Mount House, the stylish Georgian B&B in the heart of Whitby, is the beautiful home of Ruth Denison, creator of a range of stunning handmade ammonite fossil soaps.
The soaps are handmade from moulds of original Whitby ammonites found locally on the beach at well-known fossil sites along the Jurassic Coast.
The moulds themselves are handmade by Ruth from silicone impressions of the ammonites. A fascinating process that was inspired by Ruth’s work as a translator.
Earlier this year, we sat down with Ruth at her beautiful home in the heart of Whitby. We wanted to learn more about these unique soaps and how they are made.
“As AI exploded at the beginning of this year, my sort of low-level translation work stopped forever. I don’t think it’s a bad development, but looking back, I realise there was a time when I would be thinking about something and then a translation would turn up on a similar subject. I remember talking about my uncle playing Northumbrian pipes – then got a translation about Alpine horns, albeit their gaskets. I made walnut bread and a little later received a translation on the various types of walnut tree and pistachio trees in the foothills of the Himalayas. For a while, I had been pondering how to make moulds for the ammonite soaps when a whole series of translations on the uses of silicone dropped into my inbox, from not just one but two customers. It was odd, but I took note.”
These unique handmade ammonite soaps come in three distinct designs; dactylioceras, hildoceras and the euagassiceras.
“Most of the gift boxes currently on sale in the Whitby shops and online with The Whitby Guide are combinations of the small dactylioceras soaps. There is also a non-ammonite soap, but nonetheless a fossil soap, in the shape of a vertebra from a Whitby ichthyosaur. The hildoceras and euagassiceras are made in far lower quantities and their size makes them expensive to post. I am working on how best to offer them online.”
Dactylioceras ammonite soaps
This is the classic ammonite soap design. Measuring 5cm in diameter and weighing 20g, the dactylioceras ammonite soap is flat one side, just like the original.
The original dactylioceras ammonite came from Byron Blessed at Natural Wonders in Whitby.
“This fossil had been cleaned and prepared leaving one side embedded in the matrix and relatively flat. This meant the ammonite had more stability and made it possible for me to reproduce the ammonite fairly accurately as soaps. The moulds are simple pour in moulds. The ammonites are face down, and the top surface after pouring in the soap batter becomes the flat back of the ammonite.”
A beautiful handmade gift that is perfect for any occasion. You can buy a gift box of 6 soaps here.
What should an ammonite smell like? This question posed a challenge for Ruth, in particular, the black ammonite soaps.
“I wanted something that reminded you of the sea. There is a seaweed absolute available used in perfumes. It’s very expensive and my feeling was it is too refined for soap. Herbal scents had a lot of appeal, especially plants that grow at the North Yorkshire seaside. I was certain that I was going to use essential oils and not artificial fragrances. Scent evaporates no matter what you use. However, if the outer layer of soap has lost its scent then using the soap frees up the lower layers. Also, by wrapping the soaps in tissue paper, the scent is preserved quite well. The question of scent occupied me for some time.”
In the end, inspiration was taken from the garden at Mount House.
Essential oils scent the soaps. Rosemary and lavender grow happily in the garden at Mount House and are definitely seaside plants. These plants inspired the choice of scent and a little warming cedarwood was added.
“All the soaps both beige and black contain bladderwrack seaweed in powder form and this too adds a slight seaside scent.”
These delightful ammonite soaps are handmade at Mount House from natural ingredients. The finest essential oils are used in the preparation of these wonderful artisan cosmetics.
Dactylioceras handmade ammonite soaps now come in two colours: black and beige. “The white soaps were discontinued when I found that a new batch of rose geranium essential oil was making the soap set before it had even been poured into the moulds. I couldn’t work fast enough. Rather than risk wasting yet more ingredients, I stopped making them. Essential oils always vary due to climate, rainfall, or geographic origin.
The beige and black soaps contain bladderwrack seaweed. The black soap has additional black clay and charcoal. Black soap takes a bit of getting used to as it produces greyish suds, so avoid use with white facecloths.
Keeping the soap dry and drained between uses prolong its lifespan and keeps it looking nice, too.
Q: What was your inspiration for the ammonite soaps?
Early on a friend said, “This is such an obvious thing to do!” And it’s true, it was an obvious thing to do, but no one seemed to be making soaps that looked like real Whitby ammonites. The inspiration was simply the lovely shape of ammonites.
Even when an incomplete piece of ammonite has been thoroughly washed and worn by the sea with only the vague idea of a spiral remaining, they still look beautiful. And so, I thought, a soap in the shape of an ammonite would look good and also stay looking good as it was worn away with use.
In those pre-Covid times, there was interest in going back to traditional soap bars as a way of leaving behind liquid soap and plastic containers. It was probably just a mundane, practical consideration when setting up two rooms in the family home as holiday accommodation that really got the soap project going.
Q: What inspires you about Whitby?
I cannot remember a time when I did not want to be in Whitby. There are early memories of playing in the woods at Golden Grove, following the monks trods, days spent on the beach at Kettleness or on the moors near the Roman road. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Whitby as a child and as a teenager one year worked in a café on Church Street for the summer holiday.
It’s the light, the wild coast, waves, wind, high stratified cliffs, its tangible history.
Having hosted guests from near and far for a couple of years now, I often see people falling in love with Whitby. There is an energy that leaves its imprint and generates a special meaning for so many. One of my most cherished moments was my eldest grandson, then aged three, being lifted up to stand on the windowsill so he could look across the harbour to St. Mary’s church – he had an obsession with church bells at the time – and asking my daughter, “Can we stay here forever?”
Where can I buy these Dactylioceras ammonite soaps?
You can buy Ruth’s ammonite soaps directly from The Whitby Guide here. All orders are shipped directly from Ruth at Mount House using Royal Mail 1st class delivery. The packaging is standard kraft boxes and translucent paper, printed at home.
Drawings by Jo Witney, Whitby
Six Whitby Ammonite Soaps (£15.00) – Buy Now
Four Black Dactylioceras Soaps (£13.00) – Buy Now
Twelve Dactylioceras Boxes (£42.00) – Buy Now
Stay at Mount House – beautiful guest rooms with a stunning view
Mount House occupies a striking position halfway along Cliff Street. This charming property, set in a gated courtyard, commands an enviable view across the harbour towards Whitby Abbey.
Perfect for an inspiring stay in a Whitby home throughout the year. You can learn more about Mount House and book your stay with Ruth here.