As time permits, I'll build this page into something of a backwards blog - notes, jottings, thoughts of times gone by when I used to collect with Dick Barstow and hit all the best sites.
We collected Campylite from Drygill, Sphalerite from Smallclough mine, Fluorite from the Weardale, Barite from Cumberland, Promorphite from Roughtongill and Burgam... the list goes on into Cornwall, Scotland, Wales and overseas into Greece - Laurium, and Morocco - Mibladen and Boa Azzer, Australia, China...
The list of people we used to work with reads a bit like a who's who of the mineral worlds greats. They were great days, and we had a lot of fun finding fabulous specimens, great new sites, and drinking lots of beer.
After a 20 year lay-off, enforced by my working in Australian gold mines, I'm back in the UK and ready to go again. A bit older and wiser no doubt.,
Hopefully these pages will give a little insight.. some background to the great discoveries, some laughs, and a bit of colour to the specimens that now grace collections all over the place...
Peter Embrey and the Natural History Museum
The 1970’s – halcyon days for a collector in the north of England, and the Barstow phenomenon.
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 (whick 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.
On our return, we went to Cornwall. I was 7 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..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. 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....!
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.
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, with a foaming pint. 'Pete.... we've drunk together all these years, you and me - here's your first LEGAL pint!!'
I'd seen some bright red crystals from Caldbeck - a place called Drygill. I wanted some. Badly. 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. 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 that we just had to come to grips with. More digs were organised, and I soon 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. One day 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 stope.
The Range Rover at the shaft entrance in later years... Farm in the background at the bottom of the valley.
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. 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.
This was the biggest and most spectacular campylite vug we ever found intact. It took nearly a week to drill around the cavity and extract the specimens - the quartz matrix of the vein is iron-hard, and chisels just bounce off it. Most of this vug is still in my collection
Pete - 2005
In Elba.. I'd just bought a big ilvaite crystal...!
Redburn mine in the Weardale
First trip to Drygill!
..and another trip. The top of the main shaft. Clearing snow from the lid.
Main stope in Drygill
Collecting underground in the main stope at Drygill. Note the black psilomelane soot everywhere.