Fluorite Specimen, image 1
Fluorite specimen, White’s Level, Westgate
Source: Natural History Museum
Copyright: Natural History Museum

Fluorite specimen collector Sir Arthur Russell
Fluorite specimen collector <empty>Sir Arthur Russell
Source: Natural History Museum
Copyright: Natural History Museum

Classic Weardale Fluorite Specimen
Original Location: White’s Level Mine, near Westgate
Current Location: Natural History Museum, London
Theme: Industrial
Period: Post-medieval
Date: Discovered in c.1818

What is it?
A magnificent specimen of fluorspar collected by a lead miner from a lead mine in Weardale in the early years of the nineteenth century, now part of the Russell Collection in the Natural History Museum, London.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
The North Pennines mines yielded not only commercial minerals like galena (lead ore), sphalerite (zinc ore) and various iron ores, but also superb crystallised specimens of other minerals.   In particular fluorite specimens from the North Pennines are to be found in major natural history museums all over the world. 

Sir Arthur Russell (1878 – 1964) collected minerals avidly, but was particularly proud of his superb collection of variously coloured North Pennine fluorites.   The Russell collection is now in the Natural History Museum in London. 

Crystallised mineral specimens grew in cavities in the mineral veins which the miners called “vugs” or “lough holes”.   Although the collecting of mineral specimens from vugs was strongly disapproved of by mine owners, there is a very long tradition of mineral collecting by miners through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, only stopping with the closure of the last fluorspar mine.   Some miners made considerable sums of money from selling mineral specimens they had collected.   Strong networks grew up between working miners, mineral dealers and museums and private collectors.    There are records of nineteenth century mineral collectors from the United States visiting the North Pennines to buy mineral specimens and specimens were sent across Europe and into Russia.   Consequently North Pennine minerals were dispersed all over the world.   Therefore no virtual museum should be without a fluorite specimen.

Why is it important?
Mineral specimens are an important part of the heritage of the North Pennines.   In particular the North Pennines specimens of fluorspar are internationally renowned and feature in most major mineral collections across the globe. This specimen is typical of the quality of such material.  The superb nature of the specimens found in White’s Level Mine in 1818 (of which this is one) caused a sensation, with the first professor of mineralogy at Cambridge University describing them as the best he’d seen “surpassing in beauty and the magnificence of their crystallisation, any mineral substance I have ever before seen”.

Further Information

    Text References:
  • Symes, R.F. and Young, B. 2008. Minerals of Northern England. NMS Enterprises Edinburgh with the Natural History Museum, London
  • Forbes, I.  undated Middlehope Shield Mine and the discovery of fluorite specimens in 1818.   Unpublished

  • External Links:
  • http://www.ukminingventures.com/mystery.htm

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