Mottram Mine, and the story of Mottramite

The story of Mottramite started in 1876, when H.E. Roscoe presented a paper to the Royal Society, in which described a new vanadium mineral found in ore piles awaiting treatment at the Mottram mine, in the Village of Mottram St Andrew, near Alderley Edge in Cheshire.

The mineral was called Mottramite.

His specimens were obtained a year earlier in 1875, by which time the underground workings at Mottram had stopped working. In 1954, Arthur Kingsbury, supported in his observations by Sir Arthur Russell, came to the conclusion that the ore piles awaiting treatment at Mottram were actually from Pim Hill in Shropshire, where there was a mine briefly working in 1875 and 1876. Examination of the known 'type' specimens reveals that they compare very closely with samples obtained from Pim Hill more recently.

There the story rested, until 21 September 1980. At the time, I was living in Mottram, and was determined to gain access to the workings. After talking to many of the locals, we drew a blank. One night, the local woodcutter came into the pub, and told the story of hearing bagpipes playing in his garden in certain weather conditions. He pinpointed an area from which the noise came, and we set about investigating. Next morning, armed with pointed metal rods, we probed the ground until we found 2 huge sandstone slabs, which had been used to cap a shaft. Moving one of them aside, we excitedly explored a brick lined shaft about 20 feet deep, which gave way to beautifully hand-hewn sandstone for another 10 or 15 feet. It is perfectly round, the walls smooth, as though cut by a boring machine. Exploratory digging in the debris at the bottom revealed levels leading off in two directions, which were explored. I collected a number of pieces of a black botryoidal mineral from a fault running across the level roof and into a small mineralised working.

The specimens remained in a drawer for almost a year, until one day, Dick Barstow was rummaging through drawers and boxes of specimens at my house, and found the Mottram material. He went very quiet - turning the specimens over in his hand and saying nothing. After a while, he said 'Where did you get this?' My only reaction was a knowing smile. 'Ok.. I'll check it out, and if it's what I think it is, you show me where.. ok?' Deal done, Dick pocketed some of the pieces and went back to Cornwall a few days later, loaded with his latest consignment of Campylite and Hydraulic Shaft sphalerite from me.

Early in the New Year of 1981, the telephone rang - it was Dick. 'Its bloody Mottramite you bugger - I'm on the way up and you're taking me to it!'

I've seldom known Dick so excited. He arrived the next day and we headed up to Alderley. Even then, he didnt know where it came from. I stopped at Harry's house, and parked the landrover by the barns, unrolling an electron ladder and clipping it to the towbar before casually sliding the slab aside and throwing the ladder down. Dicks eyes positively bulged, and I knew we were in for a few beers in the pub that night.

We spent two days working the little seam I had found, opening into an area of extensive lead mineralisation - in which mottramite lined the walls, and was covered with corroded yellow globules, which looked like mimetite. Its funny - Dick resisted all attempts at photography, and I took dozens of photos of him hacking mottramite specimens out - when the film was developed, they were all blank. I've only one blurred photo of him underground, despite the hundereds of hours we spent together in mines all over the place.

The mine is now inaccessible - old Harry Grange is long gone, and his little cottages replaced by a film star mansion with 5 car garage where the sheds and barns were. I think I preferred it the way it was.

The minerals...

Analysis of the material was carried out by the late George Ryback, his final report dated 12th October 1982, shortly after Dick was tragically felled by cancer. By this time I was in Australia and was not able to return to the site and undertake more detailed survey and photography.

The mottramite-duftite series of minerals are notably difficult to define, and George worked with Chris Stanley at the British Museum to better understand the material. The Mottram material turns out to be slightly closer to duftite than mottramite, and Ryback prefers in his final report to qualify it as vanadian duftite. There are still some olive green crystals present on the mottramite botryoids, which have never been identified.

The yellow spheroids which occur on, and underneath the mottramite are similarly difficult to name, but Ryback in the end decided to call them mimetite-pyromorphite (ca. 1:1 intermediate), with shells of arsenate free pyromorphite (polysphaerite).

The specimens shown here are some of the finest recovered. All are in the Pete Ward collection.


on top of mimetite

mottramite again


The Mottram site

The Mottram Mine site (shaft behind tractor)

the slab

The slab removed...

The shaft

Looking down the shaft...