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Newsletter - December 2019

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

Report of the Williamson Tunnels Liverpool Tour, Part of GA Conference, 20 October 2019

Eleven delegates from the GA GeoConference, that was held in Manchester, were joined by two Liverpool Geological Society (LGS) members to undertake a tour of the Williamson Tunnels in Liverpool. This tour was run by the Friends of Williamson's Tunnels (not to be confused with the Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre, which is based the other side of the railway!). After a safety briefing, donning hard hats and High viz jackets, we were split into two groups as the site comprises two areas; Paddington (not to be confused with the bear or railway station of the same name!) and Williamson's house area on Mason Street.

I was with the first group that walked up Mason Street to find the entrance, which is within the curtilage of Liberty Living student accommodation. A small area has been fenced off which contains the 'doorway' to the underworld. Before descending we were given a brief history of the tunnels and Joseph Williamson. He was born in 1769 in Warrington, later moving to Liverpool to work for a relative, Richard Tate, a tobacco merchant. By working hard he rose up in the company before opening his own business, importing and exporting to the Baltic alongside the tobacco business; he eventually took over Tates. In the process he became extremely wealthy. He married Elizabeth Tate, 'the boss's daughter'.

He decided to build a house and took on some leased land on Mason Street, leading to Paddington, then a small hamlet. The stone used (the house also used brick in its construction) came from 'the tunnels'. These 'tunnels' are not strictly tunnels but slot quarries in Edge Hill, which were being dug for stone to supply the needs of the expanding city. In addition to continuing the quarrying, Williamson also saw an opportunity to reclaim this land by building arches over the slots (at various levels), finally building valuable merchant properties on the top. Our leader, Tom, did explain that quite a lot of the information about Williamson could be regarded as 'flaky' as there are few records. A lot of 'interpretation' has therefore taken place to build the story of the tunnels.

The rock locally is the Triassic Sherwood Sandstone, which, as we had learnt the previous day from the LGS poster, is a good aquifer for water and gas. There is no longer any quarrying locally. The rock is coarse-grained, has good porosity and contains some finer-grained beds. The environment of deposition was a desert with ephemeral rivers. The source of the material was from the south and deposition appears to have taken place in a fast flowing river environment where large sequences were laid down at any one time ie flood deposits.

We then moved down a set of steps to the first level of the tunnel. These had been 'lost' for at least 60 years, being covered by tenement buildings. In 1999 the first exploration of the cellar system (the tunnels here had been turned into cellars for a bakery) took place. It took until June 2012 before the Friends obtained a lease for the area and could set up a proper entrance. On the 18th November 2012 they commenced emptying the tunnels of the rubble from the house demolitions. This work is still ongoing and has resulted in many artefacts, such as beer bottles, children's toys, cups and saucers, etc., have been found and put on display.

LGS President Phil Firth advised us that we would also see wet patches on the quarry walls below what appear to be fine clay layers, possibly laid down as the floods receded and the river dried up. The wet layers could however also relate to water table height. Sure enough we did find wet areas on the quarry walls and this resulted in deep discussion about the source - clay or water table.

It was fascinating to see the tunnels and how they had been arched with brick. The walls showed diagonal 'stripes' which we considered were pick marks; the tunnels were dug by hand (as a form of poor relief - Joseph Williamson, who developed into a philanthropist, paid his men a proper wage, rather than just food and board as in other poor relief projects).

After passing down many scaffolding steps, we finally arrived at the lowest level, which looked very much like what we thought a river bed minus water would look like. This was on a slope (though we did not measure the 'dip') and seemed to be made up of various layers. It occurred to us that perhaps the rock had not been quarried further because there is too much variability in the rock.

The Sherwood Sandstone being fairly homogeneous does carve well into blocks; the rock we were standing on didn't look like that. The other alternative was that on Joseph Williamson's death in 1840, with no heirs, the quarry just shut down and the workers walked away.

We noticed that there was a lot of brick used in the arches/roofing for the tunnels. Our guide, Tom, mentioned that it was possible that Williamson had bartered stone for bricks, rather than buy bricks. The floor flags may have come from thinner beds, rather than the massive beds we saw during our trip.

The second part of the tour was underneath the remains of Williamson's house, although this was only a flying visit as our time was nearly up. This had been a three-storey property looking out over the city. Whilst there is little remaining except a sunken area which contained the kitchen with a bay window (it had been four storeys, the kitchen being in a basement). Williamson had arranged for the land in front of the house, overlooking the city, to be built up for a garden. We descended another couple of levels, including going down a very narrow (shoulder width) slot, which was quite puzzling. On our way back up we came across a thicker clay layer some of which had been gouged out - an example of a quieter time of deposition perhaps.

So thanks to Phil Firth, President Liverpool Geological Society, for arranging this fascinating trip and also to the various guides from the Friends of Williamson's Tunnels. If ever you are in Liverpool, this site has my very strong recommendation for a visit.

Jane Michael (Manchester Geological Association)

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Peterloo Monument, Manchester City Centre

Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller was commissioned by Manchester City Council to create a memorial in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. This took place on 16th August 1819 at St Peter's Field when a crowd of protestors many thousands strong calling for parliamentary reform were charged by cavalry. The confrontation resulted in the deaths of 18 people and hundreds more were injured. A detailed account of the fateful day can be found here.

The memorial is located behind the Midland Hotel and close to the Manchester Central Convention Complex

Stonework Details

The memorial comprises two interlocking circles, one of flat elevation and the other made up of concentric raised circles both with detailed inlays and carvings. The construction uses various materials from around Great Britain including examples of sandstone, limestone, granite, dolerite and slate. The table below provides details.

Project details
Architect: Caruso St John
Artist: Jeremy Deller
Client: Manchester City Council
Structural engineer: DJ Lingard and Associates
Planning consultant: Maybern Planning and Development
Main contractor: Conlon Construction
Stonework contractor: Mather and Ellis
The information on stonework has been provided by Mather & Ellis (Stonemasons) with the kind permission of Manchester City Council and Conlon Construction.

Rock type and source key: A is the centre with M the outer ring

A Burlington Slate Kirkby-in-Furness, Cumbria
B Peakmoor Sandstone Stanton-in-Peak, near Matlock, Derbyshire
C Cove Red Sandstone Kirk Patrick Fleming, Scotland
D Whitworth Blue Sandstone Whitworth, Yorkshire
E Delank White Granite St Brewton, Cornwall
F Copp-Crag Sandstone Byrness, Northumberland
G Scottish Dolerite Dunaverig, Stirling
H St Bees Sandstone Salton Bay, St Bees Head, Cumbria
J Fletcher Bank Sandstone Southowram, Halifax, West Yorkshire
K Whitworth Blue Sandstone Whitworth, Yorkshire
L Corrennie Pink Granite Tillyfourie, Aberdeenshire
M Portland Stone Isle of Portland, Dorset


Jennifer Rhodes

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Geologists' Association Conference, Manchester, 18 - 20 October 2019

The organising committee of the 2019 GA conference: Nick Pierpoint (GA President), Philip Firth (Liverpool), Lyn Relph (North Wales), Cathy Hollis (MGA President), Peter Jones (Staffordshire), Jane Michael (MGA), Jennifer Rhodes (Lancashire) The Annual Geologists' Association conference was held in Manchester. The weekend began with a tour of the Manchester Museum on Friday afternoon, with Prof Phil Manning, before a group of GA members met for a social event at the Abel Heywood pub in the Northern Quarter. The main event was held on Saturday 19 th October in the Great Hall in the Sackville Street Building. In the hall were posters and exhibitions by all the regional GA groups, the Geologists' Association and the British Geological Survey, amongst others.

A series of talks were held throughout the day, focusing on the importance of the geology of the NW in the past, present and future. After a short welcome by the President of the GA, Nick Pierpoint, and the Chair of the Organising Committee, Cathy Hollis (MGA), Dr Oliver Wakefield introduced the audience to the Geology of the north west. Dr Tim Astrop then provided an excellent summary of the palaeontology, excavation and preservation of the Brymbo Fossil Forest and its importance to rejuvenating an area that has been in decline since the close of the steel works that used the coal, which hosts the fossil forest. Prof Mike Bowman then described the importance of the geology of the NW to oil and gas development in the Irish Sea Basin. The final presentations of the morning focused on minerals with Roy Starkey showing beautiful photographs of a wide range of well known and less common minerals from the Peak District and Andrew Fielding describing the history of exploitation of salt resources in Cheshire.

Lunch was held in the Great Hall. The afternoon focused on how the geology of the NW now influences resource development in the region. Robert Hunt showed the results of a ground investigation for Wylfa Newydd Nuclear Power Station, and how bedrock geology and faults were mapped and modelled. Cat Hirst gave an excellent summary of the prospects for geothermal energy production from the Triassic sandstones of the Cheshire Basin; the same succession that is the main reservoir for oil and gas offshore. Vanessa Banks described the hydrogeology of the NW and finally Cynthia Burek and Ian Drew gave an overview of their Saltscape Geoconservation Project.

In the evening, around 50 participants gathered at the Manchester Museum for dinner in the fossil gallery. On Sunday, fie d trips were run to the Williamson Tunnels in Liverpool, Apedale Heritage Site in Staffordshire and the Clitheroe Cement orks. There was also a Building Stones tour of Manchester.

The entire event was incredibly well attended with over 100 registrants and feedback on the weekend has been excellent. Many of the attendees came from the NW region, but an almost equal number had travelled up from London and the south east. The organising committee would like to thank all the GA groups, speakers, poster presenters, exhibitors, field trip leaders, sponsors and student helpers for making the event such a success.

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Obituary - Iain Ashworth Williamson

Iain Ashworth Williamson, November 14th 1931 - November 2nd 2019

Iain Ashworth Williamson passed away peacefully on Saturday November 2nd after a short illness. He remained very active until recent months and often enjoyed his walks around Ambleside and then Kendal, where he was resident in his final months.

Iain attended Burnley Grammar School from 1942 - 1950 and Nottingham University from 1955 - 1958, graduating with a B.Sc in Geology and in 1960 with an M.Sc.

From an early age, Iain always had a passion for Field Geology and enjoyed all aspects of mountaineering, maps, history and spent many happy hours immersed in books. He travelled to many parts of the globe, as part of his work and research - including some very remote parts of the South Americas. Iain was a very accomplished golfer and declined the chance to turn professional in favour of his studies.

Iain was devoted to Pat (née Holt), his wife of 60 years, and was the proud father of Roger and Katie and grandfather to Ross, Bill, Ambrose & Digby. His son Roger followed in his footsteps as a geologist, until his death in 2010.

He was elected as a Fellow of The Geological Society in 1953, and then a Senior Fellow.

He was also a Member of:
  The Manchester Geological Association from 1951;
  The Lancashire Group of the Geologists' Association from 1950;
  The Yorkshire Geological Society from 1950;
  The Institution of Mining Engineers from 1965;

He was widely published and wrote several papers over the last 50 years, including several, often referenced, early papers on Tonsteins - and was the author of 'Coal Mining Geology', published in 1967.

He was a Senior Lecturer at The Wigan Mining College from 1958 - 1980 and was a very successful and highly sought-after Geological Consultant since the early 1970s.

In his own words: 'My most fundamental belief is in there being a God to whom all natural things belong. Please do not grieve - and remember me when the wind blows in your face and when you are walking in a blizzard, enjoying the sensation of nature. I'm now on my next and probably my greatest adventure.'

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