John Lawson – Guest Blog

I am pleased to introduce the first, of hopefully many, guest blogs by Mr John Lawson. John has played a significant role in the British and Irish mineral collecting fraternity for the last 50 years and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon! Along with his son Robert they run the successful Moorland Minerals business. John has many fascinating tales of his mineral collecting exploits over the years and I am delighted that he is going to share some of these via this blog.

North of England Mineral Collecting 1 – Alstonite

I first started collecting minerals in the Nenthead area of the Pennines in the mid 1960’s. At that time I learnt that this was the type locality for the rare mineral Alstonite, also initially called Bromlite. The carbonate was initially given this name since it was first found in the Brownley Hill Mine at Nenthead. However it’s name was quickly changed to the now accepted one of Alstonite.


We spent a long time over a 10 year period looking at various locations in the mine for the way to its far end and to the elusive High Cross & Jug Veins, which are at the mine’s extremities. During this search we discovered new mineral sites, but made little progress on discovering the route to the target veins. In the mid 1980’s we were told indirectly of a route into the Brownley Hill High Level, for the mine had been worked via two different adits or entrance tunnels, augmented by shafts. Most of our explorations at this time had been confined to Brownley Hill lower level, also known as Broomsberry Horse level. We found out that another group of mine explorers had discovered a rise from a stope in the workings of the mine which after some 8 metres, enabled us to enter a higher passageway, which is the Brownley Hill High Level. It was a shale passage, partially blocked, and certainly in places, in a very poor condition.
At the far end of this level we came across a shaft descending( called a sump), which we left to explore on another occasion, since we did not have enough tackle to complete its descent safely, on our first exploration. On examining the abandonment mine plan, whose possession, is essential on a project like this one, the sump we had discovered in the Brownley Hill mine High Level, went to the much sought after Jug Vein. All this took place in August 1988.
The next year we carried out explorations in this High Level, and eventually descended the sump onto Jug Vein.This in turn lead to another Horse level which I could not identify, even with the abandonment plan! On this occasion we came out around 8pm, having been underground some 10hours! We were met by headlights which were directed at us. It turned out to be a few local police officers, who had been informed by one of our friends that nobody could be in the mine for so long, and as he knew us, he thought we must be trouble, and had informed the Constabulary!


About this time another well known mineral collector, Lindsay Greenbank, had published a paper confirming that he had refound the Alstonite locality. His access was down a 150 day shaft, which connected to the sump we had descended to the Jug Horse Level. We were definitely getting closer! Then unexpectedly, I received a phone call, from my friend who had informed the constabulary about our late presence in the mine.
He blurted out, being so excited by his news, the Brownley Hill Low Level, is open as far as the Jug Vein. He went on to tell me that a group of mine explorers, whose company we had just joined, had broken through a blockage towards the end of the Low Level, which had given them access to Jug Horse Level.
This group (now defunct), was called the West Cumberland Mines Research Group. The very next weekend we began our exploration of these new, relatively unexplored parts of the mine. We found the connection to Brownley Hill High Raise Vein, and the rise into the stopes that were on it, but unfortunately we still could not find the elusive Alstonite! We contacted Lindsay Greenbank through our friend, and fellow mine explorer, the now late, Norman Thomson. He spoke with Lindsay and confirmed this mineral’s location in the mine, and my son Robert had a dream about where it we would find it and was totally convinced he knew where it would be found!
The very next week we duly arrived at the spot where, Robert indicated, and we found under a pile of deads (these are blocks of stone, discarded by the miners, since they contained no ore), a Westmoreland Gazette and partially wrapped Alstonite specimens (this took place on 6.1.91). We also descended a dump which went down to poor workings in the four fathom limestone. Here some pink Alstonite was found in the bottom of this shaft, (sump). Unfortunately some other collectors, decided it was easier to look for Alstonite by throwing the deads, down this dump, so no more pink Alstonite will be found in this area.