Barite

Barite is one of those minerals that can be easily overlooked. It's not always spectacular, not particularly colourful, and its hard to find top class specimens that haven't got nicks and dings to them. Despite all the drawbacks, England seems to have produced more than its fair share of stunning barite specimens. The main localities which produced classic pieces were the mines of West Cumberland, and the Northern Pennines - the mines at Hilton and Murton in Scordale, Silverband, Fallowfield near Hexam, and the lead mines of Swaledale and Wensleydale.

Personal Experiences

It's hard to relate too much personal history about the West Cumberland field. Most of the mines that produced these wonderful specimens were closed before I was born - although I was able to visit Beckermet and Florence quite a few times before the lower levels were flooded, Beckermet closed, and Florence became a tourist mine, with only the upper levels accessible. With pumping, you could still get to Beckermet... we wish......

I think its partly this aura of mystery about long abandoned localities that drives prices so high - one feels a wistfulness whilst looking at, or handling pieces from them. Add a good dose of folksy history, as in the Cornish mines, and the price doubles again. Pieces that I exchanged in the 1970's with Dick Barstow are now worth more than 10 times the prices written on his labels.

It is sometimes hard to characterise the West Cumberland specimens with certainty to a particular mine. Some pieces are immediately recognisable as being from a particular mine, but generally, you can only take an educated guess. Names like Mowbray, and Dalmellington frequently appear on barites, whereas Stank mine, Pallaflat or Parkside tend to appear on calcite labels. Beckermet produced good specimens of both, but I'd almost go so far as to say classics of neither, although the Banana Slide nailhead calcites were good - I have a piece 2 foot across. Ralph Sutcliffe is to thank for those...

A perhaps lesser known locality for superb English barites is the old lead mine at Aysgarth, in Wensleydale - known as Wetgroves. This produced chisel shaped and sail shaped crystals of superb quality, which are now VERY hard to find. I have numerous examples in my collection - and some exchange pieces which are featured here. It's a rather nasty place to get into, and very wet, although still theoretically accessible.

Murton mine, Scordale, Westomorland...

Gawd - does this bring back some memories.... There are a number of mines in this area which you may see on old specimen labels - including Silverband, Dufton Fell, and Hilton.

Murton is a rather tight, small mine - in the same valley as Hilton, with some very dangerous areas. The ground has moved here a lot, and massive slabs of rock hang all over the place. In one area, presumably a stope at one time, there are huge slabs filling the void, and it's possible to crawl between them (praying at the time that they dont simply close up with you between them, sandwich style...) Amongst the slabs, for some amazing reason, clay had been deposited, and filling the clay were magnificent barite crystal clusters. Most of the material was originally covered with a thick red iron coating, which we removed with oxalic acid. I remember having a heated argument with Peter Embrey at the Natural History Museum one morning, as I presented one of these monsters to the Museum - he requested that it not be cleaned - which I felt was wrong, as you wouldn't see the finest of the transparency and colour of the specimen. Peters argument prevailed - I've not seen the piece since..

Small Murton barite

Barite - Carbonate Shake, Murton mine

Both specimens, collected 1975, Peter Ward - both approx 3" xls. Lower specimen left uncleaned.

Iron Stained edges.

Wetgroves mine, Wensleydale, Yorkshire...

I think Wetgroves should be in the same league as the West Cumberland mines - specimens are much rarer, few are ever made available, and the public need educating.

Why are all these mines so grotty and dangerous I wonder..? Wetgroves is quite big - workings all over the place, (The Norther Mines Research Group reckon there are over 9 miles of tunnels in Wetgroves) and water, lots of it. The way in was via a 200 foot deep spiral shaft, with rotten stemples holding back tonnes of stacked deads. You had to climb down the shaft under them... The shaft followed a series of swallow-holes in the limestone - natural stream passages which had formed within the confines of a mineralised block of limestone. The miners cleared out the stream passages, shovelling galena fines out of them as they went.Towards the bottom of the mine there used to be a series of cavities (part of the stream course) big enough to sit inside, and lined with big dogtooth calcite crystals. They are under a lot of water now. On top of the calcite were lovely sail shaped barite crystals, up to 3 inches in size, completely intergrown. They were the devil to clean, but when eased from the thick gungy iron oxides which coated them, magnificent specimens were revealed.. Very few specimens ever made it to surface completely undamaged. I think the reason for this was that the cavities were actually blast damaged by the old miners - iron oxides have covered the damage, so that even when you thought you'd collected a perfect piece, it wasn't always quite so. Some of my specimen labels from here record trips jointly run with Dick Barstow, Frederic Humbersot, Dave Smith and others..

A recent trip down memory lane showed what collectors can do - every cavity in the mine which had any crystals left was smashed. Anything which couldnt be got out, was smashed anyway. Chisel marks rake over whole plates of lovely calcite crystals which would never have come out, but could have been left for others to enjoy the sight of.

Is this what collecting has come to?? One thing I do know - Dick Barstow, Ralph Sutcliffe and the rest of the old guard, would never have done that.

Small Aysgarth barite

Barite

Wetgroves mine, Aysgarth, Wensleydale, Yorkshire. 4" An almost complete bow-tie crystal of barite, perfectly undamaged, and translucent.

Collected 1975, Peter Ward collection.

Barite - 'The Hedgehog'

Wetgroves mine, Aysgarth, Wensleydale, Yorkshire.

Specimen is 11 inches across, almost perfect, with crystals nearly 3 inches at the base. This is as far as we know, the finest barite ever to come out of Yorkshire. It would have formed on top of a huge, single calcite crystal which has since been leached out, leaving a hollow centre.

Collected 1975, Peter Ward collection.

BlueBlue Barite

Unknown locality - possibly Parkside mine, Frizington, West Cumberland...

This was an unusual piece, discovered on Ebay in 2006, and suffered fierce bidding for a while. Beautiful sky blue crystals are intergrown with calcite to make a quite exceptional piece. .. 6 x 4"

 

blue1

Ex collection of Eugene E Sensel, then Steven Phillips - now Peter Ward collection

 

 

 

 

 

Classic West Cumberland

Barite

Unknown mine, probably Mowbray, West. Cumberland - 5x3"

Old specimen - purchased in the 1970's from Ralph Sutcliffe for £175. Ex Collection of A Jahn, Berlin - now Peter Ward collection.

Carbonate Shake

Barite

Carbonate Shake, Murton mine, Scordale, Westmorland. 8 x7 x 6 inches. Collected 1975, Peter Ward

This is one of the largest and finest from the famous Carbonate Shake in Murton. It was a dirty, dangerous, mud filled horror chamber, a massive jumble of fallen slabs of rock which constantly moved.

Between the slabs were these specimens.

Peter Ward collection

Aysgarth

Barite

Wetgroves mine, Aysgarth, Wensleydale, Yorkshire. 5"

Collected 1975, Peter Ward collection.

Dalmellington

Dalmellington best

Barite

Dalmellington mine, Frizington, West Cumberland - crystals to 3.5 inches

Ex AE Foote dealership, Jefferies collection at Harvard University, sold to Ralph Sutcliffe, then to Dick Barstow.

Exchanged with Dick on march 29th 1978, then valued at £110, for campylite and sphalerite specimens. Peter Ward collection.

Foote label

Barite

Wetgroves mine, Aysgarth, Wensleydale, Yorkshire.

Another massive piece - 10 inches across - this time a flat slab, crystals up to 3". Translucent, bright, shining spears forming radiating fans of crystals.

Collected 1975, Peter Ward collection.