My ’22 Top Ten – 6. The Family Tree

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In July, I went to Clayton St John Primary School in Bradford, to run a Yorkshire Fossils class. This was part of my Stratum Young project, supported by the Geoscience Communications Fund of the Yorkshire Geological Society, and it was lovely to go in and work with the children to discuss, describe and draw the fossils they can find in the county.

I was really keen to show them something local. This is easy when I’m on the coast, but less straightforward inland. As Fossils in t’Hills make abundantly clear, non-coastal Yorkshire has lots of wonderful fossils, but most people aren’t aware of this.

Thankfully, in Clayton, I have my family tree. Robert Foulds, my first cousin four times removed, worked at, and then managed, sandstone quarries in Clayton. By the end of the 19th Century he was in charge of Fall Top Quarry, and on July 7th 1900, the “largest ever fossil tree” was found there.

This was a specimen of Stigmaria, the root system of an ancient lycopsid, or club-moss, and a number of splendid examples had been found at Fall Top previously. Before going in to the school, I popped to Horton Park to admire the Stigmaria on display there.

Stigmaria, a Carboniferous lycopsid tree, on display in Horton Park, Bradford.

I then had just enough time to drive to the west of Clayton, park up, and go for a brisk stroll round the former site of Fall Top Quarry. A new housing development was springing up, but I was able to follow the public footpaths out across the old spoil heaps. Would there be any signs of ancient plants in the overgrown piles of flagstone debris?

The landscaped spoil heap of Fall Top Quarry, Clayton, Bradford.

Fabulously, there were! As I picked my way along the pebbly paths, a piece of Stigmaria popped up. I almost skipped to the school, holding it aloft. Look, kids of Clayton, your very own amazing fossil, fresh from the field! I’m not sure they were quite as excited as I was, but we had a great couple of sessions. It was one of my favourite afternoons of the year.

Earth scientist in York, fossilist across Yorkshire. Co-director of the Yorkshire Fossil Festival and palaeontologist for hire. Can be found twittering, facebooking, and instagramming as @fossiliam.