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A Building Stones Guide to Central Manchester
Third Edition (2014)
Four self-guided walks through the city centre
Now available to purchase

Newsletter - March 2019

The full, illustrated newsletter is available as a pdf for download. Text extracts are given below.

Obituary: Morven Simpson 1922 - 2018

Dr Ian Morven Simpson FGS, known to all as Morven, was born in Edinburgh in 1922, son of Dr John Baird Simpson, District Geologist in the Geological Survey in Scotland. Morven's early education was based in Edinburgh, at George Heriot's School, and as an undergraduate student in Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. His undergraduate career was interrupted by World War II, and when he resumed after the war, he switched to studying Geology. He graduated top of his class with first class honours, but usually added, with a twinkle in his eye, that there were only four geology students in his year, and two of those spoke very little English. Nevertheless, it was a good enough result to get him an appointment at the University of Glasgow as an assistant lecturer in Geology, and as a PhD student with Prof T.N. George, working on the Carboniferous Limestones of Ireland. In 1951 Morven completed his PhD and secured a position in the Geology Department at the University of Manchester, where he spent the rest of his working life.

He quickly gained an enviable reputation as a teacher, in the lecture theatre, laboratory and in the field, and started what turned into a lifetime research partnership, and deep friendship, with Dr Fred Broadhurst. Together they published many papers on the Carboniferous of Northern England, both clastics and carbonates, usually managing one day a week in the field, notably in and around Castleton, in the Peak District. This partnership also researched the urban geology of the sources and description of the stones used in Manchester buildings, culminating in the pioneer booklet Building Stones of Central Manchester (1975). While researching for the second edition (2008) in the 1990s they re-discovered the source quarry for the fine purple sandstone seen in such buildings as St. Anne's church in St. Anne's Square. This sandstone came from Collyhurst, first described in 1840s by the Victorian geologist Edward Binney as a stained Upper Carboniferous sandstone occurring below the true Permian Collyhurst Sandstone, for which it had subsequently been mistaken. They named it the "Binney Sandstone".

During his early years in Manchester in 1950s Morven was an officer of the MGA. His research continued an interest from his Glasgow days in glacial deposits. With R.G.West in 1958 he published the definitive paper on the stratigraphy and palaeobotany of the Late Pleistocene organic deposits at Chelford, Cheshire, namely the Chelford Sands. Later he published on the Pleistocene succession in the Stockport and south Manchester area (1959) and stone counts in these deposits (1960).

Morven was a gifted teacher, and one who became a role model to many who themselves went on to teach. To any student with a reasonable geological question, spontaneous or prepared, his default response was "Well now, what do you think?", getting the student to think, analyse, articulate and discuss. Throughout his career in Manchester Geology Department Morven taught stratigraphy in a traditional way, amplified by many field courses, particularly to the Isle of Arran. He also taught many extra-mural classes even after his retirement in 1983 and wrote a paperback book Fieldwork in Geology (Introductory Geology), Allen & Unwin, Murby (1977).

His last appearance in public was at the Geological Society, at Burlington House, in 2013, when he handed back to the Society, for safe keeping, the Lyell Medal that his father had been awarded in 1954. He died on November 19, 2018, six years after losing his wife of 65 years, Janette. He is survived by his son, Graeme, also a geologist, daughter Jennifer, five grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

John PollarD (with acknowledgement and thanks to Professor Graeme Simpson).

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MGA/GeoLancashire joint field excursion Sunday 31 March 2019

For information and to book, contact the GeoLancashire secretary.

Thurns Head Quarry, Whitworth, near Bacup

Leader: Arthur Baldwin

Thurns Head quarry is in Namurian sandstones with mudstones. Spectacular examples of the non-marine bivalve trace fossil, Lockeia isp., are abundant. Escape shafts of this bivalve were not found on the recce, so the challenge for the day will be to find an example. An exposure in an old quarry face contains loading structures about a metre across where, at the time of deposition, incoming sand has deformed soft mud beneath.

There is plenty of evidence of the industrial history of the site. Part of the route is up an impressive inclined stone trackway with setts in the centre and metre long flat stones for tracks either side. The long stones have grooves worn into them from long use by quarrymen, perhaps using sleds to transport stone more than a hundred years ago.

The walking distance is about 3km over moorland paths. The stone trackway is potentially slippery in wet weather.

Healey Dell Nature Reserve

Leader: Ron Powell

The River Spodden flows through Healey Dell nature reserve, in part through a narrow gorge with waterfalls. Ferns and other damp and shade loving flora abound. There is abundant evidence of the early woollen industry, including a waterwheel pit for a fulling mill. There are also the remains of a paving slab 'stone rubbing mill', used to smooth ripple marked stone flags. An adit, likely the site of mediaeval siderite mining, can be seen in a mudrock cliff by the side of the river. The reasons for the formation of siderite will be discussed.

Two faults, one at either end of the reserve, bring the older Upper Namurian, Rough Rock, into juxtaposition with the younger Westphalian, Lower Coal Measures. The more southerly fault is visible in the gorge. In the river bed are nice examples of potholes, formed when water born small pebbles and sediment swirl to erode flask shaped holes in the bedrock. There is also a variety of sedimentary structures in the cliffs on the side of the gorge, where the Rough Rock is well exposed.

The walking distance is up to about 4km, mostly on excellent tracks and paths. In one location the riverside path is rather narrow and potentially slippery in the wet. For those who do not feel confident about it there is an alternative route. The main route continues along the side of a leat to a mill lodge. The café and associated small visitor centre are not far from the lodge. Return will be via the railway track over the gorge and thence to the carpark. For those who wish to visit the café later in the day, there is parking available.

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Lymm Gorge Geology Trail

Lymm Heritage Centre has recently published the Lymm Gorge Geology Trail. It is an attractive, glossy, 20-page, A4 booklet written for the public with little or no knowledge of geology. The aim is to encourage people to enjoy a walk around the Lymm Dam and village taking in the geological features on the way. It takes in fourteen locations that are clearly shown on a double centre-page map, with directions to, and photographic descriptions of, each one. The trail also includes references to some historical features in the village. To complete the walk you will cover about 3 miles and take 2 to 3 hours. It is an ideal family excursion into the Cheshire countryside, which is adjacent to the pretty Lymm village.

A Heritage Centre volunteer sculptor has fashioned a superb life-size model of Chirotherium from 'junk in his garage'. He based the model on photos in Liverpool Museum. It is on display in the Heritage Centre and supported by a 'hunt the dinosaur' challenge for kids.

The booklet costs £3.00 and is available from the Lymm Heritage Centre or 01925 754080

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MGA/GeoLancashire joint field excursion Thursday 27 June 2019

For information and to book, contact the GeoLancashire secretary.

Brymbo 'fossil forest'

Leader: Tim Alstrop PhD of Brymbo Heritage Project

At Brymbo are the in situ remains of a Pennsylvanian (Upper Carboniferous) 'forest', with both lycophyte and calamite stems in growth position. Stands of Calamites stems are said to be very rare, (Appleton et al. 2011. The Brymbo Fossil forest).

The base of the exposure contains plant stems up to about half a metre in diameter in mudstone. Stems over 1.5m diameter have been observed. Channels cutting through the mudstone can be observed in a vertical face. Above this is a horizon with siderite nodules and at the top a coal seam of Westphalian B age.

In September 2017 the Brymbo Heritage Project secured funding of £0.84M from the Heritage Lottery Fund and is working to secure more to make the site accessible and to cover the fossil plants which weather rapidly as soon as they are exposed.

The site is associated with a historic iron ore processing complex which includes blast furnaces. The large maintenance workshop building is currently being restored, with a grant of £1.1M from the BIG Lottery, to provide a visitor centre.

The excursion will include the industrial archaeology in addition to the geology.

Llay coal mine tip

Address: Hanson Cement, Former Llay Main Tip, Llay Road, Llay, near Wrexham, LL12 0TL

Leader: Jason Parry, Quarry Manager, Hanson Cement Padeswood

The coal mine tip is being reworked by Hanson Cement as raw material for cement production. It is located quite close to Brymbo. Apart from coal we should be able to find cobbles of sandstone containing plant fossils.

You can read something about the mine here.

Walking conditions are fairly good. Walking distance is less than a kilometre. This is an operational quarry site, so wearing of boots, safety helmet and high visibility jacket or waistcoat is compulsory. If it is dry it may be dusty and wearing of eye protection will be required.

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The Goyt Valley around Marple: Industrial History meets Geology

Fred Broadhurst Memorial Field Trip, Sunday 22 September 2019

Leader: Jane Michael

The Goyt Valley round Marple is not just geologically interesting (top of the Namurian/bottom of the Westphalian, an area of changing environments) but the industrial history is fascinating too. So if you would like to learn why, though he probably didn't realise it, Samuel Oldknow made a good choice for the site of Mellor Mill, then join me. The morning will be spent looking at how the geology influenced Mellor Mill's construction. This will be around 2 miles of flat walking on a stony track. In the afternoon, we will visit the canal, Marple Aqueduct and the Goyt valley around its confluence with the Etherow. This will be 3 miles with around 100 ft of moderately steep ascent on canal towpath and grassy/muddy river bank. For more indepth information, please contact me on email or 07917 434598.

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