This special exhibition, which runs until mid-January 2023, is within the Lapworth Museum of Geology on the University of Birmingham campus (B15 2TT) entrance to which is free; open 10am-5pm Monday to Friday and 2pm-5pm at weekends. It is funded by a National Lottery Heritage Fund project, led by the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust, matched by core Arts Council funding to the Museum. Lapworth staff member, Lizzy Goodger led the creation of the exhibition which brings together the story of the huge 19th century intellectual and public interest in the Ice Age in which the Midlands played a key role.
As you can read on our website erraticsproject.org the exhibition features glacial erratics – boulders eroded from the mountains and brought by glaciers to a different location – in the case of Birmingham, most erratics originated from Snowdonia. Over 130 of these boulders are still visible and the Lottery project is creating walking and cycling trails to explore this heritage.
One pivotal character is the H.W. Crosskey, a Unitarian Minister who came to Birmingham from Glasgow where he had made important studies of ice age deposits. He was closely associated with the politician Joseph Chamberlain after whom the University clock tower is named, as well as Professor Charles Lapworth, the first Profesor of Geology. Crosskey became secretary of the Erratic Blocks committee that compiled information on the location of erratics of distinctive rock types that could be trace to their source.
This work resulted in splendid maps showing how the ice sheets moved across the landscape and firmly established the important consequences of the Ice Ages. Crosskey amassed a remarkable collection of samples of these erratics and donated them to Mason College, the forerunner of this University, and they are now amongst the Lapworth Museum’s treasures. You can see the presentation plaque in the showcase in the exhibition along with samples and artwork inspired by the project. Lapworth, together with his former student Louis Barrow, chief engineer at Cadbury’s Bournville Works, brought the Birmingham erratics to the attention of the public and a manuscript letter in the exhibition brings this interaction to life.
An important contributor to the revival of interest in these erratics after a century of neglect is self-styled rockhound Roland Kedge, who in 20 years of retirement has tracked down over 100 of them. Roland was joined by Julie Schroder who as part of her interest in the social history of erratics has researched the Gilbertstone, an erratic giving its name to a district in east Birmingham. They received much support from Museum Director Jon Clatworthy.
In 2017, Jon involved Emeritus Professor Ian Fairchild, via Ian’s role in the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust, in a lottery-funded project in Cotteridge Park near Bournville station. This eventually led to the current Lottery partnership project involving the Trust, together with the Black Country Geological Society and the Birmingham Open Spaces Forum, helping to make an effective link to the citizens of Birmingham.
The exhibition celebrates the role of volunteers, who have been coordinated by geologist Zoe Jackson, developing and promoting the fascinating stories that can be told about the natural history of the erratics and how people relate to them. These volunteers have cleared sites, led walks and cycle rides and contributed photographs to his exhibition.
Leaflets for the first four boulder trails are now available from the Museum or from the Earth Heritage Turst office, These leaflets cover walks from Northfield Great Stone to the University, around Cotteridge Park and Bournville, and in Kings Norton, and a 15-mile cycle route around SW Birmingham.
In 2023, several more trails will be launched and we also plan several interpretation boards, including one about the only genuinely local erratic boulder on the Unviersity of Birmingham campus, discovered in 1909, but whose shockingly unexpected story has never been told. Continue to watch this space!
Many more resources on the project website.
Thanks to National Lottery players.