Bob Burton 1923 - 2014
Bob Burton of Stanway, near Colchester, also known as Basil, sadly died on 7th November 2014. His passion for collecting from his local gravel pits and for cutting and polishing the stones that he found has given us a unique insight into an aspect of Essex geology that had previously received little attention.
Bob and his wife Kitty were great friends with so many people connected with the world of geology, not only in Essex but throughout the country and beyond. The living room in their home in Stanway was packed with crystals and fossils from all over the world, most of them obtained on foreign holidays or as gifts from visitors who enjoyed their kind hospitality. But it was especially his specimens from Essex that were scientifically important, even though they were not all as colourful as the foreign pieces on the other shelves. Bob was a member of the Essex Rock and Mineral Society, though not the Essex Field Club, and members of both clubs were privileged to visit his collection numerous times over many years, and tuck into the huge spread of food that Kitty would provide.
Bob retired early at the age of 60 and built a lapidary workshop in his garden, equipped with all manner of cutting and polishing machines, most of them made by Bob. Tours of the workshop were another highlight of the visits, where we could see Bob at work. Until retirement, Bob worked as an engineer for Paxman & Sons, the large engineering firm in Colchester, and the skills he acquired there and elsewhere were extremely useful in his chosen hobby; he had a great talent for making and repairing things. Bob was also a skilled craftsman, creating beautiful and unique items from natural stone, from lidded boxes to vases, bowls and jewellery, many from local Essex stones, including Hertfordshire puddingstone. He had a great amount of patience and if an item he was working on broke due to an unseen fault in the stone, he simply started again. One item I particularly remember was a polished bowl made from an Essex septarian nodule, created on an enormous lathe in a shed at the end of his garden. It is a unique and wonderful object, designed to show the typical septarian fissures lined with yellow calcite crystals.
In 2012 Bob displayed the best of his Essex specimens at the Festival of Geology in London, the Essex Field Club's Exhibition and Social, and the following February at the Essex Gem and Mineral Show. Photographs of specimens found by Bob appeared on the cover of the Essex Naturalist twice, in 2003 and 2012.
When his wife Kitty sadly died, after over 60 years of marriage, it was a long time before Bob could return to his workshop, but with the persuasion of family and friends he finally did. He continued to entertain friends and fellow collectors and create items in his workshop until the year he died, one of his last items being a box, with lid, made from local Hertfordshire puddingstone.
Bob was a generous, kind and gentle man and he is sorely missed by his family and his wide circle of friends. He lived all his life in Stanway, and is buried in St Albright's churchyard, the same churchyard where fellow Essex geologist and collector John Brown (1780-1859) is buried and whose gravestone can still be seen today. Bob was proud that Brown, perhaps our greatest Essex geologist (Wire 1890), was a fellow Stanway resident.
References LUCY, G. 2012. The minerals of Essex. Essex Naturalist (New Series) 29: 113-128. WIRE, A.P. 1890. Memoir of the Late John Brown, F.G.S. of Stanway. Essex Naturalist. Vol. 4. Pages 158-168.