This black limestone is often referred to as “Manx Marble” and “Pooil Vaaish Marble”.
The earliest known use of it was by the Monks at Rushen Abbey 4 miles away from the quarry in Ballasalla around the fourteenth century. Poyllvaaish lintels appear to have been used also in a 1350-1400 building phase at Castle Rushen in Castletown, only a couple of miles away, both above windows and in a corner of the gatehouse tower.
From at least the beginning of the eighteenth century the “marble” was sometimes exported off the island in small ships which could sail in at Poyllvaaish at high tide. There is a record of stone from here being sent in 1704 “for the use of a new church in Liverpool” where it was used for the flagging of St Peter’s Church.
Also in the eighteenth century, John Kewley made very fine stone dials of which the finest existing example is made of polished Pooil Vaaish limestone and dated 1776. It records the time of midday at Peking in China, Fort Royal in Jamaica, Jerusalem, Boston USA as well as in the Isle of Man. It has mottoes in Manx, Latin and English.
There are a number of references in all standard text books on building stone to the gift by Bishop Wilson of stone from Pooil Vaaish for the building of the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. There is conflicting evidence however from the building accounts published by the Wren Society which show that the stone for the west steps was purchased from a merchant in the period 1706-9 and which is described in the accounts as “Irish Black Marble”. It is possible that no distinction was made between stone from these two sources and that Manx Marble could have been supplied by the merchant giving rise to the legend.
However, in a letter from the Surveyor, F.C. Penrose dated 1876 (St Paul’s Cathedral Library) it is clear that he believed the story of Bishop Wilson’s gift which had appeared in print for almost a hundred years at that time.
“The pavement within the porticos both N. and S. are being replaced with new marble. The black being brought from the Pol Ash quarries in the Isle of Man from where the Cathedral was originally supplied..”
Further evidence comes from a rough time-sheet recording the work done by the quarrymen preserved in the Manx Museum Library. Written on a letter heading of a firm of stone masons in Castletown it seems to be from the 18170’s or 1800’s.
In the nineteenth century it was used for steps, tombstones, of which there are examples in the Malew Parish Church, and mantelpieces. When boarding houses were being built in Douglas Poyllvaaish “marble” was in much demand for fire surrounds and there are many in existence today around the island. In the Groves Museum in Ramsey there are several fine examples.
The current owners of the quarry are still quarrying using traditional plug and feather techniques although they now are aided by hydraulic power and compressed air and the large blocks of stone are moved using a Telehandler rather than manpower!
In the last 20 years Pooil Vaaish Limited has produced items ranging from naturally riven flooring and paving, through benches and tables and sundials, highly profiled corbels and sills to milled octagonal Millennium Crosses and reproduction Georgian fire surrounds with fluted legs and profiled mantels. We undertake commissions from private individuals, architects, landscape designers, government departments and museums. Stone from the quarry has been used in Rushen Abbey, Castle Rushen and the House of Keys restorations.
In 2004 we were commissioned to replace the top step of the landing stones on the West Face of St Paul’s Cathedral. This was an exciting time and the directors of the company were able to visit the Cathedral to see the installation in progress. We were also commissioned to produce flooring tiles to replace some original Pooil Vaaish stone used at Emmanuel College Chapel in Cambridge. A couple of years later we supplied the City of London with a significant quantity of stone to repair the 311 circular Pooil Vaaish stone steps leading up the inside of The Monument to the Great Fire of London. Sir Christopher Wren certainly seems to have used a lot of this unique stone in his projects and we have been asked to supply stone for a number of other projects including The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace.