Geology of Nottinghamshire

DR. BUCKLAND, in his famous ‘Bridgewater Treatise,’ says that if three foreigners visited England with the intention of examining and describing its general natural features, and agreed to walk separately through the country from north to south, one choosing Western England, another Central England, and the third Eastern England, each one would take back to his native land an entirely different report. What is thus true of England as a whole is certainly true of Nottinghamshire considered by itself. A traveller through the western portion of Notts would say that the county was a ‘black country,’ and that the inhabitants were engaged in coal mines and limestone quarries; a traveller through the centre of Notts would say that the county had a poor, dry, sandy soil, abounded in uncultivated tracts and dense forests, but had glorious woodland scenery; a traveller through the eastern portion would report that the county had a rich and well-cultivated soil, good meadow and pasture land, and that the inhabitants mainly occupied themselves in agriculture.

The variation in these reports would be accounted for by the fact that in Notts its rock-formations (and it is from the disintegration of rock-formations that ‘surface soils’ arise) run in long narrow bands, extending from north to south. A traveller through Notts, moving from north to south, would remain for practically the whole distance on one geological formation; but a traveller moving from east to west would cross successively all the rock-formations to be found in the county.

The coal-bearing strata, which have been pierced to considerable depths in the western parts of Nottinghamshire, consist of a series of beds of sandstone, shale, clay, and ironstone, with seams of coal at intervals. These beds are not horizontal, but have a decided dip to the east. In the shales fossil-ferns of great beauty may frequently be found.

Probably nothing affects the future of Nottinghamshire so much as the question, whether the coal-measures, after they have disappeared below the surface of the ground in Western Notts, persist in the easterly dip until they finally thin out altogether at a vast depth underground, or whether they gradually lose the dip, become horizontal1 and eventually rise again with a westerly dip. In other words the question is, Are the coal-measures under Nottinghamshire basin-shaped? It is certain that they do not rise again so as to crop out at the surface of the ground, but it is quite possible, nevertheless, that they rise again in the direction of Lincolnshire, although they do not become visible, being overlaid by other and more recently-formed rocks. Sir Roderick Murchison brought forward this problem—which is of vast commercial importance as well as scientific interest—at the meeting of the British Association held at Nottingham, in 1866. In 1871 the same question was considered before the Royal Commission on Coal, and some of our ablest geologists favoured the view that the coal measures under Nottinghamshire are basin-shaped, and may be met with again farther to the east. A recent boring at South Scarle, on the border of Lincolnshire, was made, but, unfortunately, was abandoned before a solution of this all-important question could be arrived at. If the coal-measures are basin-shaped, coal can be found at workable depths under the whole of Nottinghamshire.

Mr. Tylden Wright, F.G.S., in his article on the ‘ Geology of Sherwood Forest’ (White’s ‘Worksop, the Dukery, and Sherwood Forest’), says: ‘Those who have so long revelled in the wildness and solitude of old Sherwood—reduced in area, but still unrivalled in this country—will think with regret of the change that must in the course of years come over such a scene, when the old oaks will give place to the lofty chimneys, the stag to the collier or mechanic, and the solitude will be broken by the engine’s throb; but such a day must come when the more accessible seams to the west of this district become exhausted.’

In our sketch of the geology of Nottinghamshire we will travel from west to east, and the next formation with which we come in contact after the coal-measures is the magnesian limestone. This formation can be seen exposed in many railway cuttings and quarries near Mansfield, Shireoaks, and other places. The fossils are few, dwarfed and badly preserved. The various chemical elements in the waters of deposition seem to have been unfavourable to life. The Houses of Parliament are built of magnesian limestone, but the atmosphere of London has proved too much for the stone. In clearer atmosphere, however, its suitability for building purposes is well proved, and may be well seen in the nave of the ancient Cathedral of Southwell. The most picturesque exposure of the magnesian limestone in Nottinghamshire is at Creswell Crags, near Worksop. Here time and a running stream have carved out and fashioned a long ravine. On each side of the stream in the tall limestone cliffs are deep caverns, which have recently been explored by a committee of the British Association. In these caverns have been found an amazing number of remains of animals long ago extinct in this country. Amongst these were the lion, tiger, leopard, hyena, wolf, bear, rhinoceros, bison, hippopotamus, Arctic fox, and the elephant. Doubtless the Creswell caves were in ages past the abode of the cave-dwelling hyenas who dragged their prey into these recesses in the rock. A large proportion of the bones found were gnawed after the manner peculiar to the hyena tribe. In one of these caves the writer discovered a ‘first milk molar’ of the mammoth (Elepizas primigenius), which completed the national collection of the teeth of the mammoth. Before this specimen was handed over to the British Museum, it was described by Sir Richard Owen, F.R.S., before the Geological Society of London.  A portion of Creswell Crags is in Derbyshire, but the magnesian limestone of that spot is a totally distinct rock from the ‘mountain limestone,’ which is such a familiar feature in the scenery of Derbyshire.