Stanhope Fossil Tree (Sigillaria), with St Thomas’s Church in the background, viewed from Stanhope Market Square. Copyright Mike Powell

Gelt Bridge

The fossil tree in-situ in the quarry prior to excavation, c 1915. Weardale Museum archive.

Title page of the Wear Valley Extension Railway plans of 1845

Reconstruction of a sigillaria, a fossil tree-like clbmoss, made for Field Columbian Museum in 1905

Sounding Board Original Location: Edmundbyers Cross (North of Stanhope)
Current Location: St. Thomas’ Churchyard, Stanhope
Theme: Cultural
Period: Prehistoric
Date: Carboniferous Period

What is it?
The fossilised stump of a tree that grew in the Carboniferous forest 320 million years ago. It is a species known as Sigillaria which could grow to a height of 30 metres and is an early ancestor of modern clubmosses which today are small mountain plants. When the original tree died the stump was buried and sand from a nearby river filled the space left by the rotting wood and eventually hardened forming a large sandstone fossil.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
The Stanhope tree was discovered in a sandstone quarry at Edmundbyers Cross in 1915 and is one of several that have been discovered in this area. It was brought to Stanhope in large pieces in the early 1960s where it was reassembled and put on display in a quiet corner of the churchyard adjacent to the Market Square where it now features as a tourist attraction.

Why is it important?
The Stanhope Fossil Tree is a remarkable survivor from the distant Carboniferous era when the piece of the earth’s crust that would eventually become the North Pennines lay close to the equator covered by rainforests and fringed by shallow, tropical seas. The Carboniferous forests contained some of the earliest land plants of which this fossilised remnant is an amazing example.

Further Information
    Text References:
  • North Pennines AONB 2015, Stanhope Fossil Tree

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