Humberside Geologist No. 14

The work of G.W. Lamplugh in understanding the Quaternary history of East Yorkshire

By John A. Catt

In his talk to the Hull Geological Society, Lamplugh (1898) raised several questions about the Quaternary history of East Yorkshire. Some have since been answered fairly satisfactorily, but others are still "open questions":

a) Are the buried cliffs exposed at Sewerby and Hessle contemporaneous? Lamplugh declared he was "not quite satisfied" that they are. The cliff feature itself is continuous and extends into Lincolnshire at constant height (base at approximately 2 m above OD). The associated fauna is warm-loving at Sewerby (elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, etc), yet cold-tolerant at Hessle (horse, reindeer, etc), as indicated by the later work of Sheppard (1908), Boylan (1967) and others. This is probably because the faunas are from deposits of different ages (Ipswichian at Sewerby, Devensian at Hessle) overlying the Chalk. However, the cliff itself is Ipswichian throughout.

b) Are there any deposits beneath the Basement Till under Holderness? Do the freshwater beds (Cromerian) of Norfolk extend northwards? The borehole at Kilnsea later reported by Lamplugh himself (1919) showed that till resembling the Basement extends almost down to the Chalk surface at -30 m OD, with only a thin layer of chalk rubble (periglacial gelifluction deposit) between the two. The petrographic uniformity of the Basement Till over most of this thickness was confirmed by later boreholes at Easington for the North Sea Gas Terminals (Catt & Digby, 1988). So no older Quaternary deposits like those in East Anglia are currently known in Holderness.

c) Were the Wolds ever completely overridden by a glacier and what happened west of the Wolds between the Humber and Derwent? On the eastern slopes of the Wolds and North York Moors, the Late Devensian (Marine Isotope Stage 2) ice limit is best indicated by the margin of the Skipsea Till, as shown on British Geological Survey maps. Above this limit, the main drift deposit is Late Devensian loess, but occasional erratics, including the quartzite pebbles later reported by Stather (1906), suggest an earlier glaciation of uncertain age. When this occurred is still an open question.

The Quaternary history of the southern Vale of York was reconstructed in great detail by Gaunt (1981). He extended the Late Devensian ice limit south of the usually accepted Escrick Moraine by 50 km to a belt of gravels between Thorne and Wroot, a result of a surge of the glacier into the waters of Lake Humber. But Straw (2002) noted several problems with this, and recent BGS work has confirmed there is no evidence for Late Devensian ice south of Escrick. Like other patches of gravels and grey till at high levels within the Vale of York, Gaunt’s gravels probably resulted from an Anglian (Marine Isotope Stage 12) ice advance about 450,000 BP, which extended south into the east Midlands and East Anglia. However, there is no evidence that this glacier covered Holderness, the Wolds or the Moors. As the remanié glacial deposits on the Wolds and Moors are even sparser than those in the Vale, they are probably pre-Anglian. The effects of Anglian glaciation east of the Derwent are still unclear, though some till and gravels are shown near the foot of the scarp slope on BGS maps.

I intend to concentrate the remainder of my talk on Lamplugh’s fourth question, which he described as the "vital question" – was there just one glaciation in East Yorkshire, or is there evidence for one or more interglacial periods?

Lamplugh became justifiably famous for his early factual accounts of glacial deposits in the Bridlington, Flamborough and Speeton area (1879, 1882, 1883 etc). In terms of how observations should be made, they were almost a century ahead of their time, and put East Yorkshire at the forefront of Quaternary studies in the late 19th Century. They are also valuable because many exposures he described are no longer visible (e.g. behind Bridlington sea-walls).

But in the late 1880s he became a convinced monoglacialist, and it is clear he then became willing to ignore or misinterpret evidence that conflicted with a monoglacial view. With the benefit of hindsight based on extensive biostratigraphical and isotopic work elsewhere, we now know a monoglacial view is untenable, and indeed Lamplugh initially had an open mind. In his 1879 paper on the Divisions of the Glacial Beds in Filey Bay, he wrote: "It is not indeed strictly necessary to suppose that each of the dividing lines which can be traced in these beds marks a long interglacial period. Whether they do or not is a matter of theory; but they are worthy of attention, even if simply as forming good lines of division in the same way that the adjacent Neocomian clays of Speeton have been divided into numerous well-marked zones. Nevertheless there is evidence which convinces me that long and widespread breaks have occurred in the forces which brought together these clays".

His monoglacialist views were most strongly expressed in his Presidential Address to Section C of the British Association (1907) and a paper read to the International Geological Congress in Canada (1914). But they emerged earlier in the 1898 Hull GS lecture, and even by the late 1880s had influenced his account of the section at Sewerby.

Reid (1885) originally described the till overlying the Sewerby buried cliff as the Lower Purple ( = Skipsea Till in modern terms), and Lamplugh’s first account of the section (1888) agreed with this, though both authors were puzzled by the absence of the Basement at Sewerby. However, in his 1890 and all later papers, he insisted that this till is the Basement (at the time and even today the oldest known till in East Yorkshire), so that he could refer to the cliff and associated deposits as "Preglacial", not interglacial.

Everyone who has subsequently studied this till in any detail (Melmore 1935; Bisat 1939; Penny 1959; Catt and Penny 1966; Madgett and Catt 1978; Thomson 2003) has correlated it with the Skipsea Till, based on colour, erratic suite, particle size distribution and mineralogy. Also, Catt and Penny described temporary beach exposures at Sewerby in 1963 showing that the beach deposit associated with the buried cliff extends southwards to overlie the Basement.

So it is clear that Lamplugh was incorrect to change his mind. I suggest he did so to eliminate evidence that the cliff and associated deposits are interglacial (formed between deposition of the Basement and Lower Purple = Skipsea). From the faunal evidence (Boylan 1967) and thermoluminescence dating (Bateman and Catt 1996), we now know the deposits are Last Interglacial in age, i.e. Ipswichian (MIS 5e, 125,000-120,000 BP).

One might ask what evidence Lamplugh gave to support his change of mind about the identification of the till. Those he gave in published papers all seem peculiarly obscure and unreasonable:

a) In his 1882 and 1883 Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society papers, describing cliff and shore exposures before the present Bridlington sea-wall was built, he showed that Lower Purple overlies Basement (as identified before his change of mind) for 2 km north-eastwards as far as Limekiln Lane, about 900 m from the critical section at Sewerby. Near Limekiln Lane the two were separated by chalk-rubble (Lamplugh 1882). The Basement was confirmed by L.F.Penny on Bridlington north shore in May 1964 and also seen later on a Yorkshire Geological Society field excursion in September 1964.

Then in his 1890 paper, Lamplugh stated that over this 900 m coast section the Basement "rises into the cliff-foot as we approach Sewerby and finally mounts to the top of the Chalk by a long slope, whereon it is seen to over-ride and inosculate with the thick chalk-rubble which lies over the buried cliff."

The 1963 shore exposures over this 900 m section in fact showed that the Basement does not rise into the cliff-foot, and is overlain rather than underlain by the chalk- rubble. In palaeontological and lithological terms, the chalk-rubble is a typical chalkland periglacial head or coombe deposit of Late Devensian age, probably deposited just before the ice arrived to deposit the Skipsea Till. As such, it is very unlikely it could have inosculated (passed laterally by interfingering) into a till. Also Basement Till was described by Lamplugh (1891) at Beacon Hill, 3 km east of Sewerby, and can still be seen there today. So a till would have to change laterally into a periglacial deposit and back into till again within 4 km. Significantly the inosculation idea was not repeated in his later detailed account of the chalk-rubble (Lamplugh 1903).

b) In the 1890 paper he supported his contention that the chalk-rubble underlies the Basement at Sewerby by equating it with a similar deposit encountered beneath 7 m of Basement in a borehole he made on Bridlington north shore near Sands Cut (now Trinity Cut). But this seems to contradict both the idea of Basement passing laterally into chalk-rubble, and his own record (1882) of chalk-rubble overlying Basement near Limekiln Lane. Clearly there could easily be two chalk-rubbles, one pre-Basement (as in the Kilnsea borehole) and one post-Basement, as such deposits are known to have formed repeatedly in chalk country during cold stages of the Pleistocene.

c) Similarly he could also have used (but as far as I know never did) the suggestion by Reid (1885) that a chalky gravel like the beach shingle at Sewerby was found beneath Basement in boreholes at Bridlington harbour. But again there could be two beach shingles, one pre- and one post-Basement.

d) The only other part of G. W. Lamplugh’s argument that the Sewerby beach deposit is preglacial was that the Chalk surface beneath Holderness is a simple extension of the marine erosion platform declining away from the buried cliff. But this is wrong because:

    1. The 1963 exposures on Sewerby shore described by Catt and Penny (1966) showed that the platform transgresses from Chalk onto Basement Till within 125 m. The outcrop of the Chalk currently visible on Sewerby shore suggests that there could be an older (pre-Basement) cliff 60 m south of the Ipswichian cliff – this needs investigating by a shallow geophysical survey. If true, it would explain the two beach shingles.
    2. Thomson (2003) used the numerous 20th Century records of boreholes reaching the Chalk under central Holderness to suggest a steep N-S slope at -20 to -25 m OD several km east of the Ipswichian cliff, and this could also be an earlier buried cliff.
    3. As Valentin (1957) and Thomson (2003) showed, the sub-drift Chalk surface was strongly modified before deposition of the Basement by deeply incised W-E channels cut either subglacially or subaerially at a time of very low sea-level (i.e. during a cold stage of the Pleistocene), so it isn’t preglacial.

Misidentification of the till at Sewerby is not just of historical interest, as Eyles et al. (1994) perpetuated Lamplugh’s error by using his later opinion to support their contention, based on Amino-Acid Dating of Macoma balthica shells from the Basement Till at Dimlington, that the till is Late Devensian in age (i.e. MIS 2). This dating was reiterated in the London Geological Society’s "Revised Correlation of Quaternary Deposits in the British Isles" (Bowen, 1999). As elsewhere, where amino acid dates contradict simple stratigraphic relationships, there must be something wrong with them, and the support of the great name of Lamplugh cannot overrule this. The stratigraphic relations at Sewerby more likely remain as suggested by Catt and Penny (1966).

As far as eastern England was concerned, the first nail in the coffin of monoglacialism was driven home by the British Association 1904 borehole at Kirmington, North Lincolnshire, which showed that the estuarine clay and peat there are underlain and overlain by glacial tills. The upper till is weathered Skipsea Till in Holderness nomenclature (i.e. MIS 2), the estuarine deposits are Hoxnian (Watts 1959, i.e. MIS 11) and the lower till, according to Stather, who as BA Committee Secretary wrote the report (Stather 1905), "resembles in colour the Basement of Holderness".

However, I suspect Stather’s correlation with the Basement was incorrect, as elsewhere he wrote that it was "lead-coloured" (i.e. neutral grey, N of Munsell Colour Chart) and not the yellowish grey (5Y) typical of the Basement at Dimlington, Bridlington and other East Yorkshire sites. A neutral grey colour would suggest correlation with the Chalky Boulder Clay of eastern England, the Lincolnshire equivalents of which are the Kimmeridge Clay-rich Wragby Till and the Oxford Clay- and Lias-rich variants of the Heath Till (as described by Straw 1969).

Neutral grey till occurs widely in the nearby Ancholme Valley south of Brigg and was recorded by Gaunt et al. (1992) at Melton Gallows Farm, only 5 km west of Kirmington. So this correlation is more likely than with the Basement. However, we really need to re-examine the lower till at Kirmington. Unfortunately there are no samples from the 1904 borehole, and the BGS 1972 borehole at Kirmington encountered no till between the interglacial deposits and the Chalk.

In Yorkshire neutral grey till occurs only as part of the presumed Anglian (MIS 12) older drift of the Vale of York, so the Anglian ice stream probably spread eastwards south of the Humber Gap at least as far as Kirmington. But this part of it would have come across the poorly known area between the Derwent and the Wolds, where the main grey clay source material is the narrow outcrop of the Ancholme Group. So it is important to discover whether there is there any grey till here like that at Kirmington?

Lamplugh’s comments on the evidence from Kirmington, in his 1914 paper written 8 years after Stather’s report on the BA borehole, are interesting. After rather grudgingly admitting that the estuarine deposit "is indeed the one deposit among those which I have examined, which at first sight seems to suggest interglacial conditions", he goes on to assert that it "accumulated in an inlet between bare land to the west and the temporarily receding ice front to the east". In view of the abundant warm-loving molluscs (e.g. cockle, mussel) and plant remains (e.g. sedges, reeds, crowfoot, Compositae such as nipplewort) recorded previously by Reid (1885) and E.T.Newton (Stather 1905) from the Kirmington deposits, this seems a particularly unlikely depositional environment. It shows again how Lamplugh was willing to ignore or misinterpret evidence that conflicted with his prejudice for monoglacialism.

So what are the "open questions" today?

a) What is the lower till at Kirmington? Is it MIS 12, and can it be explained by ice that came from the area east of the Derwent? We really need another borehole at Kirmington.

b) When was the Basement deposited? It must be older than MIS 5e (Ipswichian), but is it MIS 6, as recently suggested by Clark et al. (2004)? The best opportunity of dating is at Welton-le-Wold near Louth, where a till resembling the Basement is underlain by gravels. Recent dating of the gravels by John Aram suggest the Basement here was deposited in either MIS 6 or MIS 8.

c) Lamplugh’s misidentification of the Basement at Sewerby puts in some doubt his accounts (Lamplugh 1891) of its occurrence elsewhere on Flamborough Head, especially at High Stacks and Pigeon Hole. These need reinvestigating.

d) When were higher parts of the Yorkshire Wolds and Moors glaciated?

e) Are there two buried cliffs at Sewerby?

There is still much for local Quaternary geologists to investigate.


Author’s address - Prof J A Catt, Geography Department, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP



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