The Torr Works (Merehead) Quarry Collection

17 May 2012

Crystal Classics is proud to have acquired the Tony House collection of specimens from the Mendip Hills, Somerset, England. This is the best collection of Mendip minerals to come on the market and probably the best collection worldwide.


Mereheadite - a large specimen from the Type Locality 

Tony House is a well known avid collector of minerals from the south western English county of Somerset. Most of the specimens in his collection were personally collected by Tony. These specimens were collected in the 1970’s, which was classed as the bonanza days for collecting in the Mendips, and was also a time period when many people became interested in collecting in England, accompanied by the opening of mineral clubs such as the Sussex Mineral and Lapidary Society.

Olive green Chloroxiphite in Mendipite

The history of quarrying for lime and limestone in the Mendips goes back a long way. Quarrying in the general area may have begun by the Romans, it is thought they used scree off the hill-slopes. It also seems likely that some parts of the Mendips were quarried in the eighteenth century, as there is documented evidence of quarrying in nearby locations. A quarry by the name of Merehead was operated by the Merehead Quarry Company from 1934. In 1957 the Merehead Quarry was taken over by Foster Yeoman. By the end of the 1960s output of limestone for use as aggregate for roads had reached a quarter of a million tonnes per year, increasing to 5 million tonnes by the mid-1970s. At this time the Quarry was also renamed Torr Works. By the year 2000 the quarry was allowed to extend  to a total of 313 Ha. The quarry is now owned by Aggregate Industries, and is scheduled to continue until 2040.

A very rare specimen of Nasonite in Datolite

The first documented collecting at the Merehead Quarry was in the 1950s by the local mineral dealer Reginald F. D. Parkinson (whom Parkinsonite was name after). In the 1970s and 80s many collectors including Tony House, mineral dealer Richard Barstow and our very own David Lloyd and Steve Rust visited the site. Specimens from the quarry were also being sent to the British Museum of Natural History attracting the attention of luminaries such as Bob Symes (after whom Symesite was named) and Peter Embrey (of Embreyite fame). The results of this collector-academia collaboration over the years have shown that Merehead Quarry is a mecca for the collecting of very rare Lead Oxyhalides and related species. The latest newcomer to the list of species is Rickturnerite discovered by English scientist Rick Turner.

A polished section displaying the concentric mineral deposition in a Manganese pod.

For a brief summary of the geology, the Quarry is working variably south dipping Carboniferous Limestone of the Black Rock, the Vallis and the Clifton Down members, which constitute the southern limb of the Beacon Hill Pericline. To the west of the Quarry is the major Downhead Fault which marks the termination of the Carboniferous Limestone in this area.

Crystal of Hydrocerussite

The Oxyhalide mineralisation is mainly associated with two minor faults that cut through the Quarry, running subparallel to the major Downhead Fault. The two faults are mostly mineralized by black sooty Manganese oxides, dominantly Pyrolusite and Manganite, with subsidiary Goethite (Iron Oxide). At the top benches of the Quarry the veins of Mn-Oxides were up to 4 metres wide. Isolated areas within these veins carry the prized Lead Oxychlorides species, in pod-like structures often with concentric deposition of mineralisation. There are several other veins within the Quarry which also host Mn-Fe oxides but with no Lead mineralisation. There are something like 60 minerals recorded from the Mn-Fe veins at the Quarry. Investigation of other unknown species is continuing at the Natural History Museum of London.

Red micro masses of Parkinsonite in Mendipite.

Tony's collection was very comprehensive of the Merehead mineralisation, containing most of the rarer minerals. Many of the specimens were still wrapped in old newspapers from when they were collected - unwrapping the specimens was a real mystery tour of rare species with lots exciting discoveries.

A fine crystal rosette of Crednerite.

Excellent examples of rare species such as Parkinsonite, Crednerite, Nasonite, Mendipite, Mereheadite, Chloroxiphite, Symesite, Diabolite plus the best ever seen Paralaurionite. The collection also included Pyrolusite, Goethite, Hydrocerussite (large crystals for the species), Cerussite, Datolite (rare at the Quarry), and Baryte.

A super specimen of Paralaurionite from the Tony House Collection

Author: Steve Rust
Categories: Collection Acquisitions

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