The Student’s Elements of Geology

Author: Charles Lyell

Glaciation of Wales and England.

The mountains of North Wales were recognised, in 1842, by Dr. Buckland, as having been an independent centre of the dispersion of erratics— great glaciers, long since extinct, having radiated from the Snowdonian heights in Carnarvonshire, through seven principal valleys towards as many points of the compass, carrying with them large stony fragments, and grooving the subjacent rocks in as many directions.

Besides this evidence of land-glaciers, Mr. Trimmer had previously, in 1831, detected the signs of a great submergence in Wales in the Post-pliocene period. He had observed stratified drift, from which he obtained about a dozen species of marine shells, near the summit of Moel Tryfaen, a hill 1400 feet high, on the south side of the Menai Straits. I had an opportunity of examining in the summer of 1863, together with the Reverend W.S. Symonds, a long and deep cutting made through this drift by the Alexandra Mining Company in search of slates. At the top of the hill above-mentioned we saw a stratified mass of incoherent sand and gravel 35 feet thick, from which no less than 54 species of mollusca, besides three characteristic arctic varieties— in all 57 forms— have been obtained by Mr. Darbishire. They belong without exception to species still living in British or more northern seas; eleven of them being exclusively arctic, four common to the arctic and British seas, and a large proportion of the remainder having a northward range, or, if found at all in the southern seas of Britain, being comparatively less abundant. In the lowest beds of the drift were large heavy boulders of far-transported rocks, glacially polished and scratched on more than one side. Underneath the whole we saw the edges of vertical slates exposed to view, which here, like the rocks in other parts of Wales, both at greater and less elevations, exhibit beneath the drift unequivocal marks of prolonged glaciation. The whole deposit has much the appearance of an accumulation in shallow water or on a beach, and it probably acquired its thickness during the gradual subsidence of the coast— an hypothesis which would require us to ascribe to it a high antiquity, since we must allow time, first for its sinking, and then for its re-elevation.

The height reached by these fossil shells on Moel Tryfaen is no less than 1300 feet— a most important fact when we consider how very few instances we have on record beyond the limits of Wales, whether in Europe or North America, of marine shells having been found in glacial drift at half the height above indicated. A marine molluscous fauna, however, agreeing in character with that of Moel Tryfaen, and comprising as many species, has been found in drift at Macclesfield and other places in central England, sometimes reaching an elevation of 1200 feet.

Professor Ramsay estimated the probable amount of submergence during some part of the glacial period at about 2300 feet; for he was unable to distinguish the superficial sands and gravel which reached that high elevation from the drift which, at Moel Tryfaen and at lower points, contains shells of living species. The evidence of the marine origin of the highest drift is no doubt inconclusive in the absence of shells, so great is the resemblance of the gravel and sand of a sea beach and of a river’s bed, when organic remains are wanting; but, on the other hand, when we consider the general rarity of shells in drift which we know to be of marine origin, we can not suppose that, in the shelly sands of Moel Tryfaen, we have hit upon the exact uppermost limit of marine deposition, or, in other words, a precise measure of the submergence of the land beneath the sea since the glacial period.

We are gradually obtaining proofs of the larger part of England, north of a line drawn from the mouth of the Thames to the Bristol Channel, having been under the sea and traversed by floating ice since the commencement of the glacial epoch. Among recent observations illustrative of this point, I may allude to the discovery, by Mr. J.F. Bateman, near Blackpool, in Lancashire, fifty miles from the sea, and at the height of 568 feet above its level, of till containing rounded and angular stones and marine shells, such as Turritella communis, Purpura lapillus, Cardium edule, and others, among which Trophon clathratum (=Fusus Bamffius), though still surviving in North British seas, indicates a cold climate.


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Chicago: Charles Lyell, "Glaciation of Wales and England.," The Student’s Elements of Geology, ed. Bryant Conant, James and trans. Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 in The Student’s Elements of Geology Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022,

MLA: Lyell, Charles. "Glaciation of Wales and England." The Student’s Elements of Geology, edited by Bryant Conant, James, and translated by Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866, in The Student’s Elements of Geology, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Lyell, C, 'Glaciation of Wales and England.' in The Student’s Elements of Geology, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Student’s Elements of Geology. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from