranged on stands in tiers. Whilst the photograph
above looks as if the items were becoming a solid mass, they were
turned at regular intervals to ensure they were properly encrusted.
It was a lengthy and time consuming process.
The second postcard shows some of the artifacts in more detail.
You may like to view more onsite information
of the Peak (1840) - read the section on "What to do in
1840" as there is more information about petrifying wells
Guide to Matlock ... , about 1869, p.16
see the transcript of Croston's "On Foot Through the Peak".
Chapter 14 provides an interesting description of the petrification
process (paras 5, 6 and 7)
Bath's Main Attractions
1. Postcard of "The Great Petrifying Well, Matlock Bath",
copyright (1932), printed by Lilywhite's at Sowerby Bridge.
Image kindly donated by Photo-Ark
2. "Great Petrifying Well, Matlock Bath". H. Coates, Wisbech,
Nene Series, No.A4660. Real Photograph, British Manufacture. Not
posted but dated Summer 1938 in pencil.
All research provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.