New Northern England Update 08 April 2022

7 April 2022

ON Tuesday we took a mineralogical tour of South West England and today relocate to the Northern end of the country, covering the counties of Cumbria, Durham, Northumberland and North Yorkshire. Let’s first take a quick look at these counties in a little more detail, as a brief explanation may be useful in better understanding variations in locality names on labels.

Cumbria is the third largest county in England, sitting right at the top of the country and forming part of the border with Scotland, the remainder being with Northumberland. Cumbria covers an area of over 2,600 square miles and includes many famous mining districts such as the Caldbeck Fells and the Egremont-Frizington iron district in the west and the Alston-Nenthead mines to the east. This county also incorporates the famous Stank mine, close to Barrow-in-Furness and Ulverston, birthplace of comedian Stan Laurel. Stank mine was in the county of Lancashire during its period of production between 1871 and 1901, so accounting for Lancashire on old labels written prior to county boundary changes in April 1974. What we now define as Cumbria incorporates parts the former counties of Cumberland, Lancashire and Westmoreland.

Yorkshire is the largest English county and as a result was sub-divided into smaller areas, named Ridings. Such divisions and names have changed through time and currently tend to be referred to as North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The remaining two counties in today’s update, Durham and Northumberland, are relatively simple from a mineralogical perspective, as they have remained largely unchanged in terms of boundaries and name throughout the ages. Perhaps the only point of explanation is why we refer to County Durham and not just Durham. The prefix of County sounds more like the nomenclature used in both Northern Ireland and Ireland (Éire). Officially the county name is simply Durham, unlike many English counties typically ending in shire. The county town is also Durham, so the term County Durham is used to distinguish the county from the city.

Armed with this knowledge, let’s look at some specimens! Beginning in the most northerly English county, Northumberland, we have a lovely small miniature of opaque snow-white Baryte from Settlingstones mine, a little to the north-west of Hexham. The Baryte forms a feathered array of small crystals with a matt to silky lustre with a structural resemblance to Flos Ferri.

Cumbria is hogging the limelight today with a tally of 13 specimens. From the west Cumbrian iron district we have beautiful examples of Baryte, Calcite, Dolomite, Hematite and Quartz. Picking out just two, there is a well-priced Hematite of the rather lovely variety Pencil Ore. This striking cabinet specimen is from the Furness Region of former Lancashire and displays a fibrous crystalline structure which can be clearly seen in the sides of this solid metallic specimen. Vertical crystallised ‘fingers’ of gunmetal-grey Hematite terminate to form a multi-faceted, polished, metallic surface, producing a geometrical pattern similar to a distorted geodesic dome. Today’s showstopper is surely an exceptional pale blue gemmy Baryte of museum quality and size from the Frizington mining district. The largest crystal measures an impressive 8 x 4 x 1.3 cm and all crystals display a splendid lustre of polished glass.

The Caldbeck Fells is a highly popular locality with collectors and we include several classics today. How about a blue Hemimorphite from Roughton Gill; a caramel toffee coloured Campylite (Mimetite) from Dry Gill mine; a Linarite with Cerussite from Red Gill mine; Scheelite crystals from Carrock mine and Brochantite with Baryte, Quartz and Malachite, again from Red Gill.

The more easterly areas of Cumbria are represented by a beautiful Sphalerite with Ankerite from Alston Moor and a superb Quartz epimorph after Fluorite with Sphalerite and Ankerite from Boundary Cross Vein at Rampgill mine, Nenthead.

Our two specimens from North Yorkshire are both from the Boulby potash mine, between Loftus and the stunningly beautiful seaside village of Staithes. Boulby is a deep polyhalite mine which extends far out beneath the North Sea, extracting both sodium and potassium chloride of Zechstein (middle to late Permian) age. One specimen is a stunning miniature of gemmy, light greenish blue Boracite crystals covering creamy yellow Magnesite with scattered salmon pink Hilgardite crystals. The second is a large cabinet piece measuring almost 18 cm long, comprising of Boracite and Hilgardite, both as matrix and crystalline druse.

Then finally to County Durham but, quite amazingly, with not a single Fluorite in sight! To make a complete change we have stuck chosen minerals other than Fluorite, such as a fabulous Calcite stalagmite from Boltsburn mine at Rookhope; a superb and rare, ex. Sir Arthur Russell Cerussite from Stanhopeburn mine in Weardale; a snow white Aragonite from Rogerley mine and a lovely Chalcopyrite on Dolomite, also from Boltsburn.

And finally, if you are partial to specimens which look similar to animals, then I think we may one just for you! A charming miniature Galena from Blackdene mine by the village of Ireshopeburn is a delightful specimen in itself but, dare I suggest, from certain angles it looks like a small duck; a small mallard to be precise!

The mines of Northern England have produced stunning specimens for many hundreds of years which now grace museums and private collections the world over. Enjoy looking through today’s selection and, given a fair wind, maybe unearth a Northern England classic to add to your own collection. PT

Here is what you have to look forward to in next week's update:

Tuesday 12th April - Easter


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Author: JH
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