For centuries several mines and prospects in the Weardale area, have found large amounts of both lead and later, fluorite ores. As a by product of this mining, many well crystallized specimens of fluorite and other minerals were also found and are now public and private collections world-wide . Fortunately for the mineral collecting community, there was a high level of interest in collecting and preserving mineral specimens in the UK during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when many of these mines were at their peak production. This interest provided an economic incentive for miners to preserve attractive specimens, known locally as “Bonnie Bits”, which they could readily sell to collectors and dealers. Coupled with this was a variable, but generally tolerant attitude on the part of the local mining companies toward collecting by the miners.
Mining in Weardale has now come to an end; the collapse of lead prices in the late 19th century caused many local lead mines to cease production. However the rise in demand for fluorspar for use in modern steel-making gave a life line to many of the mines, but the collapse of the British steel industry in the early 1980’s, followed by a surplus of fluorspar from foreign sources has put an end to large scale commercial mining in Weardale, and throughout the UK. The occasional specimen will still show up from collectors who visit quarries and the few underground mines that are still accessible. Attempts at commercial specimen recovery are happening at the Rogerley, Greenlaws, and St. Peter’s Mines. Given the high costs of re-opening and running of an underground mine, coupled with ever-increasing environmental concerns, it is unlikely that the specimen production in the area will ever reach the level as seen in the past.
Many older fluorite specimens from the Weardale area are labelled as coming from “Cumberland”, “Alston”, or “Alston Moor”. Cumberland is an antiquated name for a county that was combined with Westmorland in the 1970’s to create the modern county of Cumbria. Weardale is, and always has been in County Durham to the east of Cumbria, and thus to label Weardale specimens as being from Cumberland is incorrect. The confusion most likely arose during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when most local mineral dealers were operating in the town of Alston, which was in Cumberland – now modern Cumbria. Specimens from the Weardale mines were bought from the miners by the Alston-based dealers, who then provided only generalized location information, either through neglect or in an effort to protect their sources.
This is not to say that all fluorite specimens from the region came from Weardale. The Hilton Mine in Westmorland (now Cumbria) is famous for its amber and yellow fluorite. Good fluorite specimens have also come from the Beaumont (Allenheads) and St. Peters Mines in Northumberland. These, however, are distinctive and not likely to be confused with specimens from the Weardale mines. The Rotherhope Fell Mine, located in Alston Moor is likely to be the one source of confusion. During the first half of the 20th century this mine produced some very good specimens of purple fluorite, which are very similar in appearance to those from any of a number of Weardale mines. Without proper documentation these specimens may be difficult to distinguish from Weardale fluorite.
The Rogerley Mine
Despite the closure of the Weardale mines, a new development of great interest to collectors, is the working of some of the mines on a commercial basis for specimens.
The extraction of fine fluorite specimens is taking place at the Rogerley Mine – thanks to a recent commercial venture and also at the Greenlaws Mine.
In the summer of 1999, an American consortium, UK Mining Ventures, (entrepreneurs in the commercial extraction of mineral specimens, specifically for the collector market), began operations at the Rogerley Mine.
The consortium were in search of the mine’s well-known, typical, rich green cubic fluorite crystals which, in the best examples, often display a strong, daylight fluorescence!
Since then, numerous good specimens of both green and purple crystals have been extracted from several newly-discovered mineralized pockets.
This article is reproduced by kind permission of Keith Birch www.ksccrystals.com