Musical Stones of Skiddaw
The Musical Stones of Skiddaw is a lithophone
A lithophone is a musical instrument consisting of a rock or pieces of rock which are struck to produce musical notes. Notes may be sounded in combination or in succession...

 made of a type of hornfels
Hornfels is the group designation for a series of contact metamorphic rocks that have been baked and indurated by the heat of intrusive igneous masses and have been rendered...

 rock found in Cumbria
Cumbria , is a non-metropolitan county in North West England. The county and Cumbria County Council, its local authority, came into existence in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972. Cumbria's largest settlement and county town is Carlisle. It consists of six districts, and in...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. Constructed between 1827 and 1840, the instrument has entertained royalty; it is now housed at the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery
Keswick Museum and Art Gallery
The Keswick Museum and Art Gallery in Cumbria was founded in 1873 and had a number of temporary homes as it grew, including the Moot Hall in Keswick town centre....

 in Cumbria.

The Crosthwaite Musical Stones

Inventor Peter Crosthwaite was the first to conceive of a stone xylophone. Born at Dale Head
Dale Head
Dale Head is a fell in the northwestern sector of the Lake District, in northern England. It is 753 metres or 2,470 feet above sea level and stands immediately north of Honister Pass, the road between Borrowdale and Buttermere.-Topography:...

, Thirlmere
Thirlmere is a reservoir in the Borough of Allerdale in Cumbria and the English Lake District. It runs roughly south to north, with a dam at the northern end, and is bordered on the eastern side by the A591 road and on the western side by a minor road....

, in 1735, he joined the British East India Company
British East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

 after a brief and unhappy stint in his family's wool business. He became a naval commander, master of the gunboat
A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for ferrying troops or supplies.-History:...

 Otter, protecting the Company's ships against Malay
Malay Peninsula
The Malay Peninsula or Thai-Malay Peninsula is a peninsula in Southeast Asia. The land mass runs approximately north-south and, at its terminus, is the southern-most point of the Asian mainland...

 pirates. He returned to England in 1765 and undertook customs duties on the coast before returning to Keswick in 1779 and setting up a museum there in 1780.

Crosthwaite was an eccentric and keen inventor. His inventions included a fire-escaping machine, a portable bathing machine, a cure for smoking chimneys, a swinging machine for the benefit of health, a roasting machine and a cork-bottomed lifeboat
Lifeboat (rescue)
A rescue lifeboat is a boat rescue craft which is used to attend a vessel in distress, or its survivors, to rescue crewmen and passengers. It can be hand pulled, sail powered or powered by an engine...

. He never patented any of his inventions, however and, in the case of his lifeboat, someone else took the credit for the device.

On June 11, 1785, Crosthwaite was walking around the area of Skiddaw and he made a startling discovery; there was music in the rocks.

He told people that the first six 'music stones' he found on that day were in perfect tune; the remaining ten of the set took six months to find, with Crosthwaite working twelve hours a day to tune, carefully chipping away at the stone until the desired note rang true. He carved into each stone the letter corresponding to the note which the stone sounded. The result was a sort of xylophone, known as the Musical Stones. In his museum at the bottom of Keswick's Market Place, Crosthwaite set up mirrors near the windows to see approaching carriages. When a carriage neared, he played a rudimentary tune on his Musical Stones and his daughter and an old woman banged a drum, rattled a gong
A gong is an East and South East Asian musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat metal disc which is hit with a mallet....

 and a played a barrel organ. This cacophony of noise flooding out of the Museum was meant to attract the attention of the carriage passengers so they might pay a shilling and come and look round.

Joseph Richardson & Sons and the Rock, Bell & Steel Band

Joseph Richardson (1790), a stonemason and gifted amateur musician from Keswick, continued the experiment in lithophones after noting the nearly-musical tones of some of the rock he worked with. He began to test the various rocks of the Lake District
Lake District
The Lake District, also commonly known as The Lakes or Lakeland, is a mountainous region in North West England. A popular holiday destination, it is famous not only for its lakes and its mountains but also for its associations with the early 19th century poetry and writings of William Wordsworth...

 for their note and collected ones that gave a pure, resonant ring, forming them into a sequence.

At 1827 in Thornthwaite, he found that the rocks of Skiddaw
Skiddaw is a mountain in the Lake District National Park in England. With a summit at 931 m above sea level it is the fourth highest mountain in England. It lies just north of the town of Keswick, Cumbria, and dominates the skyline in this part of the northern lakes...

 had the best tone of all and endeavoured to produce an instrument on a larger scale than Crosthwaites, which would have every musical note. The geological name for the rock both Crosthwaite and Richardson used for their instruments is hornfels
Hornfels is the group designation for a series of contact metamorphic rocks that have been baked and indurated by the heat of intrusive igneous masses and have been rendered...

. It took Richardson almost thirteen years to collect and shape enough individual notes of hornfels to make an eight-octave range. The massive task of assembling this instrument consumed Joseph so absolutely that he and his family were reduced to poverty. Finally, in 1840, he completed his own lithophone, now known as 'The Richardson Set'.

Joseph enlisted his three sons and they began practising with the instrument and giving concerts locally. Having gained support and acclaim in the Keswick region, they set off on a three-week tour of the major northern towns of England. Their reception and immediate success meant that they did not see their home again for three years. One local newspaper noted that "everyone appeared much delighted with the sweet sound elicited from the rugged and uncouth looking and unique instrument". Their success encouraged them to head for London, where "the wonderful merits of your admirable instrument cannot fail to be well-received by the London public who are very musical people".

The repertoire included selections from Handel
HANDEL was the code-name for the UK's National Attack Warning System in the Cold War. It consisted of a small console consisting of two microphones, lights and gauges. The reason behind this was to provide a back-up if anything failed....

, Beethoven and Mozart and arrangements of waltz
The waltz is a ballroom and folk dance in time, performed primarily in closed position.- History :There are several references to a sliding or gliding dance,- a waltz, from the 16th century including the representations of the printer H.S. Beheim...

es, quadrille
Quadrille is a historic dance performed by four couples in a square formation, a precursor to traditional square dancing. It is also a style of music...

s, galop
In dance, the galop, named after the fastest running gait of a horse , a shortened version of the original term galoppade, is a lively country dance, introduced in the late 1820s to Parisian society by the Duchesse de Berry and popular in Vienna, Berlin and London...

s and polka
The polka is a Central European dance and also a genre of dance music familiar throughout Europe and the Americas. It originated in the middle of the 19th century in Bohemia...

s. Considerable variation in tone was achieved by using different methods of striking the notes, creating a blend of organ
Organ (music)
The organ , is a keyboard instrument of one or more divisions, each played with its own keyboard operated either with the hands or with the feet. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument in the Western musical tradition, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with...

, piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

, harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

 and flute
The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening...

 sounds, though the full power of the instrument had to be withheld because of the fear of shattering the concert hall windows. The concerts were popular: The richness and sweetness of the tones astonished onlookers. An 1846 newspaper advertisement for a performance in Luton
Luton is a large town and unitary authority of Bedfordshire, England, 30 miles north of London. Luton and its near neighbours, Dunstable and Houghton Regis, form the Luton/Dunstable Urban Area with a population of about 250,000....

 states that the range of the instrument went from the warble of a lark to the deep bass of a funeral bell
Bell (instrument)
A bell is a simple sound-making device. The bell is a percussion instrument and an idiophone. Its form is usually a hollow, cup-shaped object, which resonates upon being struck...

. Journalist Minnie Broatch, writing in 1842, explains that the musical stones look more or less like hammered dulcimer
Hammered dulcimer
The hammered dulcimer is a stringed musical instrument with the strings stretched over a trapezoidal sounding board. Typically, the hammered dulcimer is set on a stand, at an angle, before the musician, who holds small mallet hammers in each hand to strike the strings...

s, but on a gargantuan scale.

To increase the musical range, the instrument was updated in the mid 1840s with two rows of steel bars, Swiss bells and large kick drum
The drum is a member of the percussion group of musical instruments, which is technically classified as the membranophones. Drums consist of at least one membrane, called a drumhead or drum skin, that is stretched over a shell and struck, either directly with the player's hands, or with a...

s, and became Richardson & Sons, Rock, Bell and Steel Band. On 23 February 1848 the Richardsons played at Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, in London, is the principal residence and office of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal hospitality...

, by command of Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was present, and a large assembly of English and foreign noblemen and women. The Band was well received; indeed, two of the pieces were requested for an encore. According to The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

, it proved one of the most extraordinary and novel performances of the Metropolis. As a result, the Queen requested two further performances. However, although very impressed overall, Victoria was not amused by the sound of the Alpine bells.

Over sixty concerts were given in London alone and the Band toured all over Britain and, subsequently, in France, Germany and Italy, being transported by train. A concert trip to America was planned, but Robert, the youngest son and the most talented player, became ill just before the date of departure and died of pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

. The tour was abandoned, and the instrument was packed away. Subsequently, the instrument was given to Keswick Museum in 1917 by the grandson of Joseph Richardson, Richardson Henderson after an unsuccessful attempt by him to revive the family business.

Richardson is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery
Kensal Green Cemetery
Kensal Green Cemetery is a cemetery in Kensal Green, in the west of London, England. It was immortalised in the lines of G. K. Chesterton's poem The Rolling English Road from his book The Flying Inn: "For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen; Before we go to Paradise by way of...

 in London. As well as a gravestone, Joseph also has a monument there to mark his life and his achievement. The monument is the tallest obelisk in the cemetery and it reads:

In Memory of Joseph Richardson, formerly of Underskiddaw, Keswick, Cumberland Inventor of the Instruments of the Rock, Bell and Steel Band

Later sets of Musical Stones include the Till Family Rock Band, exhibited and performed upon by Daniel Till of Keswick and his two sons in 1881 at The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace's of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in...

. The Tills later toured America extensively and one of their instruments is now held in the Metropolitan Museum, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. The Abraham Brothers of Keswick, famous for their mountaineering and photography, collected a set of fifty-eight stones in the late nineteenth century, which took them twelve years and which they exhibited in their photography shop on Lake Road and gave concerts in a hall nearby.

The Story Continues

Recently the Richardsons' stones have gone on tour again. The first of these 21st century Musical Stones tours took place in September 2005. Keswick Museum was approached by Grizedale Arts
Grizedale Arts
Grizedale Arts is a contemporary arts residency and commissioning agency in the central Lake District in rural Northern England. It conducts cultural projects locally, nationally and internationally...

 - a contemporary art commissioning agency near Coniston - to collaborate with the musician and artist Brian Dewan
Brian Dewan
Brian Dewan is an artist who works in many media, including art, music, audio-visual performances, decorative painting, furniture design, poetry and musical instrument design. He has produced three albums of songs and concertized extensively as a solo artist, as well as having performed in various...

 from Catskill
Catskill (town), New York
Catskill is a town in the southeast part of Greene County, New York, United States. The population was 11,775 at the 2010 census. The western part of the town is in the Catskill Park....

, New York State. Dewan composed seven pieces. This suite of music lasted about an hour and was performed outside, on the shores of Coniston Water
Coniston Water
Coniston Water in Cumbria, England is the third largest lake in the English Lake District. It is five miles long, half a mile wide, has a maximum depth of 184 feet , and covers an area of . The lake has an elevation of 143 feet above sea level...

, looking out across the lake towards Brantwood, the former home of the great writer, artist and social reformer John Ruskin
John Ruskin
John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political...

. Ruskin loved the sound of Cumbrian lithophones and even commissioned Daniel Till to build him a set of his own. This set is now on display in the Ruskin Museum
Ruskin Museum
Ruskin Museum is a small local museum in Coniston, Cumbria, northern England.It was established in 1901 by W. G. Collingwood, an artist and antiquarian who had worked as secretary to art critic John Ruskin...

 in Coniston
-Relating to Coniston, Cumbria, England:*Coniston, Cumbria, a village*Coniston Fells, a chain of hills and mountains in the Furness Fells, in the Lake District**Coniston Old Man , the highest peak in the Coniston Fells....

, Cumbria.

The lakeside performance by Brian Dewan and Jamie Barnes was part of the Coniston Water Festival 2005 - a country sports and art festival restarted by Grizedale Arts to allow the local community to continue the event after 2007.

A special frame and sound box was constructed to mount the stones for the performance. Brian used 35 of the 60 slate notes for his composition. These notes correspond to the white notes on a piano. The performance was amplified and the sounds of the stones drifted across the lake and into Coniston village. The performance was also broadcast over a short wave radio station.

The performance was repeated at the University of Leeds
University of Leeds
The University of Leeds is a British Redbrick university located in the city of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England...

 in May 2006; new music was performed and recorded as part as the Liverpool Biennial
Liverpool Biennial
Liverpool Biennial is a British international festival of contemporary art held in Liverpool. The festival comprises the International Exhibition, the John Moores Painting Prize, the Bloomberg New Contemporaries Exhibition and the Independents Biennial....

 2006. In these performances the Stones were joined by a Chinese classical orchestra, and the bells of Liverpool Cathedral.

In January 2006 the Musical Stones reached a large national audience when they were heavily featured as part of a BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

 documentary on Cumbrian musical stones presented by the top classical percussionist Evelyn Glennie
Evelyn Glennie
Dame Evelyn Elizabeth Ann Glennie, DBE is a Scottish virtuoso percussionist. She was the first full-time solo percussionist in 20th-century western society.-Early life:Glennie was born and raised in Aberdeenshire...

. The documentary was entitled The World's First Rock Band. In June 2006 the Stones went global when they were featured on National Public Radio across America.

Keswick Museum and Art Gallery
Keswick Museum and Art Gallery
The Keswick Museum and Art Gallery in Cumbria was founded in 1873 and had a number of temporary homes as it grew, including the Moot Hall in Keswick town centre....

 are also involved with a large three-year project set up by Yorkshire Quarry Arts based at The University of Leeds
University of Leeds
The University of Leeds is a British Redbrick university located in the city of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England...

. It is an interdisciplinary project to find out why hornfels has musical properties, carry out historical research on the Cumbrian sets of musical stones and organise a series of performances. The Musical Stones of Skiddaw have been played in several events for Yorkshire Quarry Arts.

In 2007 and 2008 Keswick Museum and Art Gallery worked with the music charity Soundwave and Changeling Productions to produce a theatrical performance entitled 'The Musical Stonemason - A Cumbrian Wayang'. The show told the story of how the Musical Stones were discovered by Peter Crosthwaite and made famous by Joseph Richardson. It was produced as a 'Wayang' - an Indonesian-style shadow puppetry play and featured a full 'Gamelan' – set of Indonesian orchestral instruments. The show was performed at the Royal Festival Hall
Royal Festival Hall
The Royal Festival Hall is a 2,900-seat concert, dance and talks venue within Southbank Centre in London. It is situated on the South Bank of the River Thames, not far from Hungerford Bridge. It is a Grade I listed building - the first post-war building to become so protected...

, London and The Sage Gateshead in 2007 as well as several shows across Cumbria in 2008.

Soundwave, Changeling Productions and Keswick Museum and Art Gallery are continuing their unique collaboration as they deliver a two-year education project which uses the Musical Stones and the interests of Peter Crosthwaite to teach Cumbrian school children across the curriculum. This project has been generously financed in the main by a Heritage Lottery Fund
Heritage Lottery Fund
The Heritage Lottery Fund is a fund established in the United Kingdom under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993. The Fund opened for applications in 1994. It uses money raised through the National Lottery to transform and sustain the UK’s heritage...

 ‘Your Heritage’ grant.

Keswick Museum and Art Gallery hope that all these new projects will help bring the Musical Stones to new audiences and keep this fascinating story alive for another 220 years at least.
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