Bull Cliff Marble

This is a preliminary posting while it’s fresh in my mind – more to come when Mike Statham and Tim Palmer do a proper write-up of the lithology. Iolo Morgannwg, stonemason, antiquarian, imaginative inventor of Welsh history and general polymath, identified something he called ‘Bull Clifft marble’ in the cliffs between Barry and Porthkerry, at the mouth of the Nant Cidi.


He was keen to promote the use of local decorative stones as an alternative to marble (Italian marble being difficult to get hold of during the Napoleonic wars) and identified a number of earlier memorials made in what he described as Bull Cliff marble in local churches. At St Andrews Major he reported:

In the East part of the North Aisle of St. Andrew’s Church on a black marble ledger (Bull clifft), well polished, is the following remarkable inscription, the ledger is also of the following form, and is the oldest that I ever saw in Glamorgan without a cross on it.

He then drew the stone with an inscription commemorating

John Gibbon James buried the 14 of August 1601 and Margaret Mathew his wife buried the 8 of January An Do 1631. He aged 99 she aged 124.

(Iolo was particularly interested in tombstones recording people who died at an advanced age.)

Iolo’s ‘Bull Clifft marble’ seems to be dark grey or even black, but there are monuments in other local churches described in guides as ‘Bull Cliff stone’ but made of a much paler blue-grey stone.

So we assembled a group from the Welsh Stone Forum and went off to have a look. Here we are heading towards the actual Bull Cliff


and looking at what seems to be the stone Iolo was describing.


It’s a liassic limestone with very characteristic small flat oyster shells (Liostrea hisingeri) which would clearly polish up very nicely.



We had with us Mike Statham’s brother Ian who is a retired geological engineer and was pretty confident that we were looking at evidence of quarrying. What we had assumed was erosion by the sea, he suggested was deliberate removal of mudstone and shaly overburden to get at good building stone and the shelly ‘marble’. Once that had been taken away we were left with a flat pavement, with too many fissures to make it useful.


Well, once he said it, we could see it quite clearly!

So on we went to Cadoxton church. Mike and I had been there already looking for this (now on the south wall but from the wording clearly a ledgerstone)


which Geoff Orrin in his Medieval Churches of the Vale of Glamorgan describes as being Bull Cliff marble. It looks quite different from the stone on the beach but Tim Palmer said it was the same stone on the basis of the small oyster shells (difficult to see because of weathering of the stone but he had his magnifying glass and could identify them quite clearly). There is another ledgerstone in the same stone mounted on the south wall


and this one at the back of the church


which looks similar but doesn’t seem to have the same fossils.

Apparently there were ledgerstones under the carpet. We didn’t have time to move the carpet as we had to get on to St Andrews, but Mike and I went back a few days later and found these in the chancel





and these just west of the nave steps.



Most but clearly not all are Bull Cliff stone. Lovely little cherubs (the one on the Rosser ledgerstone looks as though it’s wearing glasses)


and copybook commemorative poems.



There’s a lot of local gossip about the families in the wonderful diary of William Thomas (published by the South Wales Record Society, http://www.southwalesrecordsociety.co.uk/11.htm). For example: he records George Rosser’s death on 28th May, 1764

of about 70 yrs. of age from a very sudden death. He rose the 27th in the morning and Eated his Breakfast and went about the fields, and soon after his return some reaches took him tht in a few hours he Expired. Some sort of a Merry man, had his Life inthat House and land in Eley after his mother which was daughter of late Thomas Howel of Eley decease, which his mother and he had run in debt, to the Lord of the mannor, and the Land rented out to Tho. Collins senr. Deceased to pay it, he went to the great house in Swanbridge to keep an alehouse and a Shop where about this 20 yrs. past he broke, and had £15 of the poor’s money of St. Andrews on use, the Lease of the parishioners, and went to Pencotre where he kept an alehouse, till this 10 or 11 yrs. past that the land in Eley came free and he went there and paid the money to St. Andrews parish, and came well up, but these few years past he rented Barry Island of Sir Edm Tho (which he had given up to Biss of the Holms last Candlemas) and made not much gains of that – the house and Land in Eley after his life went from the family, he Left behind him two sons and two daughters.

There’s also a lot of roughly finished Bull Cliff stone in the actual fabric of the church – sanctuary steps, tower steps – and a wedge-shaped stone in the north side of the chancel which could be a medieval coffin lid. Also mooching around the churchyard I spotted this,


the design a copy of a medieval four-circle or bracelet cross. I’ve not seen anything like this on a modern gravestone but then I probably wasn’t looking.

On to St Andrews – where Iolo’s stone is nowhere to be seen inside the church. There is however a stone against the outside north wall which could be it – very much weathered and doesn’t look like Bull Cliff at all but Tim says the change in colour is lichen. The inscription is totally illegible by daylight so we plan to go back one evening and see what we can do with a raking light.

More on that again.



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