British Classic Mineral Specimens

A bit of history about me...

Early beginnings

It all started when my mum did the washing on Monday mornings. My pockets would be stuffed with little pebbles picked up in the garden. Then I was given a little Ladybird book about minerals… and the rest, they say, is history.

My first experiences in the Midlands of England were in quarries and piles of rock by the roadside. My long-suffering mum, Joy, would organise visits to local museums, and discovered the whereabouts of abandoned quarries which we’d go fossicking in. A slow trickle of broken fossils, tiny bits of quartz, lumps of calcite, and amorphous lumps of rock began to collect in my room. I began to get frustrated.. the Ladybird book had nice crystals in it. How did I find some – where were the vughs – crystal lined monsters buried in hillsides all over England? Long suffering mum came to the rescue with Geological Society membership, which took me on field trips all over the country collecting fossils from every epoch. Then came that fateful Christmas morning. I woke up shortly after midnight, to find the floor of my bedroom strewn with minerals – quartz crystals, turquoise, cassiterite.. They’d found a collection for sale in the local paper and bought the lot. It was all from China Clay pits in Cornwall – and from that point onwards, I was hooked. The chap they bought it from gave them the address of a collector in Cornwall who worked in one of the mines. My mum organised a trip to Cornwall which I counted the days down to…

In the meantime I’d sold my train set (which would have been very valuable now – it was huge!) and used the proceeds to buy specimens on the family holiday to the Isle of Elba. My bedroom was soon stacked with specimens of haematite, ilvaite, and pyrite from Rio Marina.

This little shop was in Rio - it was crammed with specimens - tourmaline, pyrite, haematite, ilvaite, and more. It was about 200 yards from the hotel, there was a coffee shop next door, and I lived in the place!

On our return, we went to Cornwall. I was 10 years old…

We stayed in a little bed and breakfast not far from Penzance. On the first day, we went in search of our contact, who worked at a mine called Geevor. It wasn’t hard to find – Pendeen village sits on the edge of the cliffs, old engine houses dot the landscape, and piles of rock are everywhere. We drove up to the mine, and asked in the office where we might find him. The tough looking Cornish bloke in a mining hat surveyed my slim, beautiful, long brown-haired mum (who used to be a model) and his face slowly cracked into a smile...

‘Dick Barstow… oh, he’s in the sample compound up the hill. There’s two blokes up there – a big tall bloke and a skinny little runt – he’s the little bugger!’

We walked up the track to where two figures were sorting long lines of calico sample bags of drillchip. The little one straightened and came over to us... 'Dick?.. ' my mum asked. A grubby hand was proffered, and without further ado some pieces of malachite and chalcocite were plonked into my disbelieving hands. That night, we ended up at the pub with him, talking about mining, listening to tales of crystals and miners.

Over the next few days, we explored Cornwall to his directions, returning every night to his little cottage - 26, Tregeseal, St Just - to be precise, where his long suffering wife Yvonne prepared tea, and left me to sit, awestruck at his tales of specimens, mines, crystals, old books. He started to show me his collection, letting me pick pieces up, ask questions, and wonder at their perfection. Chalcocite, Cassiterite, Bournonite, Liroconite, Clinoclase, Langite, Botallackite, Bornite, Cuprite... the list went on..He took me to Cligga - I remember scrambling down the slope and into workings which led off the cliff. We spent the day hacking out a big vein of Stannite - I still have lumps of it to this day. I remember seeing bits on the monthly list afterwards and thinking 'I helped get them out'. Dick spent all day with a big lump hammer, mauling away at a pointed chisel, prising lumps of granite off the wall, working around the vein. I got the easy bit - breaking lumps of the soft stannite away from the wall when he'd exposed it all. At the end of the week, we left with a collection of little pieces he'd given me, and a promise to stay in touch - and a firm place on his collection of addresses to which he mailed out the monthly 'List'.

The next month, the list arrived. With it, my life changed forever. Gone were the attempts to find crystals in local quarries - I badgered my parents to take me down to Cornwall again - to ring and write to Dick and find out localities I could visit. The correspondence deepened, and over the next year or two we bought numerous specimens from him, and made repeated collecting trips to Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, the Weardale, Alston Moor, Cheshire and other localities too numerous to mention. One of my precious posessions is a collection of all the letters from Dick - he wrote long letters about collecting and the mineral market, and they provide a fascinating insight to this legendary figure - also to the philosophy and history of collecting in the 70's - a real snapshot of what was going on in those halcyon years.

My mum learned to wear a mining hat and oldham caplamp. Not quite the social scene she was used to, but having a model for a mum made it easy to pass her off as my sister. We used to go to the mine offices in the Weardale and she'd sit in the office with the managers whilst I was sent underground with the geologist - collecting bag and hammer in hand. They never found out she wasn't my sister.... They gave her some lovely specimens....! The photo is me, outside Redburn mine, in the Weardale. We 'did' Allenheads too, then Blackdene - always returning with bags full of lovely pieces. I remember Alan Emerson - the manager at Blackdene, daring me to pick up the enormous lump of purple fluorite that sat on the window ledge in his office - at the top of the flight of stairs which went up the side of the building by the old horse level. I struggled, and couldnt lift it - but went away - a determined nine year old, and returned a year later after spending a year doing press-ups and getting stronger. We went up to see Alan again, and this time, I managed to move the huge piece as far as the door. Alan relented then, and organised a collection of specimens for me!

I started to frequent the Natural History Museum at Dick's suggestion. One day, a door opened at the end of the long mineral gallery, and the chap walked straight up to me, extended his hand, and said 'I've been watching you - you come here often - pretty interested in this stuff are you?' Seeing my confusion, he gestured to the door, and said 'Fancy a look behind the scenes?' I nearly feinted. I trotted behind him as we entered the secret world of rooms and turrets - specimens strewn on top of boxes, up stairs, over desks, under cabinets, on top of books and bookcases - and he finally introduced himself - 'I'm Peter Embrey - the curator here'

I'll never forget that first visit. He took me into the vaults. Made me stand with my eyes closed whilst he put things into my hands - I'd open them on command, to find myself holding the Latrobe Nugget, or the largest Platinum nugget in captivity, and many other wonders that are so often illustrated in mineral books. We sat drinking coffee in his office - talking about Russell, Kingsbury, Sowerby and Rashleigh as though they were old mates. I was sworn to give him an example of anything I found.. a promise which in later years I always kept. I still have the letters from Peter and John Fuller, thanking me for the latest donation.. At about the same time, Dick was frantically denuding the Russell exchange collection at the museum, through a constant stream of exchanges. I didnt realise that I could have exchanged rather than donated!!! This was the source of much of Dicks good Cornish material. (I did eventually cotton on, and have some nice cassiterites with Russell labels). I used to stay with Peter in London in later years - I enjoyed many fascinating evenings sitting in his flat around the corner from the Museum, looking at the draft of Minerals of Cornwall and Devon, and talking about collecting philosophy. Peter always wanted me to retain specimens in an uncleaned state - to him it was more important to see how they were found - their environment, as well as the perfect, cleaned version, stripped of its associations. They told more of a story in that fomat, and I always tried to make sure the museum got a 'dirty' piece to go with anything I gave them after that.

School gets in the way of things like collecting. You only have holidays in which to escape. By the time I was in my early teens, I had a ring of friends who lived mainly in the north, and spent most of their time underground. My mum would take me up, dump me, and return a week later to pick up a grubby boy with boxes of specimens containing fluorite, sphalerite, barite, calcite and pyromorphite. It was heaven. I learned to drink beer, and a few years later, the local policeman came up to me on my birthday night bash in the pub - The Crown, in Hesket Newmarket, with a foaming pint. 'Pete.... we've drunk together all these years, you and me - here's your first LEGAL pint!!' I had some great friends in Hesket - Richard, who owned the little garage in the centre of the village, Grant and Noel Waller - who both later worked in Carrock - Grant now lives in devon, and Noel over in West Cumbria, where he runs a drystone walling company. We'd have lively debates with Chris Bonnington - who always argued to close the mines - saying they were dangerous and should be bulldozed - we nearly got thrown out of the pub one night after a particularly heated exchange when I reminded him that he killed more people on mountains than any mine in the Caldbecks had killed explorers and collectors. His wife, Wendy took him home, still grumbling! They still live up there now, all these years later.

Stones of Elba - and my first mineral purchase

First visit to Cligga

Cligga Head

My first underground trip in Weardale - Redburn Mine

First visits to Drygill

I'd seen some bright red crystals from Caldbeck - a place called Drygill. I wanted some. Badly. It was about 1976. Dick intervened. He'd started a dig and here were some contacts. Grant lived at the farm at the foot of the fell, and we soon struck up a friendship that resulted in me almost living on the farm. Funny - I lost contact with Grant for years, but this year (2008) we finally found him again, happy as ever, living in Devon. Our first visit to Drygill was on the old Massey Ferguson tractor - the collecting gear stacked in the sheep carrier on the back. It soon became apparent that this was a major locality. More digs were organised, and I became Campylite King - boxes of the stuff piled up at home - almost every week I'd be up there digging away - sometimes on my own for days at a time. My mum came up to one dig - it was a fine summer's day and she sat in the opencut picking away at rocks. She came over with a little piece of quartz with a lovely blue mamillary coating on it. Grant grabbed it and his face split into a laugh - 'Hey - Guys... look.... it really DOES come from here - Plum Bog ummite ...' My mum was a hero...

This was the first plumbogummite specimen found in recent times, and it confirmed that the mine really had produced good material. I still have it, in pride of place, sandwiched between trays full of specimens we mined in later years, together with the lovely material that Ralph Sutcliffe found lower down in the bottom stopes - they collapsed on him while he was in there - to this day we dont know how he got out alive.

Drygill attracted a lot of people - I've found most of that old crew who were there in the late 1970's - Ian Plenderleith, Haggis Murray,(both in photo to right) Chester Forster, Grant Waller of course, Les Jackson, Guy Heelis - we had some grand times down the old stopes, bashing out orange crystals.

Dick was getting worried. I was finding as much as he was - if not more. The monthly lists were carrying campylite, pyromorphite, sphalerite, fluorite, barite - all dug during the many visits I was making up north. My collection grew steadily - I'd swap my boxes of specimens for a single piece - usually a corker of a West Cumberland barite, or an ancient Witherite. He started to accompany me on some of these trips - especially Drygill. One day, we'd gone down the shaft and Dick was burrowing in a hole on the south side of the shaft. There was a little wooden platform there, and he was perched on the end of a plank of wood which crossed the shaft. I was digging into the pillar which held the stope open, and with a huge rumble, a pile of stacked deads and vein material fell out of the pillar and crashed down onto Dicks' staging. He disappeared in a thick cloud of choking black psilomelane dust... I picked myself up from the rubble pile at the bottom of the shaft where I'd fallen, and started to look for him. After a while, I heard a plaintive squeak from above my head, and looked up to see a pair of white eyes peering from a sooty black face - at the TOP of the shaft above where I'd been working. He was safe. The rock had hit the end of the plank, and catapulted him upwards to land in a small recess cut into the side of the stope! Many of the campylites shown on the minerals page of this site were found during those trips with Dick. About this time, Chester Forster entered my life - my mum used to take me up to Scotland to meet him - but he was one of the original crew who were in Drygill in the early 70's, almost before Ralph and Lindsay started doing anything. Chester was a stalwart of Hilton mine, and still knows every nook and cranny there, together with Murton. 

Another member of the old guard who appeared around this time was Les Jackson. We found the big cavity that's at the top of the website - about a foot across, full of huge green campy crystals - world class...

Geoff Smith and I had been down in the bottom of the opencut for about a week, at the bottom of a little shaft we'd dug, working the cavity. I'd had to hire a generator and kango hammer to drill holes around it, so we could split out the specimens without damaging them. Les appeared one day, jumped down the hole, and squeezed past us with barely a word... I shouted after him that the level further on was dangerous, and barely were the words out of my mouth than a low rumble of falling rock reached our ears. Incredulous, we crawled down the narrow tunnel to where Les had last been seen. It was filled with rock. Somewhere underneath was Les. Geoff scrambled out of the hole, muttering curses under his breath about the fruit cake who had just stopped our extraction of the best cavity of campylite ever found - he headed for Calebreck, and roused Harry and Grant Waller, who sorted the rescue team. Meanwhile, I dug... and dug. By the time the rescue team arrived, I'd found some fingers, and followed them through the rock to a hand. I squeezed it, just as the rest of the team arrived with Grant and Harry. It squeezed back - he was alive! It took many hours of digging to get him out - the roof was a mass of running rock, and he was pinned beneath a huge slab which had protected his chest and kept him alive. He kept shouting at the top of his voice ' I can't breathe.... I can't breathe!!' So good old Les was ok - they airlifted him to Carlisle in the rescue helicopter, after everyone had a jolly good time on the fell, and Geoff and I crawled into our sleeping bags in the landrover, exhausted. Next day we managed to finish getting the rest of the cavity out - mind blowing specimens, one after another, just kept dropping into my trembling hands. The Drygill page of this site shows in more detail the pocket, and the rescue.

Ian Plenderleith and Haggis Murray on my first trip to Drygill

The famous Plumbogummite my mum found

Morocco, Cornwall with Dick Barstow, meeting Dick Hauck

Around this time, I met Freddy Humbersot. He was a young French collector, with family connections in Madagascar and Morocco. After becoming firm friends, and taking him around many of my localities in England, he asked me to go over to Morocco with him. We were to meet up in a mountain village, at a small hotel. I got there a day or so early, and spent the first day by the pool, taking in the sunshine. I was swimming in the pool when a body crashed past me and swam strongly away. I struggled spluttering to the surface, to see a stunningly beautiful girl hanging onto the end of the pool, laughing at me. She kept diving at me, and I gave up swimming and retreated to the bar, where inevitably I was followed. Eventually plucking up the courage to talk, in my broken French, I discovered she was called Catherine and was on holiday from France. We explored the area over the next day or so, swimming, eating and drinking together. I thought I was onto a good thing for a while - and then Freddy turned up one morning - walked straight past me, and up to Catherine - gave her a big hug and turned to me and said "I see you've met my sister...!" We brought some fantastic specimens back from Morocco - cerussites and vanadinites mainly.

Freddy and I went to Cornwall and spent a week or so with Dick. He'd been muttering about Wheal Alfred for a while, so we decided to pay a visit. I'd seen the pyromorphites, and they were good. We parked the car at the end of a track and walked the last couple of hundred yards to where there were some dumps and a shaft. Digging into the dumps, we excavated quite a large hole, and started to find a layer of material that was quite rich in pyromorphite - mainly little thumbnails, but very pretty. We dug for a couple of hours, almost hidden by gorse bushes until I got bored, and wandered off to look at the shaft, and other dumps. All of a sudden there was as bang and shouting from across the field nearby. I ignored it and carried on digging on the side of the shaft, until Fred and I were accosted by a rather angry looking farmer, shotgun in hand. He was a little chap, not much bigger than Dick, and quite a bit older. He ranted on about folks invading his land for a while, and then demanded to know where 'the other one' was. We glanced around, and seeing no sign of Dick, played dumb. Not to be outdone, the farmer started thrashing around in the gorse bushes, loosing off the odd barrel from the gun at imagined bodies lurking therein. After a few minutes he headed for the other dump where I'd last seen Dick, and started thrashing the gorse with the gun barrel - at which point Dick came flying out of the bushes like something out of an ejector seat, and landed in a tumbled heap at the farmers feet. We then got a lecture on how we were disturbing his animals, and were shown the road - not before we managed to retrieve several bags with nice specimens and a large collection of tools. We had some fun in the pub that night - I don't think he told Yvonne. We stayed at Dick's - spending days in the coach house going through boxes - and it was around then - about 1980, that Freddy started getting regular shipments from Dick of Chessy azurites. He also bought a lot of Weardale pieces - which have only just started to reappear. I remember Jeremy, Dicks son, was about 7 or 8 then - not old enough to tell if he'd be interested in minerals or not. That same trip we went to Devon - to an old manganese mine he knew about. We levered big blocks of rhodonite out of the ground, and loads of little bits. The big blocks went back to Dicks, and he later took them to the Dartmoor prison workshop to be cut into slices and polished. I still have a big polished slice that Dick gave me, and Freddy has a couple of smaller, unpolished bits in his collection. I can't remember the name of the place - it was just below a high Tor, with an old ruin on it. We collected some lovely childrenites from the George and Charlotte mine that trip - not sure if theres any dumps left now - there was plenty to go at in those days.

Freddy was my best mate. We went everywhere together. Freddy went on to get married and have three children - I was his best man. The photo here was taken in the Atlas Mountains where we spent a lot of time collecting and buying specimens . He built a magnificent collection of English material, which his wife still has, and there are still vast quantities of stock which we accumulated over our years together to exchange for better bits for our collections. Its mostly still there - trays and trays of campylite, burgam pyromorphite - there must be many thousands of specimens. We lost Freddy after I went to Australia - he cut himself shaving and died of blood poisoning. Cathy married, adopted a load of kids, and recently lost her husband in a car accident - this world we live in.. In 2009 I finally got to go back to France and stay over Christmas, with Fred's wife - Brigitte, and his three fantastic kids. Bits and pieces of the collection were on display - but I knew there was more. Brigitte finally gave in, and took me out to the garage where the rest was. I gingerly opened boxes that had not seen the light of day for nearly 30 years. Classic after Classic fell into my unbelieving hands. Finally, after more than two hours of opening boxes, I came to one which weighed more than most of the others. An enormous Chessy azurite dropped out - nearly 9 inches across, with crystals to an inch - with an old Dick Barstow label. It was the piece alongside it that floored me - bright silver - huge cubes six inches on edge, covered with bright, shining quartz crystals, with pyrite and calcite - over a foot across. It is the most incredible Blackdene galena specimen I've ever seen. I gingerly lifted it clear of the box and placed it on a table. The crystals gleamed dully in the light of the single bulb hanging from the ceiling of the garage - the specimen just sat there, sparkling - just like it did when the miner found it in the late 1970's. It too had a Barstow label with it - for a couple of hundred pounds - and that, in days when £200 bought you a world class piece of anything. Brigitte asked me what it was worth - I muttered something about thousands, and she asked me to bring it inside. We sat it on the table in the dining room, and the family stood for a while, just watching and looking at it - and then she turned and said 'Its yours - please take it home with you..' I couldnt look her in the eye - my eyes were too full of tears. 

Peter Embrey rang me one day and asked if I could take an American collector around the country - it was Dick Hauk - of Franklin, NJ fame. Dick arrived with his wife and family, and together with Freddy, we set off around the country. We decided to go to Tremadoc, to the famous brookite locality. freddy and I spent the morning working at one side of the big hole there, and managed to open up a new cavity. I looked down the cavity - crystals of brookite to an inch, sat perfectly arranged on quartz crystals, with smaller crystals covering the matrix. It was a long cavity, and would take a day or two to extract. Excitedly, we waved Dick over, and pointed him at the cavity. He picked up a long chisel, and before we could blink, had thrust it into the open hole, and tried to knock off one of the quartz crrystals, shaving every brookite off the matrix in the process - he never even saw them. Freddy and I sat in shock, shaking our heads in disbelief, and then slowly began to extract the shattered mess of brookites - I still have the biggest crystal, and the quartz it sat on, and one or two of the matrix specimens. We took Dick up to Roughtongill, Burgam, Smallclough and over into the Weardale - I think he had a very good time - I've not heard from him since - and I guess the girls must be grown up and married by now. We dug calcite and haematite out of the tips at Pallaflat mine, in West Cumbria - got some very nice calcites in big blocks in the dump. Its all gone now - bulldozed for road materials.

Dick told me about a little place called Burgam. I took Freddy up there - it wasnt far away from home, and we soon had many trays full of lovely pyromorphite.. I still remember the days we spent there - Dick, Freddy, Ike Wilson, and a bunch of American collectors. You could stick a chisel into the wall, and with a bit of luck it would go through into a hole, and pyromorphite would pour out of the hole like a river. I can remember bringing dozens of trays of specimens out of that place - rivers of green would just land in boxes - and we'd not even wrap it - just lay it into a tray and put a layer of newspaper over it before covering with another layer of specimens. Freddy still has hundreds of pieces from there - although the big bits are rare - one of the bigger, better ones is in the Shropshire Mines Trust building at Snailbeach - nice piece.

Dick also came up with us sometimes, and I remember taking American collectors - I'm sure Dick Hauck went down with us at least once.. We found some amazing cavities - huge runs of loose ground which was full of brecciated rock coated with pyromorphite. Specimens used to fall out in bucket loads. Ike WIlson and Dick Braithwaite went in there one day and found an enormous pipe-like cavity which Ike still talks about on a regular basis...! We must still have well over 1000 specimens from these days - some only little thumbnails, and some cabinet specimens. As with most places, its a sad place these days - overgrown, entrances infilled, and the only open entrance I can find has a grille on it. Silly people in these mine preservation groups seem to think its best to let them collapse and leave the specimens to rot - why..? Jealousy probably - they dont know what to do with them, but why should we have fun? Sad morons, the lot of them.

With Freddy in Morocco - roadside vendors everywhere in the Atlas Mountains

Alderley Edge

By this time, I was living in Cheshire, almost on top of the Alderley Edge mines.

In the evenings, and weekends we dug, many holes - all over the place. It was a great life - Derbyshire Caving Club did a lot of work there, and I joined up with their band of merry diggers - Steve Mills and Nigel Dibben and others. Wile I was living there, I found an old shaft in the village of Mottram. I collected some black gungy material from the bottom of the shaft on a fault plane, and it wasnt until months later that Dick saw it and had it X-Rayed by George Ryback. It was mottramite - the rest, they say, is history..

Mottram was a first. There arent many folks who have had a discovery of a mine, and mineral, that really wasnt in existence at the time - if you get my drift - the type locality was Mottram, but the material that made the discovery wasnt from there. To go back later and find the material - not quite type locality stuff, but quite good, nevertheless. I still havent written the definitive paper on this - several other people, including an academic from the Manchester Museums, have claimed to have been there and 'Done' the locality. Funny how they always try to claim the limelight, even when they weren't there, and know bugger all about the place, the discovery, or its history.

We found all sorts of stuff at Alderley. The photo shows Steve Mills on the windlass at Stump Shaft - a dig near Wood mine that led into the Hough level. We built a brick shaft and dug out the bottom. Engine Vein was a great spot - I had a JCB there on the farm. Richard, the National Trust Warden asked me to do some work on the footpaths on the Edge. I just looked at him for a while - he grinned, and said - if you happen to stray off the path onto a mine - well, you weren't to know! So I ended up digging all sorts of nice things off the top of Engine Vein and Stormy Point with a JCB. We had a lot of fun there - found some superb wulfenite crystals which I still have, together with native mercury - and over the hill, the West Mine - was a constant source of amusement - Paul Sorensen, the owner, was fantastic. I went down one day and came back clutching the best Tyrolite specimen found in the British Isles. Presently languishing in the Natural History Museum along with the rest of the stuff I found at Alderley, while they find time to work on it. Whatever happened to Dick Barstow!! Help Dick...!

While I was in Alderley, Ike got really interested in Greece, and we used to take off to Greece for a while - Laurium - great spot - Warm sun, nice girls, nice mines, nice holes to go down, and nice specimens. We took off for Athens one day - Laurium, Kamareza - Serpieri Shaft... Met a lovely girl in the hotel, Ozzie - but her mum was watching us.. so we couldn't get up to much. The mines were great - found loads of specimens - a vein of Cabrerite - lovely pieces, and went underground with one of the miners to collect bits and bobs. Bought pieces too. It was a fun time - very relaxing - wine, lovely Greek food, ouzo, and a few ruins thrown in for good measure.. 

The north of England was an amazing place then... The Alston moor mines were huge - everyone was digging in them and finding things. There was seemingly no end to the place - mines just connected to other mines - which connected to others. They said that the postman used to walk up Allendale until he got to Coalclough and Barneycraig workings. He'd go underground there, and eventually emerge about two miles futher on, having gone past the county boundary in Rampgill (where there is actually a Boundary Gate) and he'd emerge from Rampgill entrance in Nenthead. You could go into Capelclough, up to Middleclough, through Smallclough, down into Rampgill, down again to Brownley Hill, and from there to Nentsberry Haggs. Its about 9 miles all up - I know - cos we've just done it in 2009 - the trip took 10 hours, and we all got very wet, tired, and cold - but finally emerged triumphant at Haggs horse level entrance. What a trip! Smallclough, was of course, home of Hydraulic Shaft. Just about every one of those shiny black sphalerites that you see with a hydraulic label on it, came from a series of cavities that were dug by Grant Waller, myself, Dick Barstow and a few others - back in the 1970's. There's still a scribbled note on the wall in Hydraulic that reads 'Sphalerite all Gone! Grant...' The cavities still keep appearing though - and some of the nicest pieces I've seen from there came out in 2008 from a new area where they were covered in calcite and had to be leached out. Geoff Smith used to spend weeks up there with me - we explored and dug - taking dozens of photographs - this one is of an air door in the main flats at Smallclough - typical of the sort of thing you see down there - the stone arching is amazing - I wonder if anyone knows how to do this sort of work these days? I doubt it. The photo on the left is of Grant Waller, Geoff Smith, Noel Waller - Grants girlfriend Linda, and his little brother Scottie. I think Scotts torch had gone out, and he'd already taken the lid off his jar of sunshine that he'd carefully taken in with him, so he was a bit upset at not having any light! Noel later went on to work with Grant at Carrock mine in the Caldbecks - theres loads of photos and stories about the two of them in Ian Tylers book about Carrock. 

Ike and me in Laurium. Shooting down the main street!

My range rover by the shaft at Mottram

Looking down the shaft at Mottram mine

Steve Mills on the windlass - Stump Shaft

Nigel Dibben digging stump shaft

Ancient level we discovered in Brynlow Dell

Dick Barstow - the tragedy

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 was sitting in the farmhouse in Alderley one night, and saw a film on TV - Hammond Innes - Gold Mine. All about a Cornish mine owner who went broke, and went to ozzie to make his fortune. I'd sold my farm contracting business within a week and was on a plane to Perth within a few days. That started the next phase of my life - I went so quickly that I even forgot to get hold of my best mates - Ike Wilson in particular - who hunted me for years after that, till I got back in 2000 and he gave me the biggest bollocking of my life for not keeping in touch.

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 down a shaft 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 via a secret little back door way into Drygill.  Sure enough, there it was. So I have Dick Barstow's hammer to keep me company.

The only remaining photo I have of Dick Barstow - in Gwynfynydd Mine - north Wales.

John Daniels, mine manager at Gwynfynydd on a trip with Dick Barstow

Dicks Hammer - recovered from Drygill years later