The Ruskin Rocks Project was set up to create musical instruments using rocks from Cumbria , and to introduce local children to ideas in music and science through their local landscape and industries. As such, it is very much in the tradition of John Ruskin to make use of local resources to explore subjects of much wider interest. The project has been driven by Bobbie Millar of the University of Leeds and the idea to create a 21 st century rock instrument (lithophone) emerged when Bobbie Millar met Dame Evelyn Glennie and Sally Beamish, Estates Manager at Brantwood, in November 2005 while Dame Evelyn Glennie was making the BBC Radio 4 programme The World's First Rock Band , in which she played the 1840 lithophone housed in Keswick Museum and Art Gallery.

John Ruskin had a small lithophone made in 1884 by William Till. This used to be outside the front door at the rear of Brantwood and is now in the John Ruskin Museum in Coniston. We decided to create a new instrument for Brantwood, using modern technology both to create the keys and tune the instrument. Fortunately, Brantwood was strongly supportive of the idea, and Howard Hull , the Director, joined the project management team.

Dr Kia Ng from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Research in Music (ICSRiM) at the University of Leeds had developed new technologies to explore the sound made when instruments are played and realised that these could be used to build a precision stone instrument rather than relying on chance finds of ringing stones.

Geologist Murray Mitchell, who had worked with Bobbie previously on musical rocks, was able to point out a number of other Cumbrian rocks that were likely to ring in addition to the hornfels used in the historic instruments. He introduced geologists Dr Alan Smith and Dr Eric Johnson with special knowledge of Cumbrian geology and stone industries. Professor Bruce Yardley of the University of Leeds brought expertise in investigating the structure of rocks.

To get the project off the ground we needed funding. Many of the rocks we wanted to use in the new instrument were quarried for aggregates around the Lake District . By bringing together the manufacture of the instrument with taking school children into the quarries to find ringing stones and learn about their local industry we were eligible to apply to Natural England for funds supported through Defra's Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund. After a pilot project to demonstrate the feasibility funding was obtained in 2009. An objective was to create an instrument for August 2010 so that Dame Evelyn Glennie, who was incolved throughout, could demonstrate it at its launch.

For the new instrument we wanted to use a range of rocks and were supported by a number of quarry companies who gave us access and provided blocks of rock that we had selected. Kia Ng was able to analyse the sounds they made and worked with instrument maker Marcus de Mowbray to turn them into a novel instrument. Stainless steel mounts were designed with help from the Keyworth Institute and built for each stone key. The keys themselves were adjusted in size to give the exact note required using a high precision rock saw. At the same time they developed a new layout designed to suit the demands of the musician. The instrument frame was constructed for us by Marcus and Ben Illsley

In addition to making the main instrument, Kia Ng designed and built an interactive instrument, the iRock, to highlight the musical qualities of different rocks and to link them with the geology of the region. The frame for this instrument was designed by Marcus and built for us at HMPS Haverigg Prison. This instrument is a truly 21 st century concept and we hope you enjoy playing it.

Making music has been the main point of the project, but we want you to experience the music in the context of the landscape and the geology from which the instruments are made. The Linton Room exhibition is intended to help provide this context, with art works drawing on local materials and landscape and display panels for those who wish to learn more.

This exhibition in the Linton Room, the instruments and the web site www.ruskinrocks.org.uk was created by a team led by Professor Bruce Yardley (Professor in Earth and Environment) and Bobbie Millar (Inter-faculty Initiative), with Dr Kia Ng (Director of ICSRiM), Dr Rebecca Hildyard (Geologist), Gary Keech (technician), and members of ICSRiM including Bee Ong, Chris Ellison, Matt Benatan, John Corbey, Sam Bultitude, and Kerry-Anne Kubisa, all at the University of Leeds, Howard Hull (Director), Sally Beamish (Estates Manager) and Peter Wright at Brantwood, Marcus de Mowbray and Ben Illsley (Instrument makers), Nick Claiden (Artist), Lida Lopez Kindersley Cardozo (Stone Carver), Dr Robert MacKay (Musician, University of Hull), Mike Adcock (Musician) and Kirsty Schofield (Project Assistant extraodinaire).

We also had huge support from quarries at Shap Beck (Hanson Aggregates), Shap Blue (Cemex), Stainton and Sandside (Tarmac), Holmescales and Ghyll Scaur (Barden Aggregates), Peel Place and Tendley (Tendley Quarries), High Fell and Kirkby, Elterwater, Brandy Crag and Broughton Moor (Burlington Slate); and stone masons at Blencathra Stone Craft, Coniston Stone Craft, Burlington Slates, Gordon Greaves (Slate), James Walker and Barden Aggregates. We also had help from men at HMPS Haverigg Prison and staff at Lowther Estates, the Lake District National Park and the National Trust.

The following schools were involved by creating simple instruments from their local quarry and devising a wide range of creative cross-curricular activities: Black Combe, Shap CEP, Old Hutton CEP, St Bridget's CEP, Coniston CEP, Gosforth CEP, John Ruskin and Millom Schools and Barrow 6 th Form College .

To all, our thanks.


[Ruskin Rocks home] [Introduction to the Project] [Who's who] [History of Musical Stones] [Why do Rocks Ring?] [Geology of the Lake District] [The Ruskin Rocks Instrument] [Links]

Created by Ruskin Rocks Team, August 2010
Last updated: Rebecca Hildyard, 16 August 2010