British Classic Mineral Specimens

Dick Barstows last days

I got a strange phone call one night - it was Dick. He was a bit quiet - 'I'm coming up tomorrow - get your kit ready - we're going collecting. It wasn't an offer - it was an order.

Dick arrived the next day - beanie hat pulled over his eyes. He was quieter than usual - he just pointed to the landrover and said 'lets go - head for Scotland'. Conversation was short on the way - he wanted to visit some strange places I'd never heard of - we went everywhere - places I knew, places I thought were worked out and closed years ago - he just opened a hole and shoved his nose in, and out came specimens. Scotland, the North, Caldbecks, Weardale - that last trip was a whirl. We ended up at Gwynfynnyd gold mine in north Wales too - some of the guys who were working it - John Daniels and his crew, were friends of Dicks from Cornish mining. I took some good photos of them working there - and a couple of Dick in the stopes - about the only ones we ever got of him underground.

I remember sitting in a hotel one night and looking at him - still with the beanie pulled over his eyes - I just said 'Why, Dick - what's the rush' His eyes clouded over a bit - his face seemed to set - an intake of breath. He never said anything - but then I knew something was wrong. We stared into our pints.. time just ticked away.. I could almost see Dick's mind clicking the years over, thinking back on successes, failures, triumphs. We talked about where I was going - what I wanted from life - about Jeremy, his son, and Yvonne - how the collection was for Jeremy's insurance - to fund his schooling and his life. They were strange days - we collected - drove miles - went up mountains, uncovered amazing things - the Vanadinite at Leadhills is phenomenal - I've not been back there yet - but Dick just knew where it was. The landrover filled, native bismuth, stibnite, vanadinite, uraninite, prehnite, gem tourmaline, gold, and then the usual Caldbecks bounty, more Campylites, some Weardale stuff, back through Cheshire to see Harry Grange at the mottramite shaft (Harry had almost filled it with lawnmowing clippings by then) and on home. A couple of days in Wolverhampton, cleaning and sorting, then the famous flip of a coin as we divided two equal piles of specimens, and Dick made the usual offer to buy my half as well, after I'd taken a few bits for my collection. Then the whole lot wrapped up and in the back of his car, and off to Cornwall. I remember the look on his face that morning - he didnt take his eyes off me for a long time - unusual - Dick didn't look anyone in the face that long - but even then I never twigged to the fact that it was terminal cancer. Over the next few weeks I began to realise that he'd been showing me all his secret localities - I just didnt know why.

I went to Perth - on my goldmining odessey - and wrote to Dick every week. Yvonne wrote to me and told me he'd died. Ralph Sutcliffe was with him. We still cry when we remember Dick..

Dick came back to me recently. Sitting on my desk as I write in 2009, is his Estwing hammer. He dropped it on a field trip in the late 1970's, from all accounts cursing and swearing about it as usual, and its been lost ever since. A friend of his reminded me he'd dropped it and I went looking - sure enough, there it was. So I have Dick Barstow's hammer to keep me company.

The world goes full circle - Ralph died this week - its December 2023 - hard to believe so many of the legends have passed on.