Nineteenth Century ‘Rock Band’: the Musical Stones of Skiddaw

musical-stones-of-skiddaw (Image: Keswick Museum, cc-sa-3.0)

In 1848, ‘Richardson & Sons Rock, Bell and Steel Band‘ played at Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Their main instrument was quite literally rock or, to be more precise, a type of hornfels metamorphic rock. It had taken the father of the band, Joseph Richardson, from 1827 to 1840 to build the lithophone using hornfels slate found in the area of England’s fourth tallest mountain, Skiddaw, in Cumbria.

richardsons-musical-stones-skiddaw (Image: Keswick Museum, public domain)

However, Richardson was not the first to discover music in the fells around Skiddaw. In 1785, inventor and ex-naval commander, Peter Crosthwaite, was out rambling when he noticed that pieces of Skiddaw slate underfoot gave a musical resonance as they were struck. He found and chipped away at the stones to create a much smaller lithophone than Richardson’s and used it to attract customers to his museum in the nearby town of Keswick.


(Image: Trevor Cox, cc-sa-3.0; Video: musicalstonestv via YouTube)

Keswick’s current museum has been home to Richardson’s ‘Musical Stones of Skiddaw‘ since 1917, and they continue to tour more than a century after their heyday. One gig even attracted the attention of NME. The instrument being played in the clip featured is made up of parts of the Skiddaw lithophone combined with Kendal Museum‘s lithophone, relics of the first rock band in history.

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About the author: Alexandra Smith




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