Beech Caves

Beech Caves, Staffordshire

Now that teaching and exams have finished for another year, thoughts turn to the field. Whilst the likes of Geotripper and Dr Jerque get to visit some spectaclur and unspoilt places, my field work takes me to somewhere interesting but not quite as pretty. These are Beech Caves in Staffordshire.

Beech Caves, Staffordshire

The caves aren’t natural but the result of mining the Triassic Bromsgrove Sandstone (formerly the Keuper Sandstone) for building stone. The pillar and stall workings were begun possibly in 1633 for the construction of the nearby Trentham Hall. The Trentham records for August 31st 1633 note a Roger Low being paid 22 pence per score for carrying 130 foot of stone from Beech.

Trentham Hall 1686
Trentham Hall 1686 : Image source – Lost Heritage

This was the first of several halls at Trentham, being rebuilt in 1690 and again in the 1830s, ultimately becoming one of the finest buildings in England. Unfortunately, pollution from the growing Potteries conurbation filled the lakes with sewage and the magnificent hall was abandoned and demolished in 1912. The gardens did remain and now the lakes have been cleaned and the gardens refurbished (well worth a visit) there are plans to rebuild the hall as a five star hotel.

Beech Caves, Staffordshire

Beech Caves still show the evidence of the hand-pick marks by the miners as they followed a layer of pale-coloured sandstone dipping gently down into the hillside. The thick overburden made mining rather than quarrying a more attractive proposition.

In more recent times the caves were probably used as a munition store in the second world war but lately they have been used for raves and other undesirable activities. The caves are now litter strewn and graffiti covered. The land owner and the local council now want to block off the entrances to stop the ne’er-do-wells from getting in. However, in doing so, they will bury an important piece of Staffordshire’s geological history. It would be a great shame if these historic pillar and stall workings were lost. Whilst understanding the landowner’s concerns for the site, it is hoped that some limited, secure access can be maintained for historians and geologists alike.

Beech Caves, Staffordshire

Reference: Middleton T, 1986. A survey of Beech Cave, Staffordshire. Bulletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society, 9, 401-403

Shark!

On a field trip to the Peak District this weekend. He is a close up of some Lower Carboniferous shark dermal denticles.

Also some nice crinoid fragments.

Wenlock Edge

Two visits this weekend to Wenlock Edge, Shropshire with strongly contrasting weather (cold and wet on Saturday, warm and sunny on Sunday). This is Knowle Quarry at Presthope, the original GSSP of the Wenlock, and studied by Roderick Impey Murchison in his establishment of the Silurian System. Knowle Quarry is owned by the National Trust and open to the public but being a SSSI no collecting of material is allowed.

There are two distinct facies present, massive reef knolls and interbedded limestones and marls. The red colour in the photograph is below is iron staining on a strike-slip fault plane that cuts the reefs, the near horizontal slickenside lineations can be seen on the surface.

After studying the features here we moved on to the neighbouring Lea Quarry, which was active until recently. Note that the quarry is on private land and permission from the landowner must be given before entering. Here is the margin between the two main facies.

Here the recently quarried faces and the low sun (on the Sunday at least) led to some very successful fossil hunting. Note that I’m a geophysicist who was along on the trips as a van driver so I apologise in advance for any mis-identification.

Crinoid and brachiopod fragments
Ketophyllum
Favosites
Heliosites
Stromatoporoid