Geology in Northumbrian Museums

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Scrutton, Colin, Editor Northumbrian rocks and landscape: a field guide. 2004. 2nd edition. Published by the Yorkshire Geological Society . Copyright Yorkshire Geological Society, images Copyright Karen Atkinson and Colin Scrutton.

Geology in Northumbrian Museums

By Steve McLean Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne


The museums listed in this guide are situated within the counties of Northumberland, Durham, Tyne and Wear, and Cleveland north of the River Tees. Local museums with geological collections or displays present an ideal starting point from which to investigate the geology of the immediate area. Such institutions tend to collect locally or regionally and often possess top quality specimens acquired over a long period of time, many from localities which are no longer accessible. This is particularly true considering the extensive mining history of the area and the quantity of specimens which have found their way into museums as a direct result. In addition, extensive U.K. or indeed world collections are not uncommon, usually resulting from the prodigious efforts of 19th century collectors during the 'Golden Age' of geology.

In the area represented by this guide, there are three principal geological collections housed in museums. By far the largest is the collection owned by the Natural History Society of Northumbria at the Hancock Museum in Newcastle (currently managed by Tyne and Wear Museums). The earliest part of this collection dates from the beginning of the 19th century and now contains approximately 50 coo specimens, the largest proportion of which are local Carboniferous and Permian fossils. There are over 8000 mineral specimens, principally from the North Pennine Orefield.

The second largest collection, located at Sunderland Museum, is owned by Tyne and Wear Museums. Although the oldest recorded specimen dates back to 1815, the rest of the collection was begun in 1836 when the Sunderland Natural History and Antiquarian Society was founded. There are approximately 20 000 geological specimens, the largest part consisting of Permian fossils and rocks from the Zechstein strata of northeast England. The mineral collection contains over 4000 specimens collected principally from the North Pennine Orefield.

The third largest collection in the area is owned by Cleveland County Council and is housed at the Southlands Centre in Middlesbrough. The geological collection dates from 1975 and currently numbers 12–15 000 specimens, including minerals from northern England, especially the north Pennines, the Lake District and Caldbeck Fells, and regional Carboniferous, Permian and Jurassic fossils.

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Many thanks are due to all the institutions in this guide for providing the above information and particularly to Ken Sedman (Cleveland Geology and Environmental Resources), Tim Pettigrew and Alec Coles (Tyne and Wear Museums), and Andy Newman (University of Newcastle upon Tyne).



At all times follow: Countryside code and Code of conduct for geological field work