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THE DUDLEY VOLCANO - AT BARROW HILL... by Gordon Hensman

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: September 15, 2005

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The Bugle has recorded the region’s past through the memories, documents, photographs etc. of Black Country folk who live and have lived in this wonderful part of the country. Some of the records go back several centuries, but the oldest features are the very rocks on which we stand. There is geology everywhere, but the Dudley area has many features of world class importance, some of which were exploited to form the basic industries which transformed the Anglo-Saxon hamlets of early medieval England into the Black Country we know today, and civilisation itself. This is a piece of really old history – not 100 years ago, or, 1000 years, or, 1 million, but 300 million ago.

A special dispatch from the Bugle’s ”Time” reporter... “The sky is lit by brilliant flashes of lightning playing around an enormous column of black smoke from which great sheets of glowing ash are falling. A bright red line snakes down the volcano’s side as a fiercely hot stream of lava relentlessly pours out of a fiery fissure near the summit.

A sudden violent explosion rents the air and a vast plume of smoke, gas, shattered glowing lava fragments, and glowing dust shoots up into the heavy looming sky. Several large gleaming lumps of lava, rounded and shaped by their brief flight, hit the dusty surface nearby with a loud, squelchy splat.

The sea is steaming as hot ash hits the water surface pock-marked with falling chunks of glowing lava.

The wooded western side of the volcano has disappeared under thick layers of hot ash, every tree buried deeply in the smoking, sulphurous piles of fragmented lava.

A vast, rolling, billowing cloud of glowing dust suddenly roars down from the summit, hitting the shallow sea, boiling it into enormous hissing masses of steam producing a sound as if ten thousand steam engines suddenly opened their valves at once!”

Russell Hall

Hospital Threat!

Take heart, there is no threat to this brand new spanking white hospital . Eruptions such as this took place 300 million years ago on adjacent Barrow Hill which is now very extinct. On the contrary, Action Heart Unit at the hospital is using the park for heart patients and has laid out various paths for them to follow.

How Do We

Know All This?

It is only about 15 years ago that layers of volcanic ash, containing, ”volcanic bombs”, were found and recognised at Tansey Green Clay Pit, just to the west of Barrow Hill. The hill itself shows all the evidence needed to reveal that it is an extinct volcanic neck – just like the one in Edinburgh on which the castle is built. This is where molten lava and scalding hot gases emerged from several miles down in the earth’s crust to build up a volcanic cone of hardened lava flows and ash layers. All this has long since been removed by 300 million years of erosion. The eruptions probably lasted several tens of thousands of years – not continuously but with substantial intervals in between each burst of life.

The plants which grew on its slopes are a little younger than the forests which form the thick coal seams around the Black Country. They were buried deeply under layers of ash, which although charring them, preserved them to this very day. Some of these plants have been found, slightly carbonised, but they are now turned to silica stone, and no doubt there are many more hidden from view. Scientists have been able to examine their cell structure, and they turn out to be the world’s oldest conifers! These developed into our modern day coniferous trees, some forming the tallest trees in the world such as the giant Redwoods. So you could say that Dudley rocks contain the oldest ”Christmas Trees,” in the world – if you want to stretch a point!

Dudley’s volcanic hill was opened to the public by the Mayor, Cllr. Riley, on 20th July this year, as a Local Nature Reserve. It has been developed by The Black Country Geological Society, Dudley Council, English Nature, and Action Heart Unit at Russells Hall Hospital.

In the nineteenth century Barrow Hill was extensively quarried for road metal, but together with Tansy Green Claypit where clay (Etruria Marl) was extracted up to the late 1990’s, it is of such national importance to geologists that it is a Geological Conservation Review site currently being considered as a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest.

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