Introduction

Over the last several centuries numerous mines and prospects in the Northern Pennine Orefield in Northern England have yielded enormous amounts of both lead and later, fluorite ores. Mining was centered about the Weardale, and to a lesser degree Teesdale regions of County Durham, but also spread northward into the East and West Allendale regions of Northumberland, and westward into the Alston Moor and Escarpment regions of Cumbria.

Byproducts of this mining activity were the many well-crystallized specimens of fluorite and other minerals that were found lining cavities in the orebodies. Fortunately for the mineral collecting community, there was a relatively high level of interest in collecting and preserving mineral specimens in Britain during the late 19th and 20th centuries, when many of these mines were at their peak production. This interest provided an economic incentive for miners to preserve attractive specimens, known locally as "Bonny Bits," which they could readily sell to collectors and dealers. Coupled with this was a variable, but often-tolerant attitude on the part of the local mining companies toward after-hours collecting by the miners. Many miners felt, in fact, that the right to collect was one of the few perks of the job.

Adding to this, the idea of field collecting one's own specimens gained popularity amongst the British collector community during the latter part of the 20th century. Improvements in transportation infrastructure after the Second World War made it possible for motivated collectors to make weekend visits to many remote and abandoned locations where was still a good posibility of finding good material. This, coupled with an increasing awareness of the value of specimens among workers at still active mines in the region has insured that specimens from mines such as Heights, Boltsburn, Blackdene, Cambokeels, Frazersí Hush and Hilton now grace many major mineral collections worldwide.


Purple fluorite on quartz from the Blackdene Mine, Weardale. 7 cm across.


But as they say, "all good things come to an end", and this is certainly the case with mining in the North Pennines. The collapse of lead prices in the late 19th century caused many local lead mines to cease production. The coincident rise in demand for fluorspar for use in modern steel-making gave a reprieve to many of the mines, but the collapse of the British steel industry in the early 1980's, followed by a glut of fluorspar from foreign sources has put an end to large scale commercial mining in Weardale, and throught the UK. Field collecting is becoming more difficult due to restrictions in land use and ever-increasing liability concerns. The occasional specimen will still show up from collectors who are able to visit the few quarries and underground mines still accessable, and attempts at commercial specimen recovery have happened at a few locations including the Rogerley, Greenlaws, and St. Peter's Mines. Given the high cost of rehabilitating and running an underground mine, coupled with ever-increasing environmental concerns, it is likely that the "glory days" of specimen production in the area are past.

There exists a body of literature on the history of mining in Northern England (see for example Raistrick and Roberts 1984 and Hunt 1970), and some excellent technical reports - most notably Dunham (1990). The more recent publication of both Tindle (2008) and Symes and Young (2008) has helped document the tremendous production of world-class mineral specimens from this region. For a more complete list of references on mining and minerals in the North Pennines, see the bibliography page. In addition, excellent suites of North Pennines minerals can be seen in the Robert King collection, now at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, and in the Sir Arthur Russell collection at the Natural History Museum, London.

Though there are literally hundreds of mines and prospects in the Northern Pennines that may have produced the odd specimen, the focus of these pages are those mines that have yielded a large enough body of quality specimens that one is likely to find examples in modern collections or on the mineral-specimen market.





A map of the Alston Block area of the North Pennines showing important specimen-producing mines and other geographical features. Map by Peter Briscoe.




A Note on Specimen Labels

Many older fluorite specimens from the Weardale area are labeled as coming from "Cumberland", "Alston", or "Alston Moor". Cumberland is an antiquated name for a county that was combined with Westmorland in the 1970's to create the modern county of Cumbria. Weardale is, and always has been in County Durham to the east of Cumbria, and thus to label Weardale specimens as being from Cumberland is incorrect. The confusion most likely arose during the late 19th and early 20th centurys when most local mineral dealers were operating in the town of Alston, which was in Cumberland - now modern Cumbria. Specimens from the Weardale mines were bought from the miners by the Alston-based dealers, who then provided only generalized location information, either through neglect or in an effort to protect their sources.


A specimen of fluorite with siderite, almost certainly from the Boltsburn Mine in Weardale, with a label giving the location as "Alston Moor."

This is not to say that all fluorite specimens from the region came from Weardale. The Hilton Mine in Cumbria (formerly Westmorland) is famous for its amber and yellow fluorite. Good fluorite specimens have also come from the Beaumont (Allenheads) and St. Peters Mines in Northumberland. These, however, are distinctive and not likely to be confused with specimens from the Weardale mines. The Rotherhope Fell Mine, located in Alston Moor is likely to be the one source of confusion. During the first half of the 20th century this mine produced some very good specimens of purple and amber-yellow fluorite, which are very similar in appearance to those from any of a number of Weardale mines. Without proper documentation these specimens may be difficult to distinguish from specimens that came from the Boltsburn Mine and other mines in Weardale.




A nice day in the North Pennines.




Weardale Mines Rookhope Mines Northumberland Mines Cumbria Mines Yorkshire Mines

Mining History Regional Geology Bibliography and Referenes The Bonny Bits