We have said previously that most of the employment in the area came from farming, fishing or quarrying limestone for land and building use. Devonshire ornamental marble is derived from English Limestone which was found to take a high polish and has been extensively used for decorative purposes. Petitor was one of the local quarries and during the reign of King Charles the First it was realised that the limestone from Petitor polished up as marble beautifully.
It was on a small scale and remained local due to transport difficulties.
The quarry was worked with varying success until the latter half of the 18thCentury. The stone continued to be converted into lime and at this time was carried away by sea barges. During the century a Mr W Fulton of London set up sheds and machinery for sawing the limestone and increased the output. Followed by an American called Hubbard, whom was the first to realise that Devon marble could compete with the Italians He shaped and prepared the stone on the beach before shipping it away, but one day having prepared a quantity of stone to be shipped to London an easterly gale blew up and it destroyed all the sheds and buildings and swept away the products. This calamity affected his mind and he was never able to resume his work.
Daniel Woodley with his wife and family moved to St Marychurch in 1806 where, as a stone mason worked in the fledgling marble industry. The Woodley family originally came from Broadhempston where Daniel Woodley and his wife Martha (nee Webber) had been married on the 9th April 1792. They were to produce a family of eleven children, nine born in Broadhempston and finally two born in St Marychurch.
After Daniel Woodley eventually took over the lease of the quarry at Petitor in partnership with his son Daniel (jnr) born 1797, along with the youngest son John born 1814 the Woodley family were responsible for really developing the marble industry, and in doing so obtained Royal patronage and helped put St Marychurch on the map.
The Woodley partnership between father and son continued until 1829 when it was dissolved. (London Gazette 24 April 1829)
In the meanwhile the firm had been joined by a Joseph Grant who had worked in the quarries at Broadhempston and specialised in polishing fossils. Grant left in 1836 to set up his own workshop down in the Teignmouth Road near the SWEB building and later opened shops in Torquay. Joseph Grants son William joined the Grant firm in 1847. Both father and son lived to a ripe old age, William died in 1924 and became known as the ‘Old Man of St. Marychurch’ because he had lived through four reigns and was the last Chairman of the St. Marychurch UDC. The factory was demolished and a row of houses are in its place
By the 1840’s the Marble works were well established and by this time, the younger son, John Woodley had clearly made his mark as an advert in the Western Times of 28th April 1848 reveals.
In the same year, 1848, Daniel Woodley [snr] died on the 19th September and was buried in St Marychurch Parish Churchyard where a headstone commemorates his life and that of his wife Martha, who died previously in 1838.
The early photograph below dates from 1851 and shows the Hillborough House the residence and showroom of Daniel Woodley (jnr). When the census was taken in March that year, Daniel was recorded at the age of 54 as a Builder and Marble Mason employing 7 Marble Masons, 7 Masons, 4 Carpenters and 9 Labourers.
Meanwhile, his brother John who was instrumental in building the Marble Works behind the house, was recorded, at the age of 38, with a workforce of 17 Marble masons and 8 labourers.
How did the company earn the Royal Warrant?
1851 was to be an auspicious year for John as a marble table he displayed at the Great Exhibition won a prize medal and later sold for a considerable sum to an “illustrious personage”
Further fame was to follow for John when the Exeter Flying Post of July 22, 1852 reported a chance encounter with Prince Albert who, with Queen Victoria, was visiting the area on the Royal Yacht which led to his Royal Highness being shown around the Marble Works and subsequently placing a large order of marble work destined for Osborne House.
Three marble vases, a goldfinch tray, a red sarcophagus, four saucers, two thermometers, six taper stands, six paperweights, and some inlaid brooches were sent. The vases and the sarcophagus were not retained.
In October 1856, John Woodley was once again honoured by a Royal visitor when the Prince of Wales, (later King Edward VII) called as he was passing through the area. On this occasion the regal visitor purchased a valuable table inlayed with Devonshire marble.
The Woodley brothers were then at the height of their success unfortunately it was to be short lived. John Woodley died on the 27 February 1862 aged 47 years. His Estate was valued at under £3,000. Towards the end of the 1850s his elder brother Daniel Woodley was declared bankrupt and the lease he held on the Petitor Marble Quarry became available to let. At the time of his bankruptcy he was described as being “infirm and suffering from loss of memory”, he wasn’t discharged from bankruptcy until 1864. He died on the 23rd September 1870 age 73. His total estate was merely valued at £15.
So ended the era of the Woodley family.
In 1864 Andrew Blackler and family took over the Marble Works; it was Blackler who created and erected the Chilcote Memorial. After the death of Andrew Blackler in 1892, aged 65, his son continued to run the business until his death.
The Royal Marble Works and Hillborough House were sold off at public auction in 1929 and one of the most important industries in St Marychurch came to an end.
Hillborough House became the Hillborough Hotel and finally the Hampton Court Hotel. The hotel was demolished and Lipton’s supermarket replaced the fine Victorian building. The supermarket has had many guises since; Lo Cost, GP Stores, Presto and the Co-op.
The Showroom became the Babbacombe Corinthian Sailing Club. The Royal warrant still over the door, but painted white with a grey background because the Sailing Club does not have the seal of approval from the Palace. This part of the original building is listed.
The Factory became Sansoms Garage in the early 1930’s and then later until the War became the Barton Motor Company. The building was occupied by Bristol Aircraft Corporation during the war years and produced munitions. Many local woman were able to work here. Following WWII the factory was used to garage cars and coaches and in the 1980’s was demolished and the General Accident offices were built in its place. Unfortunately General Accident did not last very long and the offices were boarded up for over 10 years falling into disrepair. The offices were demolished in 2013 and another building housing a supermarket, shops and living accommodation stands in the place opposite the Chilcote Memorial.
The Marble can be found in the Chancel of All Saints Church, Babbacombe, the Font of Our Lady Help of Christians and St Denis, St Marychurch, in the Torquay churches of St John’s and St Mary Magdalene, many of the Victorian houses and villas in the area. St Augustine’s Church, South Kensington, Keeble College, Oxford, Hereford & Salisbury Cathedrals and was also exported all around the World.
The Font of Our Lady Help of Christians, St Marychurch. Photo by Mike Smith
Least of all we must not forget the Royal Palaces but wait, look down at your feet. Many of the kerb and gutter stones are cut from the local limestone and where a thousand feet have polished the surfaces some striking colours can be seen………Petitor Marble!