Lower Palaeozoic rocks crop out extensively in Wales, the Lake District of northern England and the Southern Uplands of Scotland; they also form the subcrop concealed beneath the English Midlands and East Anglia. These mainly marine sedimentary rocks were deposited in basins created during plate tectonic assembly of the various terranes that amalgamated to form the British Isles, 400–600 Ma ago. Final amalgamation occurred during the late Lower Devonian Acadian Orogeny when the basins were uplifted and deformed, producing belts of cleaved, low-grade metasediments, so-called slate belts, with a predominantly Caledonian (NE–SW) trend. The clay mineralogy of mudrock lithologies – including mudstone, shale and slate – found in these belts is reviewed. Using X-ray diffraction data from the <2 μm fractions of ~4500 mudrocks samples, clay mineral assemblages are summarized and discussed in terms of diagenetic and low-grade metamorphic reactions, and the metapelitic grade indicated by the Kübler index of illite ‘crystallinity’.
Two sequences of clay mineral assemblages, or regional assemblages, are recognized. Regional Assemblage A is characterized by a greater diversity of clay minerals in assemblages from all metapelitic grades. It includes K-rich, intermediate Na/K and Na-rich white micas, chlorite and minor amounts of pyrophyllite. Corrensite, rectorite and pyrophyllite are found in the clay assemblages of contact or hydrothermally altered mudstones. K-white micas are aluminous and phengite-poor, with b cell dimensions in the range 8.98–9.02 Å. Regional Assemblage B has fewer clay minerals in assemblages from a range of metapelitic grades. Phengite-rich K-mica is characteristic whereas Na-micas are rare, and absent in most assemblages; chlorite is present and minor corrensite occurs in mudrocks with mafic-rich detritus. Minor amounts of kaolinite are sporadically present, but dickite and nacrite are rare; pyrophyllite and rectorite are generally absent. The b cell dimensions of K-white mica in Regional Assemblage B are in the range 9.02–9.06 Å. The two regional assemblages are found in contrasting geotectonic settings. Regional Assemblage A is characteristic of the extensional basin settings of Wales, the northern Lake District and the Isle of Man. These basins have a history of early burial metamorphism associated with extension, and syn-burial or post-burial intrusive and extrusive volcanic activity. Intermediate Na/K mica probably developed from hydrothermal fluids generated around submarine volcanic centres. Deep diagenetic and low anchizonal clay mineral in these basins may develop a bedding-parallel microfabric. Chlorite-mica stacks also occur in the extensional basins and the stacking planes represent another type of bedding-parallel microfabric. Both types of microfabric are non-tectonic and developed by burial during the extensional phase of basin evolution. Regional Assemblage B is developed in the plate-convergent settings of the Southern Uplands and the southern Lake District. In the accretionary complex of the Southern Uplands the processes of burial diagenesis, metamorphism and tectonism were synchronous events. In both plate-convergent basins, low temperatures and tectonic fabric-formation had an important role in clay mineral reactions, whereas hydrothermal fluids played no part in clay genesis.