Photo gallery: Cromer man’s hobby fossil find led to a world-wide business
13:30 04 January 2014
Archant Norfolk 2013
Danny Hickling still has one of the bullet stones that fired his schoolboy imagination into a lost world of dinosaurs and natural treasures hidden inside the earth.
Fossils are the remains of prehistoric creatures found in sedimentary rock
They tend to be hard tissues ranging from large dinosaur bones to tiny seashells, but also some plants, and dung.
The oldest known fossil is blue-green algae from South Africa 3.2 billion years ago.
The oldest dinosaur find in Madagascar dates back 230m years
The biggest dinosaur fossil is 60ft tall, 120ft long, 100 ton sauropod
Fossil fuel comes from the fossilized remains of tiny organisms called diatoms, which can also be used as abrasives including toothpaste
Mammoth teeth can be ground down by the Chinese to make medicine to help with longevity
But what started as a hobby sparked on a north Norfolk beach has evolved into a business which has customers around the world, and sees the 47-year-old boss heading off on globe-trotting adventures to mineral mines in Brazil.
His shop and warehouse at Cromer are Aladdin’s caves sparkling with twinkling amethyst crystals, quartz the size and shape of footballs, mountains of polished pebbles, and fossils from crocodile skulls and bear paws to the teeth of sharks and mammoths dating back 250 million years.
Customers range from avid and amateur collectors and people seeking the healing powers of crystals to interior designers and fascinated children – with prices ranging from a handful of pocket money pounds to four figure sums.
For Mr Hickling the initial fascination was “the age of things which were an imprint of the past”.
The belemnite bullets were found on north Norfolk beaches visited by the young Danny and his parents, Bob and Tina, who were the head and teacher at Worstead Primary school.
And family holidays amid the mountains and rivers of Scotland also unearthed smokey quartz and garnets – awakening an interest in minerals which saw him study geology at A level at Paston College.
His career initially took him into photography – as a technician at Coes in Norwich and then a buyer for Roys of Wroxham for 20 years.
Fossils and minerals remained a hobby, including seeking to sell off his own excess collectables at craft sales – until there was too much to keep lugging around.
It also saw him discover the prehistoric history hidden beneath the every tread of human feet.
Personal finds include a horse femur at a chalk pit near Trowse and dinosaur vertebrae found when kicking over a stone on a Dorset beach.
“It can be luck, but you need to know what you looking at. Fossiled bones can look like old breeze blocks, so you need to know shape and structure to recognise them.”
He added: “The fossils put your own life into perspective – the time we are here against something which is incomprehensible.
“And minerals are quite grounding – such beautiful things from inside the earth.”
The hobby turned into a business 16 years ago. It is based in pink painted shop in Cromer’s Mount Street, where ex-wife Gail is a partner and daughter Lauren is among the staff.
But it also has a worldwide internet customer base stretching as far as New Zealand and America.
It sees him sourcing items from farther afield – such as turquoise from China, star rubies from India, calcites from Mexico, garnets from Italy, mammoth teeth from Holland, and a 220 million-year-old dinosaur egg from China.
Following a chance meeting with Brazilian supplier who dropped into the Cromer shop while on holiday about 12 years ago, Mr Hickling has also been making an annual expedition in search of more.
It is normally to the amethyst and agate mines of southern Brazil – small scale ventures which are run by, and support, local families.
“I am still really fascinated by it. People sometimes say mineral mines are taking the heart out of the earth, but it is not large scale commercial mining like for copper and iron. The scars caused by mineral mining are minuscule,” he added.,
But back on the Cromer doorstep people often bring in items they have found for identification – especially after bad weather like the recent storm surge, said Mr Hickling.
“It is awful to see the seafronts damaged but it has produced some interesting finds.”
He has seen fossilised sponges, sea lilies, a deer bone, elephant and hyena teeth along with amber.
And he is sure that the local cliffs which once famously revealed the near-complete skeleton of a 600,000-year-old elephant still have many other natural wonders to unveil in the future.
Little Gems, 2a Mount Street, Cromer 01263 519519, littlegemsrockshop.co.uk
Danny Hickling is also a register psychotherapeutic counsellor. Contact 01263 519049, 07425 7022267,