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Home* Pho­tos, Pan­ora­mas, Vide­os and Web­camsSpits­ber­gen Pan­ora­mas → Blom­strand­hal­vøya: Lon­don – Marb­le Island

Blomstrandhalvøya: Ny London - Camp Mansfield - Marble Island

360 degree panorama of a marble mine in Spitsbergen

Blom­strand­hal­vøya in Kongsfjor­den one of the most famous sites in Spits­ber­gen out­side today’s sett­le­ments. It is a regu­lar lan­ding site for tou­rists. The­re is the stun­ning sce­ne­ry of Kongsfjor­den around it, the­re are the impres­si­ons of the local tun­dra and wild­life and the­re is a ran­ge of choices for excur­si­ons, from short and easy walks to long hikes up to the hills, the hig­hest of which, Irgensfjel­let, has an alti­tu­de of 385 metres.

Blom­strand­hal­vøya is not, as the name sug­gests, a pen­in­su­la (-hal­vøya), but an island. It used to be a pen­in­su­la until appro­xi­mate­ly 1990, when the gla­cier that con­nec­ted it to the main­land of Spits­ber­gen retrea­ted until the con­nec­tion bro­ke and Blom­strand beca­me an island.

The most famous sin­gle attrac­tion on Blom­strand­hal­vøya is the old marb­le mine, which is today gene­ral­ly known as Ny Lon­don (New Lon­don) or just as Lon­don. This name is his­to­ri­cal­ly actual­ly not qui­te cor­rect, as it was never used in the days of the mining attempts. It was intro­du­ced later. The Eng­lish­man Ernest Mans­field, who “dis­co­ve­r­ed” the marb­le occur­rence on Blom­strand­hal­vøya and star­ted pro­spec­ting and tri­al mining acti­vi­ties the­re for the Nort­hern Explo­ra­ti­on Com­pa­ny, cal­led the place Marb­le Island. An appro­pria­te name, con­si­de­ring the geo­lo­gy, which is most­ly marb­le, and the one that was com­mon­ly used back then for a while. But today, the name Lon­don is offi­cial­ly reco­gnis­ed (it is on the offi­cial topo­gra­phic map) and it is com­mon­ly used, so I use it also here.

Mans­field first saw the marb­le on Blom­strand in 1906. The litt­le bay of Peir­son­ham­na on the sou­thern side of Blom­strand­hal­vøya pro­vi­des a rea­son­ab­ly use­ful natu­ral har­bour at least for smal­ler ships, an important logisti­cal requi­re­ment for any suc­cess­ful mining acti­vi­ty. Also freshwa­ter was avail­ab­le, so the Nort­hern Explo­ra­ti­on Com­pa­ny (NEC) star­ted acti­vi­ties on site in 1911 to pro­spect the occur­rence and its eco­no­mic poten­ti­al. First huts were built, and ele­ven men are said to have spent the win­ter 1912-13 in Lon­don. Altog­e­ther, eight huts were built the­re, but only two of them remain. Both are regu­lar­ly used by sci­en­tists from Ny-Åle­sund, just 4.6 kilo­me­tres away on the other side of the fjord, for work or leisu­re. They are of the same type as the huts built by the NEC in other pla­ces (Camp Mil­lar, Camp Mor­ton).

The sign abo­ve the door of one hut says “Camp Mans­field”. Also this is a name that was most likely never used in NEC times, it was intro­du­ced later.

Some of the buil­dings from London/Marble Island were taken to Ny-Åle­sund in the 1950s, whe­re they are now known as “Lon­don-Houses” and used to house the Dut­ch sci­en­ti­fic sta­ti­on.

The­re are some eye-catching remains of machine­ry clo­se to the mining camp Marb­le Island (Lon­don 🙂 ). The­se are steam-dri­ven machi­nes used for geo­lo­gi­cal inves­ti­ga­ti­ons: steam drills and rock cut­ting machi­nes. The machi­nes are stan­ding on a woo­den plat­form which was back then pres­um­a­b­ly the floor of a lar­ge work­shop, the walls and roofs may have been taken down to be used else­whe­re.

Pro­spec­ting was done by nume­rous dril­lings and several small test pits. The most con­spi­cuous of the­se is about 300 metres nor­thwest of the for­mer, litt­le sett­le­ment of Camp Mans­field / Lon­don / Marb­le Island (wha­te­ver you pre­fer).

Tech­ni­cal­ly, this pit was pro­bab­ly made by means of blas­ting. It is the only one on Blom­strand whe­re it is obvious that some marb­le was actual­ly remo­ved and taken away. Next to this site, the­re is an old cra­ne made to be used on a sys­tem of small rail­way tracks; ano­t­her pie­ce of indus­tri­al archaeo­lo­gy which is pret­ty uni­que in a regio­nal (Spits­ber­gen) con­text.

The­re are more sites on Blom­strand­hal­vøya whe­re tri­al pits were made, but the­se are rather incon­spi­cuous, some were just re-dis­co­ve­r­ed in rather recent years. At least in some of them, cut­ting machi­nes were used rather than explo­si­ves to extract marb­le in blocks of desi­red dimen­si­ons.

The most beau­ti­ful marb­le does not yield any bene­fit if you can not trans­port it to the mar­kets. For this pur­po­se, a litt­le sys­tem of rail­way tracks was built – the nort­hern­most rail­way track in Spits­ber­gen! The­re were actual­ly just a few hund­red metres of rail­way tracks, and even the­se tracks were not com­ple­ted.

For ship­ping, a cra­ne was built on a litt­le cliff on the west side of Peir­son­ham­na. Small ship could go along­side at the cliff to load marb­le.

And the end of it? It is usual­ly siad that it was the poor qua­li­ty of the marb­le, which is at least part­ly visi­b­ly affec­ted by cracking, that tur­ned all efforts into a fail­u­re. The­re were, howe­ver, some enthu­si­astic expert opi­ni­ons from marb­le experts who were pro­vi­ded with sam­ples from Blom­strand­hal­vøya / Marb­le Island / Lon­don. It seems that the theo­ry of the poor qua­li­ty is at least incom­ple­te. Fur­ther publi­ca­ti­ons which are cur­r­ent­ly being pre­pa­red by his­to­ri­ans and geo­lo­gists may shed new light on this old sto­ry in the near future – we can be curious.

Here it just remains to be said that the NEC sold their pro­per­ty on Marb­le Island in 1932 to the Nor­we­gi­an mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske. All attempts of the NEC to turn mine­ral resour­ces in Spits­ber­gen into pro­fit had then fai­led. At least in most cases, exa­g­ge­ra­ted expec­ta­ti­ons regar­ding the qua­li­ty and quan­ti­ty of the occur­rence in ques­ti­on (coal, iron ore, asbes­tos, marb­le) was amongst the main rea­sons for the­se attempts that were eco­no­mi­c­al­ly fruit­less, to put it mild­ly.

For fur­ther rea­ding, I stron­gly recom­mend Fro­zen Assets, the doc­to­ra­te the­sis of Frig­ga Kru­se who made com­pre­hen­si­ve stu­dies of the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry mining peri­od in Spits­ber­gen. We may be curious what new know­ledge Frig­ga and her col­league may mine in the quar­ries of Marb­le Island / Blom­strand / (Ny) Lon­don / Camp Mans­field (that’s all names I can think of now).

Kru­se, F. (2013). Fro­zen assets: Bri­tish mining explo­ra­ti­on, and geo­po­li­tics on Spits­ber­gen, 1904-53. Avail­ab­le online Rese­arch­ga­te.

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last modification: 2019-02-10 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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