Volume 53 - Issue 8 - October 2020

Monongahela Rockhounds

A Pittsburgh Area Mineral, Fossil, & Lapidary Club


The Monongahela Rockhound News is a Monthly Publication of the

Monongahela Rockhounds,

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Volume 53, Issue 8,

October 2020

Visit us on the Web at: www.monongahelarockhounds.org


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President’s Message

Hello Everyone,

This summer has provided time for me to sift through boxes of minerals that I had set aside for that proverbial rainy day! I have alternated between excitement of finding a specimen that I had forgotten about, to consternation with myself for packing away a lot of inconsequential “stuff”. I still have a lot more organizing to do but feel like I am finally making some headway. I hope that even though this summer has looked very different for most people, that you have found some hidden treasures yourself. I am so excited to be having meetings again, even if it is virtually. I have missed you all, and am looking forward to seeing you at the meetings! We hope the virtual meetings will allow us to have speakers that we would normally not be able to host in Pittsburgh. I expect we will have a few bumps in the road as we figure out how this will all work, so please have patience with us as we explore this new platform. If you are nervous about the technology, not to worry! Emmalyn has been kind enough to volunteer to post “how to” videos on our website. She has been working very hard on the new site and if you have not stopped by to see it lately, take a couple of minutes to check it out. Please note that October’s meeting date has changed to the 17th to allow us time to organize our switch to online meetings..




Editor's Apology

Sorry for the getting this newsletter out a bit late. I am sitting in a small RV Van a bit west of Thunder Bay, Ontario madly typing away. Carol and I are on a trip to Alberta, Iowa and other places partly to see some relatives, but I am fitting in every bit of Rockhounding I can. In Michigan we did stop at Petoskey and searched the beaches for the famous Petoskey stone with success. Lake Superior Agates in both Michigan and Ontario were a failure, but Amethyst from 2 different mines near Thunder Bay were a success and harvesting quartz plates, clear, white and purple from a road cut was superb. Our required 2 weeks quarantine without people has given us a chance to find some rock treasures. But it has meant this newsletter is a bit late.




Important Notice

POSTPONED: The Monongahela Rockhounds executive has decided to postpone our planned meeting for Saturday, October 3 due to continued concerns with in person meetings with Covid-19 virus risks.

We will try something new this month though where we will have a ZOOM meeting on October 17th at 7 pm instead. Details are included within this newsletter plus Emmalyn will send out further instructions prior to the October 17th meeting. Johanna has tentatively arranged for Colleen Thompson who has written the last article in this month’s newsletter to be our speaker for the October 17th meeting.

CANCELLED: The annual show that was originally rescheduled for November 14-15, 2020 has now been cancelled.

Thank-you to those who have helped throughout the year. We look forward to better conditions for our pending 2021 Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show!


October 2020 Meeting

• Presentation by Colleen Thomson

• "Rock of the Month" will be member’s choice!

• Zoom Host will be Emmalyn


Oct 17, 2020, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM EDT


Zoom Video Conference


Meeting Minutes

12 September 2020

By Emmalyn Ilagan

  • The club meeting was cancelled.

  • Executive Board Meeting (via Zoom)

  • Discussed possible junior member benefits.

  • Membership Cards for 2020 Members and previous arrived

  • Upcoming Schedule Updates for...

  • Event(s)

  • The Annual Show was cancelled​

  • Trip(s)

  • Walworth Trip is cancelled

  • Next Meeting

  • Attempting Zoom Video Conference

  • June & Bret will create the Zoom Account

  • Emmalyn will create instructions

  • Johanna will verify a presentation by Colleen Thomson (tentative)​


General Information

Monongahela Rockhounds PO Box 18063 Pittsburgh, PA 15236 www.monongahelarockhounds.orgMission Statement

  • To promote, among its members and the general public, an interest in collection of minerals, fossils, and associated items.

  • To promote their use in lapidary work.

  • To promote the study and classification of minerals, gem stones and other items of such nature.


  • Member: Eastern Federation of Mineralogical and Lapidary Societies, Inc.

  • Member: American Federation of Mineralogical Societies, Inc.

Meeting Location Munhall Borough Building 20th Ave. & West Street Munhall, PA 15120


​Club Officers

President Johanna Burnett ​ 1st Vice-President Bret Howard ​ 2nd Vice-President Debbie Braddock ​ Treasurer Tony Orzano ​ Record Secretary Debbie Thompson ​ Silent Auction Debbie Braddock ​ Board of Directors June Epp Donald Laufer Frank DeWinter Webmaster Emmalyn Ilagan webmaster@monongahelarockhounds.orgNewsletter Editor Frank DeWinter editor@monongahelarockhounds.org


We normally meet the first Saturday of every month from September through June at 7:30 pm, in the Munhall Borough Building for a presentation, business meeting and a chance to socialize. There is a major focus on the younger members of our club with portions of the meeting specifically for school aged children.Our next meeting will be on

Saturday, October 17, 2020.

The November meeting will be on the 7th (pending).


Monongahela Rockhound News is the official newsletter of the Monongahela Rockhounds.

Disclaimer & Release: To the best of our knowledge, all articles and information presented in this newsletter are true, accurate and free of copyright infringement. The Monongahela Rockhounds is not responsible for the usage of the information contained in the newsletter. The Monongahela Rockhounds hereby grants other non-profit organizations the right to republish articles in this newsletter for non-commercial usage as long as complete source credit is given, unless noted otherwise.

Deadline: The editor welcomes any and all contributions to the newsletter. Please provide articles and any other submissions for publication at least 2 weeks prior to the upcoming meeting to be considered for inclusion in that month’s issue.

Please e-mail any newsletter articles to the editor's e-mail: editor@monongahelarockhounds.org


Why is Everyone

a Potential Rockhound?

Written by Emmalyn Ilagan

2020 has been quite the year, leaving everyone in the world to adapt to change at a rapid rate. Although change is rarely simple or easy, I hope everyone is fairing well and finding fun and interesting ways to spend their time. Humanity is resilient—whether through epidemics, war, or political polarizations. Through obstacles and adversity, people always manage to survive, compromise, and understand differences with time. Normality is fluid and always changing as we learn how to grow under new conditions, while processing how to accept the changes. With critical introspection from daily observations of news, my own thoughts, beliefs, and experiences, I questioned what exactly brings people together? And in relation to this community specifically, what makes a “Rockhound” and inspires people to join the Monongahela Rockhounds?

When you realize that rocks have a place in nearly every subject, it makes sense how we all find ourselves oohing and ahhing enough to join a club focused on them! All subjects disperse into subcategories and topics. A unique variety of topics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as well as relevance in history, literature, religion, art, and health (yes, health!) make an abundance of significant ways to reach an affinity for minerals, fossils, and gemstones. I’ll only graze the surface of each, but all of these topics can be expanded upon. Read on if you’d like to join me on perspective indulgence (maybe because I keep optical calcites nearby?).

In Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics...

Geology is the most obvious subject, directly involving the study of “the earth’s physical structure and substance, its history, and the processes that act on it” (Oxford Languages). It can be grouped into the environmental sciences, helping us understand how Earth forms and creates the different kinds of rock and mineral resources, explains where to find specific kinds, and how to prepare people who reside in areas where natural disasters can occur from such formations (such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, or landslides).

Chemistry then breaks down each mineral composition and categorizes them accordingly. By definition, chemistry is “the branch of science that deals with the identification of the substances of which matter is composed; the investigation of their properties and the ways in which they interact, combine, and change; and the use of these processes to form new substances” (Oxford Languages).

Mineralogy then studies minerals further, “specializing in the scientific study of the chemistry, crystal structure, and physical properties of minerals and mineralized artifacts” (Wikipedia). Most of the club presentations or articles represent this subject as it is the most relative to the club’s mission: To promote the study and classification of minerals, gemstones, and other items of such nature.

The subjects of technology, engineering, and mathematics all play contributing roles in mining and processing mineral resources for trade, development, and manufacturing. These resources are manufactured into the chips in your computers and phones. They are even ground into the glass in your screens, eyeglasses, and windows. Machinery, weapons, and tools are also smithed from various mineral resources. The streets we walk and drive on, the buildings we live in or visit. None of these building blocks of society would be possible if it weren’t for the mining, engineering, processing, and manufacturing of necessary mineral components that compose them. The privilege of using technology, living in or commuting to sturdy buildings, and walking on paved streets are all partially thanks to minerals!

In History, Literature, Religion, and Art...

From the Egyptians to the Mesopotamians, Chinese and Japanese dynasties, Middle East, India, historical royalty in Europe, Native Americans, and likely every other known civilization we have come to learn about, minerals and gemstones have had significance. Archeologists have uncovered artifacts from tools, weapons, accessories, and architecture made from various minerals. Throughout history, royalty, politicians, and various members of high society wore precious gemstone adornments to depict and flaunt their status. High ranked soldiers wore armor clad with gemstones. Depending on the cultural belief systems and available resources to their respective geographical location, the types of stones also hint as to when transportation methods advanced enough for intercultural trade.

Fossils, however, are a representation of history in itself. Fossils provide a tangible way to roughly measure the world, life, and time that existed before us. Whether they are petrified plants, preserved skeletons, bugs in amber, or dinosaur poop, fossils show us remains of a lost world that paleontologists and archaeologists can only speculate about now.

In nearly every culture, gemstones have been mentioned in literature as a physically representative catalyst which has causes or effects for the characters who interact with them in a story. Whether as protection in battles, the highly sought after empowering source of knowledge, destruction, creation, or so on, this theme perpetuates in the realms of historical, fantasy, and science fiction. Since many stories are a rephrasing, reimagining, or continuation of an existing myth, epic, tale, or fable, this theme frequents the fictional genres within books, comics, movies, and other media forms. One of the most popular modern day examples is Marvel’s cinematic Avengers saga, where different stones representing space, reality, power, time, mind, and soul serve as the core catalyst for every character’s actions in the dramatic causes and effects that make the story come alive. The stones cause unlikely alliances and enemies of different worlds to come together, to war against one another, all for various purposes and very different understandings of what is necessary or “right.” Thanos is one of the most complex and compelling villains in any story I have watched or read, and the stones are given metaphorical and literal meaning throughout the many films of this collection.

Through religion and spirituality, gemstones have come to represent many different aspects. They are given meaning by association with angels and astrology, or given purpose as an amulet, oftentimes for aspects people desire including courage, strength, wisdom, love, wealth, and most commonly, protection. Religion has a vast and diverse history as people of earlier civilizations had ingrained belief systems and rituals that was the basis of life and existence. Elements of these belief systems have survived into modern religions and spiritual practices, if not the whole religion and all practices, adapted slightly to suit ever-changing societal norms. In much of history, religion and politics were almost synonymous in many cultures, so religious influences never fully disappeared.

Returning to gemstones, one of the more recognizable uses in religion that remain consistent are Japamala. Commonly known as mala beads, Japamala “is a string of prayer beads commonly used in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Shintō for the spiritual practice known in Sanskrit as japa. They are similar to other forms of prayer beads used in various world religions and sometimes referred to in English as a "rosary" ” (Wikipedia). Malas can appear simple, while Catholic rosaries can often look more delicate and technical in craftsmanship. The meaning provided by each bead representing an individual prayer is one of the more sentimental and endearing uses of gemstones I have come across, but malas and rosaries aren’t specifically exclusive or limited to using gemstone beads.

Prayer beads can be considered art amongst the abundance in how minerals and gemstones are used and presented in various mediums. Art transcends time as generationally passed down heirlooms, while others were donated to museum exhibits in the form of architecture, sculpture, or jewelry. Since ancient times, minerals have been ground into pigments for various supplies, including paint and makeup. Even now, basically anything that looks glittery or metallic likely has some mineral components. Gemstone crystals also have an aesthetic appeal to people and continue trending in jewelry fashion. This is possible thanks to miners and lapidary artists who can supply the demand with their knowledge and talents. Learning how to cut cabochons or facet gemstones is a peaceful and rewarding process, which many of our club members do passionately and promote when they share in show and tell, and it’s also another one of the club’s missions: To promote their use in lapidary work.

Minerals and Gemstones in Health...

With the rapid changes everyone has been experiencing, I wanted to address how health and wellness can directly apply relevance to the hobby of rockhounding. Health continues to remain a major catalyst for my own personal journey as a rockhound, after all. I have learned over time how health is not just physical, but also mental and emotional. My experience with gemstones is one of the reasons I can rebalance these three core aspects of physical, mental, and emotional health, which can also reference as holistically caring for body, mind, and soul.

Physical Health: The physical aspect of health is the body. We eat food to stay nourished, drink water to quench our thirst and keep hydrated, exercise for strength and endurance, then see our doctors and other specialists if necessary for what we can’t manage or tolerate in our bodies and need to address. Prescribed medications or suggested supplements can be discussed or required with your doctors or specialists, some of which include minerals as ingredients. Doses custom to our needs can maintain our bodies in specific ways, as every person’s body and tolerances are different.

If you integrate filtered water into your daily hydration, there are often added minerals to benefit your health through your drinking water depending on the filter. I am partial to alkaline water, but spring water is also naturally rich in minerals. Crystal or gem water is also becoming a popular trend, where you either infuse stones in your water pitcher (typically quartz variety), or surround it with stones in some way on the outside or through a contained attachment. Depending on your enthusiasm or preferences, there are many combinations and products marketed in this category. Decorating around the water pitcher is fun though, and having gemstones near something you use multiple times a day will increase how pleasant that experience is, simply by subliminal association to something you already appreciate and enjoy. Feng shui and interior design and decorating take this to the next level.

Mental and Emotional Health: Treatment options continue to broaden as the stigma on mental health breaks with more awareness. Mental and emotional health, or mind and soul, are real and necessary parts of a whole person that require regular attention and maintenance as much as the physical body, if not more. If left unchecked, problems can manifest into physical pains or pressures, because all three are connected. Although it is difficult to make a conscious priority at first, maintaining one’s mental and emotional health gets easier when utilizing methods and tools from the abundance of internet and media resources, or learned and processed through therapy.

—Off tangent—

The most common treatment for mental and emotional health is talk therapy with a professional. There are many resources to find a therapist near you, and I’m sure every therapist, counselor, and psychologist has gotten busier this year. How to address and process grief, loss, stress, anxiety, addiction, religion, race, identity, sexuality, family, and marriage are a few of the topics and reasons therapy exists. Everyone can benefit from taking their mental and emotional health seriously. If you are privileged to have insurance that covers it partially or fully, it’s an excellent source for people of all ages to navigate and process thoughts and emotions in a safe space. Don’t neglect your mental and emotional health. Mend invisible wounds before they progressively manifest and affect life and health in other ways.

—End tangent—

Many of us already do therapeutic activities without even realizing they are a form of personal therapy and self-care! Rock collecting in nature or a quarry, and cabbing or faceting at the lapidary with running water over your hands can both qualify. There are meditative qualities in these hobbies that are soul soothing, and just taking the time and energy to focus on a hobby can be naturally inclined as a practice of mindfulness. Meditation and mindfulness often combine with crystal healing and are a large part of why the niche topic exists, works, and remains.

Delving lightly into all the aforementioned topics in this article when I can, I continue to review and observe how minerals, fossils, and gemstones have actually promoted health and wellness in the past and am forming logic and understanding along the way for my own take on crystal healing. Some consider it a placebo effect, but I don’t think it’s so simple to dismiss it as only that. Besides the direct information available on the niche topic of crystal healing, I have found that science, technology, engineering, mathematics, history, literature, religion, and art all have contributions to a small part of answering how our affinity to rocks is also healing for mental and emotional health:

Through technology, engineering, and mathematics, minerals are used to develop and create tools to help people to create and connect. Developing social skills while participating and belonging to a community helps everyone involved to feel accepted and connected. The fact that technology has progressed rapidly in the last century now offers a way for people to connect at a distance more personally, through video calls. It’s not the most ideal social situation, but it is better than not having any form of social interaction.

In wearing and possessing gemstones and minerals throughout most of known history and in literature, we can learn the origins of how they were used and for what reasons made them desirable and in demand in the past. These observations can then relate and compare to their current demand in the present. The trend of wearing gemstones now is a healthy form of self expression through fashion. Self expression helps people accept themselves while developing and sharing a fraction of their identity without words.

An initial, aesthetic attraction towards minerals, fossils, and gemstone likely comes from the variety of colors, patterns, and shapes that exhibit their value as beautiful art. Through art and sharing, we fine tune our perspectives and feelings subconsciously, whether we are spectating or creating actively. Beauty isn’t always shallow either, and gemstones and minerals have a depth in their layers, whether they are raw, polished, or faceted. Regarding and appreciating beauty in all forms can poetically provide healing, and there is such a thing as color therapy, which may contribute to the gemstone meanings and associations.

Science and religion give reason to the perspectives gained through appreciating minerals, fossils, and gemstones. Science explains through information on the elemental compositions and formations what makes a rock. Religion and spirituality share passed down collective belief systems that can explain how and why people apply ethics, value, and meaning as a society and culture to rocks. Through either one, we become more knowledgeable about the minerals, fossils, and gemstones. Learning about different stones can help collectors gain more appreciation for the specimens they have, while also helping them articulate their excitement with others. Sharing our enthusiasm is the best way to encourage another person’s journey to becoming a rockhound. After all, it is the club’s mission: To promote, among its members and the general public, an interest in collection of minerals, fossils, and associated items.

Answers that I come up with are rarely simple, and more often layered in complex conclusions. Right now, the only solid conclusion I can make is we are all composed of minerals and elements in theory. This means we are all capable of learning and growing and becoming better. Crystals are healing because they also grow and become more beautiful and polished under pressure and adversity.

I hope that learning how minerals, fossils, and gemstones have a plethora of subjects to explore allows reflection on everyone’s individual journey to becoming a rockhound, and perhaps introduces a new aspect of the hobby to explore and enjoy. We become better people and rockhounds by sharing our knowledge and experiences, which can be diverse and polarized, but still fascinating! Whether the source comes from the mass of information on the internet, books, media, or a personal experience, isn’t it amazing how many ways our affinity for rocks can be applied, described, or experienced?

What made me a rockhound?

From my own experience, my initial introduction to rockhounding began as a search for gemstone beads. I became obsessed with finding different kinds and learning about what all of them were called, what they looked like in their raw mineral forms, what meanings they represented, where they came from, how they were made, etc. A few years into it, thanks to one of my rock shop friends, I was introduced to the lapidary arts at Headwaters Lapidary. I went as far as researching employment and careers related to the hobby to see if it was feasible to literally make my hobby my life’s work. During the quarantine, I found and completed online courses on crystal healing and natural crystal remedies to review back to the initial reason I began collecting and researching gemstones and making jewelry as gifts—using them for healing purposes. I’m still articulating my own observational theory and logic of why and how crystals actually heal. What I find or learn continues to feel incomplete and dare I say, sometimes inaccurate and often insufficient. Still, puzzle pieces arise with every relevant topic I learn or read about, so I would like to someday improve upon the available information with more solid and universal reach to unite the polarized interests and biases.

All of these experiences have shaped me as a person and make me a rockhound. More of my collecting is on informational resources and perspective rather than physical rock collecting at this time. I’m content with rocks in pictures and words as much as I like rocks in person. I appreciate my collection in the present by holding and wearing different pieces and intentionally placing them around my personal space. I even use a glorious labradorite slab as a makeshift headboard.

As an observational, reflective summary of my perspective on the hobby of rockhounding, I hope that this article helps remind everyone in the club that we are all here not only because of a shared common interest, but as unique individuals that belong to a community too!

Reflection questions for the club members reading:

◦ What is a “rockhound” in your own words?

◦ What made you a rockhound?

◦ How do you appreciate and interact with your collection?

Until the next meeting...

Event: Monongahela Rockhounds - October Zoom

When: Oct 17, 2020 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Where: Zoom Video Conference

A separate e-mail with these details and instructions will also be provided for members.


Getting Down and Dirty

in Weardale, England

A brief account of a trip ‘up North’ in July 2014 and coming face to face with history down a deep hole in the ground: The Greenlaws Mining Project

Colleen Thomson

“You’re an idiot!” cried my brother for the third time. His response to my admission of travelling to County Durham during the July weekend of the Tour de France stages in Yorkshire. “The traffic will be a nightmare, Can’t you change it?” Actually no. I keep putting it off and they’ve been trying to get me down that hole for years and ....no. He was reassured that my collecting sidekick would be Stephen Burchmore and that we would be setting out at 3.am, giving us time to get to Weardale and meet up at 8am with the mining crew for that weekend. It drizzled all the way up the relatively empty motorways (!) whilst the lightening skies over the Fells held the promise of a sunny day ahead. Not a Lycra clad cyclist in sight.

Now, at this point, let me give a brief outline of the said ‘hole in the ground’, our intended destination.

The Greenlaws mine was in operation as long ago as medieval times, exploiting the two parallel veins. It was worked for Lead by the Beaumont Company from 1850 to 1884 after which the lease was picked up by the Weardale Lead Company until 1897. The mine was reopened briefly in the 1940’s.

The East and West Veins of Greenlaws Mine were at one time, considered amongst the most important in Weardale. These two lodes lie south of St. Johns’ Chapel, trending in a SW direction towards the Weardale – Teesdale watershed: they traverse strata ranging from the Felltop Limestone to the Scar Limestone in a horizontal to a gentle rise towards the south.

There is an Armstrong hydraulic engine at the top of the lowest sump of the mine, the same as in Allenheads. At 240ft down there is the whinsill dolorite. Few workings went through it except Greenlaws. Greenlaws East Vein is on a fault 6 to 9 feet wide and with Lead ore bearing throughout. There were three main levels, with at least one shaft sunk to about 500 foot. The upper reaches of the vein in the Great Limestone, is reached via the Firestone level (the present access excavated by the team). The vein was productive at all levels, particularly in theGreat Limestone, where the ‘Flats’ appear to be metasomatic replacement horizons similar to those at Boltsburn Mine. The mine was abandoned in 1897 and the workings collapsed into the shafts.

There have been several attempts by a dozen or so prospectors over the last fifty years, to gain access to the mine to collect Fluorite specimens, with varying degrees of success. There have been specimens collected from the Firestone and Jackson levels and unknown crosscuts renamed by those prospectors as “Victoria & Britannia Flats” in the late 1990’s, early 2000’s. Now the mine, high on Chapel Fell overlooking Weardale, had become the focus of an ambitious attempt to reach the fabled specimen rich flats in the Great Limestone.

A group of explorers and engineers, led by Pete Ward and with the help of Les Jackson are combining archaeology, social history, and mineralogy to bring the mine back to life. Access is via a 250 foot shaft, cleared over a five year period with the help of mine owners, the Pattinson family of Weardale. It was Les who introduced Pete to Greenlaws and these two negotiated the agreement with the farm to work the mine.

The first Flat was reached in December 2013, and immediately started to produce beautiful specimens of Fluorspar - with the first big cavity being named after the latest addition to the Pattinson family..

Late spring 2014 saw the Team break through into the lower flats in the Great Limestone, about ten feet below the first flat at the bottom of the shaft (that’s about 260 feet below the surface). One has to wriggle and crawl through a wet muddy gap into this level.

When Peter Ward and the team first entered this level, it was like they had stepped into a time capsule. Artefacts were evident everywhere. The first thing they were greeted with was a tallow candle sat on a small ledge, along with matches and water bottles, a wheelbarrow and tools, exactly where they had been left by “the old man” (generic term to describe the miners of the time) 150 years previously.

The project here at Greenlaws is as much about preserving the artefacts and the history. It’s about working with the local people, Durham University and Museums and involving groups and individuals in understanding our industrial heritage and social history. It’s about exploration and there are plans to have the University eventually laser map the mine to provide an accurate plan of the extensive workings.

It’s a long term project manned by enthusiastic (some would say completely barmy) amateurs and volunteers on their weekends! Of course, it does help having clay pockets lined with amazing cubes of Fluorite everywhere! Some of these will stay intact to provide context and because it’s completely unnecessary to strip the mine. There is plenty of Fluorite being excavated and the sale of these specimens will help to cover the costs of running the project and keep the electricity running in the mine. So far, Peter Ward has mostly funded the project, sinking over £100,000.00 out of his own pocket.

We met up with the Mining Project co-ordinater Peter Ward and the rest of the weekend mining team, (this varies from week to week depending on home and work commitments from volunteers and visitors like ourselves). The long winding track up onto the fells is pretty rough in places and a rugged 4 wheel drive essential to get to the mine. Please note – you do need permission to visit the mine site, which is closed to the public. We had already changed into our gear and set off on foot into the tunnel entrance, along which the barrow boards were laid end to end between the pre- Victorian wooden rail track, the longest still in existence as far as we know.

After a quarter mile trek into the fellside we reached the shaft head at the top of the Firestone Level. The guys have rigged up an A frame pulley and winch (Built by Pete's old collecting partner Geoff Smith), to get the containers of muck and rock up to the top of the shaft to be loaded into the barrows and wheeled out of the mine back the way we had come in. As I started to descend down the ladders I wondered if I could still change my mind.

Now, I’m not good with heights, or confined spaces, or indeed, as fit as I used to be, but I was determined to get down that 250 foot shaft and see the mine for myself. There were a few challenges climbing down, (to say the least!) and I was struck with awe and admiration for these guys who had actually dug out this shaft over 5 years, by hand! Quite an incredible feat of engineering, single minded determination, hard graft and faith, that they would eventually get to the bottom and find the Flats in the Great Limestone.

Towards the bottom of the shaft, an unexpected challenge was figuring out how to negotiate the last ten foot, with the ladder randomly continuing on the opposite side of the shaft! This was more to do with the structural integrity of the shaft and secure placement of scaffolding and support timbers, I soon realised, and the fact, that the last ten foot was only recently dug out. The entrance to the first flats is on the right up a few feet (250 foot level) this is the area discovered during December 2013. Many of the crystal lined pockets have been left intact for now, (albeit with sticky infilling of mud / clay washed out), although it’s clear that the Fluorite differs in colour and crystal size and clarity in each cavity. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The Fluorite cubes themselves vary in size from a few mm up to about 10 or more centimetres, more commonly 3-4cms on edge. The colours vary enormously from deep purple through to lilac, lovely cranberry, bluish indigo and amber to yellow. Some have a hint of green similar to West Pastures Mine and there are plenty that have yellow cores and purple edges. Many crystals display a white cloudiness towards the centres and are selectively coated on uppermost faces by the limonite ps. Siderite. Some Fluorite is also partly included by Siderite , Pyrite and occasional Chalcopyrite. There are also micro coatings of Quartz on some of the Fluorite, but it’s not present in all the cavities. There are ribs and crystals of Galena in some cavities. Some of these are quite large, displaying cuboctahedral habit. These cavities containing the Galena were obviously missed by the miners 150 years ago, who would systematically use their picks and chisels to stab into the clay filled pockets to test the ‘feel’ and sound of what they struck for the presence of lead. Consequently, some Fluorite crystals lining these pockets were damaged. Twinning of crystals is less common than in some other Weardale mines and these are often gemmy. Curvature of the crystal edges is apparent on many of the larger crystals, plenty have modified stepped faces and some bevelled corners and edges have also been noted.

The classic saddle shaped Siderite crystals (or Ankerite) having oxidised to a deep chocolaty brown Limonite, is another fascinating aspect to these Fluorite cavities. In many respects, not too dissimilar to those found at Rampgill Mine in Nenthead, or indeed at the Rogerley Mine in Frosterly. I spoke to Trevor Bridges about these similarities and the likely conditions that brought about the Siderite growth. I won’t go into the technicalities too much here, (please read the article in Journal of Russell Soc No.8, 2003, see ref below) but basically, fluids in the cavities became supersaturated with respect to Siderite or Ankerite and a disturbance, perhaps shifting of a fault, resulted in crystallites settling on the uppermost faces of the Fluorite. A further minor deposition of Fluorite then followed in some cavities, followed by oxidation of the iron carbonates resulting in Limonite. Furthermore, some of the fluorite facing downwards (i.e. growing on the roof of the cavity) often display less carbonate deposition and may be more lustrous. Steve and I were given a brief tour of the lower flat. The tunnels were mostly dry with low ceilings so that we had to walk bent double with few areas where you could comfortably straighten up. Steve was giving his ‘GoPro’ video camera a maiden outing, attached to his helmet (actually got some great footage!) and I had just treated myself to a Ricoh WG4 waterproof, shockproof camera that I hoped would survive the trip –it did.

I was pleasantly surprised to find many of the artefacts left by the miners of 150 years ago, still in situ where they had been left, and rediscovered by the project team. The only objects moved were those likely to get damaged. These were moved into side tunnels to safety, after first being recorded and logged properly. I was suitably impressed, but then realised, of course, that Peter spent most of his ‘day job’ acting as a conservation consultant for bodies such as English Heritage.

At the end of the tunnel was the recently discovered ‘Birthday Pocket’, from which some of the best deep purple blue Fluorite has been recovered. This area has been extended and clay filled pockets go in all directions. Peter and Ross Whittaker set to work with the high powered water jets, using the pressurised water like a pick and loosening the clay from around the Fluorite. It takes precision and skill to excavate a pocket this way, without damaging the crystals. They excavate the green fluorite in the Rogerley in a similar way. Using a chisel and a hammer would result in many crystals shearing off and a ruined specimen. Although the mine is a ‘dry’ mine – the use of the pressure washer means everything and everyone gets covered in a wet clay slurry. The guy with the water jet, working the pocket, gets soaked through and literally eats mud. Tres glamorous, no? The recovered specimens are usually still pretty sticky with clay and passed back to someone, who either sets it aside for wrapping or passes it back to someone else. They go through TONS of bubble wrap. Eventually it gets put in a container and winched up the shaft or carried up in rucksacks. All 260 feet. I can’t tell you how the thought of that ascent thrilled me.

Towards the end of the mining day, I thought it was prudent to get a head start, knowing how long it took to climb down the shaft. Luckily Ross was heading up top and took my rucksack. With patient encouragement and him blatantly lying about how much further to the top- I was breathing hard and sweating profusely as I finally climbed out of the shaft on shaking legs and thanked him and God for the umpteenth time that day! Walking down the tunnel into daylight and beautiful sunshine was a wonderful feeling. I was covered head to toe in mud and bruises, my head lamp had been bashed coming up the shaft and was perched at a jaunty angle and I ached all over. As I emerged from the mine, the guys already there looked at me expectantly with huge grins and said, ‘well? How did you like Greenlaws, then?’ I beamed back through the mud. ‘It was bloody fantastic!’ Steve went back down the mine the next day to help with further specimen retrieval. I declined, on the grounds my legs had seized up and they needed to install a stanna chairlift before my next visit. I spent the day collecting on the mine dumps with the stunning scenery and the midges. Both evenings were spent partaking of refreshment in the now famous hostelry The BlueBell inn, where we met up with the ‘other’ fluorite Mining operation, who also invited us to go dig in their hole for the green stuff the next morning. We did. More on that another time.... The Stanna chairlift is still up for discussion......... ;-) Fig.1 From the Durham County Records Office – Dunham Estate (Catalogue of the papers of Sir Kingsley Dunham FRS)- taken from Maps, mine plans, sections and reports from 1932 - 1970’s of Pennine Lead, Zinc, Fluorine, Barium and Iron Orefields Ref: D/Dun 2/21 Greenlaws Mine, St. John's Chapel, photostat of plan by Dr. J.R. Earp

Scale: 1:4,800


Peter Ward, pers.com; Trevor Bridges, pers.com Bridges, T.P. and Wilkinson, H. (2003). Epimorphs of quartz after fluorite from the Rampgill, Coalcleugh and Barneycraig mine system, Nenthead, Cumbria, England. Journal of the Russell Society, 8, 38-39. Dunham,KC. (1990). Geology of the Northern Pennine Orefield.

Vol. 1, Tyne to Stainmore, 2nd edition. Economic memoir of the British Geological Survey, London. Fisher, J. and Greenbank, L. (2003). The Rogerley mine, Weardale, County Durham, England. UK Journal of Mines and Minerals, 23, 9-20.

Thanks to Stephen Burchmore for once again chauffeuring and being an excellent collecting sidekick. Thanks to Peter Ward for his invitation and persistence over the years at getting me ‘down that hole’ - Thanks to all the mining team. For further information on the mine or specimen availability please contact Colleen: info@thomsonminerals.com