Urban geology: The Worsley Park wall game, Manchester

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Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands)

Wall games are a very geological form of light entertainment and education. I certainly have amused myself by identifying rocks and their features in walls since my days as an undergraduate and before. I was introduced to the name for the wall game (obvious, I know) by Eric Robinson (1996, 1997). Eric’s examples inspired me to devise my own version of a wall game in far-flung Jamaica. At the time, I was a member of the teaching staff in geology at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Kingston. Each semester, we took the first year classes for three one-day field excursions. As cash was getting ever tighter.

I hit upon the money-saving idea of running one of the first trips on campus where there were various ‘urban geological’ features worthy of note. One of these was the stone base of a ruined building that had survived from Mona’s days as a sugar plantation. The rocks in the base were a marvellous mixture of blocks and rounded boulders, presumably collected from the bed of the nearby Hope River, which drains the mountainous country to the east of the university. This trip worked well and, after a few years, the late Trevor Jackson and I published a field guide based on my excursion (Donovan and Jackson, 2000).

The primary criterion for a geologically interesting and educational wall game is a good variety of rocks. The Mona wall game was most satisfactory in this respect, with a mixture of sedimentary and igneous clasts and worked blocks, and even one specimens with a fault running through it (Donovan and Jackson, 2000, fig. 3D-H). But such diverse compendiums of rock types are rare because stone walls have commonly been built from a local source of rock, such as from loose boulders in a river or collected when clearing a field (Anon, 2002).

These are commonly composed of one type, that is, the rock that occurs in local outcrop (Nield, 2014). Yet I do not regard this as a problem – rather than searching for different rock types, you can still look for a variety of features shown by one or a few types of local rocks. For example, when on holiday in the White Peak of the Peak District of Derbyshire, I always examine the Carboniferous limestones of the dry stone walls for fossils.

Sedimentary structures are also an interest if mine, particularly trace fossils in walls (for example, Donovan, 2016, fig. 2H), but also physically- and chemically-controlled structures such as cross-bedding and nodules. This brings me to the Marriott Worsley Park Hotel and Country Club in Manchester. I first stayed in this most comfortable of hotels with my family in 2009 and have been back several times since. The main entrance is down a short slope with a car turning circle, flanked on one side by a slightly sinuous stone wall (Fig. 1). When the site was being rebuilt from its previous (derelict) agricultural origins into a luxury hotel (Redman, 1998), I presume that this wall was built from blocks and boulders already available on the site. In turn, these were likely to have been obtained locally when the original buildings were constructed. It is this wall and its wall game that I want to describe after my most recent visit.

Figure 1
Fig. 1. The wall at the Marriott Worsley Park. Beware that this is a drop-off point and turning circle for cars, so use caution and do not cause an obstruction. Author’s backpack (lower left) for scale.

The rocks that outcrop in the area local to Worsley Park are from the Upper Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) Pennine Coal Measures Group, particularly the Pennine Middle Coal Measures Formation, and the Triassic New Red Sandstone of the Sherwood Sandstone Group, mainly the Chester Pebble Beds Formation (Crofts et al., 2012). The rocks in the Worsley Park wall (Fig. 1) are most probably derived from these units and are mainly Coal Measures. All rocks are siliciclastics, mainly medium- to coarse-grained sandstones, with some pebble conglomerates (Figs. 2 and 3). The principal mineralogy of the blocks is, where the surface is clean enough to see quartzitic (for example, Figs. 2B and 3E). The colours range from pale grey (perhaps ganisters; Tucker, 2011, p. 42) to a straw-brown (Coal Measures) to, less common, a deep purple-red (New Red Sandstone).

It is possible that at least some of the latter may include Carboniferous rocks that have been secondarily reddened (Crofts et al., 2012, pl. 3). Although boulders are cemented into the wall with bedding horizontal (such as in Figs. 2D, F, H and I, and 3) to tilted (Fig. 2B and G) to vertical (Fig. 2 A, C and E), I did not see any undoubted cross bedding. In some blocks, the direction of bedding is enhanced by the growth of moss (Fig. 2E). One boulder has a diagenetic development of a haematitic iron pan between bedding planes (for example, Fig. 2A and C).

Figure 2
Fig. 2. Details from the Worsley wall game. All scale bars in centimetres. (A, C) Block mounted with bedding oriented vertically. Bedding is emphasised by a haematitic pan (A), presumably diagenetic in origin. The red colour of the haematite seen in detail on a clean surface in (C). (B) Clean, coarse-grained sandstone. Bedding is dipping gently to the right, as indicated by the particularly coarse-grained bed in the lower half of the block. Note rare pebbles. (D) Block with bedding oriented horizontally. Bedding is emphasised by thin stringers of pebbles that have either dropped out or been eroded out; particularly note the lens-shaped hole left by a presumed large mud clast in the centre. (E) Block with bedding oriented vertically. The direction of bedding is enhanced by the growth of moss along bedding planes. The bedding planes rich in small pebbles are easiest to recognise; note prominent, moderately rounded quartz pebble in centre. (F) Detail of an unusually large mud ‘rip-up’ clast or, at least, the hole where it has been eroded away. (G) Block with bedding dipping to the right. Horizons rich in mud clasts that have largely been eroded away emphasise bedding in the upper half of this block. (H, I) Two lithologically similar slabs of sandstone, both with bedding dipping gently to the left. Bedding is emphasised by the very numerous small pebbles and holes left by pebbles that have dropped out.

Pebbles in conglomerates are either preserved in situ, mainly quartz with some rock fragments (Figs. 2E and 3F), or are mud ‘rip-up’ clasts that have been partially or entirely eroded away, leaving elongate holes in the rock (Figs. 2D, E and G, and 3G). Quartz and lithic pebbles are moderately rounded (Fig. 3F), suggesting that they have a history of fluvial transport. Sand grains are not well-rounded, but angular, indicating that they were not formed in the desert (Figs. 2B and 3E).

Figure 3
Fig. 3. Details from the Worsley wall game. All blocks with bedding horizontal. All scale bars in centimetres. (A) Block with bedding defined by holes produced by the loss of flattened pebbles. (B) Block of red sandstone – either secondarily coloured Coal Measures or New Red Sandstone – with bedding defined by holes left by loss of flattened pebbles, possibly mud ‘rip-up’ clasts. (C) A massive, pale-coloured and quartz-rich sandstone block with poorly-defined bedding. (D) A pale-coloured, quartz-rich sandstone block with well-defined bedding. The bedding is defined by some moderately well-rounded lithic pebbles and stringers of small pebbles. (E) Detail of a quartz-rich sandstone comprised of angular grains. (F) A well-rounded lithic(?) pebble in a sandstone block well covered by mosses. (G) Another mossy sandstone, with numerous holes produced by pebbles, some of which are flattened (presumably mud ‘rip-up’ clasts), which define the bedding.

One thing of which I am confident is that, although I have spotted some interesting features in this wall, I have not caught them all. In particular, I failed to find any evidence of fossil plants in rocks that I have assumed were mainly derived from the Coal Measures. I invite those in the Manchester area to see both what I have described and to discover what I have not. I shall be back to add to my observations in the not too distant future, I hope. Whatever, this is one of the rare geological sites where I can be confident that there is a comfortable bar and restaurant close at hand in which to relax and reflect on my observations.

Other articles in this series include:
Urban geology: Productid brachiopods in Amsterdam and Utrecht
Urban geology: The Boxtel wall game
Urban geology: A failed example of gabions as false urban geology from the Netherlands
Urban geology: The strange tale of a windowsill
Urban geology: Gabions in the Dutch townscape
Urban geology: A rostroconch in Hoofddorp
Urban geology: The Worsley Park wall game, Manchester
Urban geology: New Red Sandstone at Amsterdam Airport
Urban geology: Monumental geology
Urban geology: A sunny Sunday in Hoofddorp
Urban geology: Two granites
Urban geology: Boulders and the Dutch
Urban geology: Palaeontology at the Wagamama restaurant, Amsterdam
Urban geology: An inselberg in Rotterdam
Urban geology: brush up your neoichnology
Urban geology: The battery on the Sloterweg


Anon. 2002. Dry Stone Walls: The National Collection. Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, Sutton Coldfield, 64 pp.

Crofts, R.G., Hough, E., Humpage, A.J. & Reeves, H.J. 2012. Geology of the Manchester district – a brief explanation of the geological map. Sheet Explanation of the British Geological Survey, 1:50 000 Sheet 85 Manchester (England and Wales): 45 pp.

Donovan, S.K. 2016. Annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, Baltimore, November 2015. Deposits, 46: 9-12.

Donovan, S.K. & Jackson, T.A. 2000. Field guide to the geology of the University of the West Indies campus, Mona. Caribbean Journal of Earth Science, 34 (for 1999): 17-24.

Nield, T. 2014. Underlands: A Journey through Britain’s Lost Landscape. Granta, London, xvii+251 pp.

Redman, N. 1998. A History of the Marriott Worsley Park. Whitbread plc, 26 pp. [Available on-line at http://www.worsleycivictrust.org.]

Robinson, E. 1996. A version of ‘The Wall Game’ in Battersea Park. In Bennett, M.R., Doyle, P., Larwood, J.G. & Prosser, C.D. (eds), Geology on your Doorstep: The role of urban geology in earth heritage conservation: 163-170. Geological Society, London.

Robinson, E. 1997. The stones of the Mile End Road: a geology of Middlemiss country. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 108: 171-176.

Tucker, M.E. 2011. Sedimentary Rocks in the Field: A Practical Guide. Fourth edition.

Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, xi+276 pp.

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