Have you seen this rock? Project aims to find missing Midlands boulders

Organisers appeal to public for help tracking down ice age relics that were once subject of fascination

It was about 450,000 years ago that a glacier from Wales scattered hundreds of large boulders over what is now Bromsgrove and south-west Birmingham.

These ice age relics, some the size of a small car, became mini tourist attractions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, attracting visitors from across the country in their best clothes who posed in front of them for photographs.

Once the subject of scientific fascination, a century later many have disappeared or been forgotten. But a new project is on a mission to track down the lost boulders and create walking trails to promote the ones still in public view.

“Times have changed and that enthusiasm and excitement has obviously moved on with new discoveries. So we just wanted to reacquaint people with it,” said the project manager, Beth Andrews, from Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust.

Women and boulder
The boulders once attracted tourists in their best clothes who posed for photos. Photograph: Bournville Works Magazine/Cadbury archive, Mondelēz International

“It’s possible some are just in people’s gardens or somewhere we just haven’t spotted. We’ve already had some people come forward, and we’ve found them on the edge of people’s gardens, next to pubs and all sorts. They are out and about in different places, and we’re trying to encourage people to get out, be active and discover new areas of their city.”

Known as erratic boulders, meaning they were deposited by glaciers and differ from the type of rock native to the area, many of the rocks were put on display in public parks, with some raised up on plinths or protected by fences.

“Given that some of them are huge, you start thinking: well, where has it gone? Because you aren’t picking it up and putting it in a wheelbarrow,” said Andrews, who estimates that of about 200 boulders originally identified, the whereabouts of only 130 are still known today.

Missing poster
The group has distributed ‘missing’ posters appealing for information. Photograph: Cadbury archive/Mondelez International

“There may be people who remember them being there in the past, or who have photos of them,” she said. “We just don’t know what happened between then and now.”

A missing boulder in Rowheath, measuring about 8ft by 5ft by 3ft and last pictured in 1923, has become a particular source of interest and the group has distributed posters appealing for information.

Andrews said that as well as people coming forward with possible boulder sightings, lots of people have been sharing their memories of the rocks through history.

“In Cotteridge, people used to say that once you could get up and down from the boulders on your own, you’re basically big enough to play by yourself,” she said. “I like the idea that it was a rite of passage for the local people, even if they weren’t talking about the geology.”

The project, funded by organisations including the University of Worcester and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, plans to create seven walking trails to help people see the boulders.

“Just over 100 years ago, lots of people were aware of the importance and thought these were things we should save, not in a museum but save for everybody in a public space,” said Andrews. “We just wanted to start telling people about how exciting their story was both as rocks, but also as part of the social history of the area.”


Jessica Murray Midlands correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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