A Tale of Two Yorkshire Meteorites

Report on our meeting held 16th January 2017

The Prior Rick Hudson wished members and guests a Happy New Year and introduced Bro David Mooney inviting him to give his presentation “A Tale of Two Yorkshire Meteorites”.

No presentation by Bro David would be complete without a colourful local character. In this case it was Edward Topham, a Georgian dandy and entrepreneur, born in the 1750’s in what is now the “Treasure House” at York. He caused a riot at Eton school when pupils rebelled against a master, Doctor Foster.  The good doctor was forced to resign and went to Gloucester. The nursery rhyme tells the tale. Edward also led troops in another riot opposing more freedoms for Catholics when over 400 were gunned down in the streets of London and 30 of the ringleaders hanged.

More pertinent to Bro David’s researches is the fact that Edward owned Wold Cottage, a grand residence between Wold Newton and Thwing, when a large meteorite impacted on his land in 1795.  This event was witnessed by a local shepherd John Shipley who described two large explosions and debris thrown out from the impact site. It was made largely of stone, weighed about 25 kilograms, was black and warm to the touch, and smelt of sulphur. Bro David described how Edward, never missing a chance to make money, exhibited it locally charging 6 pence a time, and then one shilling a time when he took the meteorite to London.

The second meteorite in Bro David’s talk fell near railwaymen working on the Middlesborough to Guisborough railway. The workmen involved posed for photographs as David showed. This meteorite was unusual in that it was melted on all surfaces. Meteorites do not normally turn in the atmosphere, and therefore usually exhibit the effects of great heat on the leading face only.  The railway company claimed ownership and declared it should never leave Yorkshire.

The Wold Newton meteorite however stayed in London. However a monument now stands on private land at the spot where the meteorite landed. Bro David, a stonemason, recently refurbished the inscription as his photographs showed. The meteorite returned to Yorkshire only once when Professor Colin Pillinger, famous for his attempt to land “Beagle 2” on Mars, brought the priceless exhibit back to the refurbished monument under armed police guard. Bro David attended as guest of honour and struck up a friendship with the professor. It is sad that Professor Colin Pillinger died just before NASA found “Beagle 2”. It had not crashed, but appears to have landed safely. It looks as though it may not have extended all the solar panels.

The vote of thanks was given by Bro Matthew Francis.  He thanked Bro David for an intriguing and entertaining talk on an unusual subject. He recalled his young daughter’s wide eyed astonishment when they got permission to see the Wold Newton monument and she heard the story of the Yorkshire meteorite.