Where there’s a Wills there’s a Way
A brief biography of Professor L. J. Wills
by John Gerner, a volunteer.
Studying O level geology and inspired by David Thompson, later my PGCE tutor at Keele, I was fascinated by Professor Leonard J Wills’ Palaeogeography. Living close to Hill Top in Bromsgrove I was aware of Wills’ work there. Retirement and the Building Stones project have provided an opportunity to discover more.
In the early years of the 20th century Wills was collecting fossils with his father from the building stone quarries in what was then known as the Lower Keuper Sandstone now the Bromsgrove Sandstone Formation. While an undergraduate at King’s College Cambridge he continued to collect. In 1907 he graduated with a double first and an account of his finds was published in the Geological Magazine.
After graduation Wills was awarded the Harkness Research Scholarship and spent two years researching the geology and the fossils of the Triassic rocks of Worcestershire. His work led to the publication in 1910 of his paper on the Fossiliferous Lower Keuper Rocks of Worcestershire. Here he says of Hill Top “beginning on the south side of the hill these quarries belong, alternately, to Mr Willcox and to Mr Griffin”.
Wills discovered scorpion remains in a “greenish, very carbonaceous shale”. He was able to extract these from the matrix and mount them on glass slides. In 1946 he published a monograph on British Triassic Scorpions.
Production at the quarries declined during the 20’s and 30’s and in his monograph Wills comments “that for many years now the quarries have virtually ceased to be worked”.
In his 1976 IGS Report on The Trias of Worcestershire and Warwickshire Wills sums up Hill Top as “unique among British Triassic deposits in that it has yielded a fairly large fauna and flora” which have “an international correlation significance”.
Professor Wills’ connection with Hill Top spanned a remarkable eight decades and he considered his research on the quarries to be the beginning of his true education.
My own journey turned full circle when, trawling through the Wills archive at Birmingham University, I discovered that Thompson and Wills, at the time I was taking my O levels, were writing to each other about the Trias.
Today three of the four quarries have been infilled and built upon. The fourth is fenced off, overgrown and access is not permitted. A few remaining quarry faces can be viewed from the roadside in Forelands Grove. Fortuitously at the Bromsgrove Society summer school I ended up chatting to a resident who owns part of the quarry face and have been able to inspect it at close quarters.