This Exploited Land

Graham Lee – Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer

Imagine you are living and working in a quiet rural area, in a peaceful valley…when, suddenly, industry arrives on your doorstep…

It’s the 1830s. The fields below your farmhouse in the Esk Valley echo with the shouts and hammering from the navvies engaged in construction of the new-fangled means of transport – a railway – which your landlord has consented to being built through your fields along the floor of the valley. The railway has been designed by George Stephenson at the request of merchants and traders in Whitby to help improve access from the port to the inland towns and settlements of North Yorkshire.

Within a few years, ironstone deposits have been discovered by engineers in the bed of the river near the railway works which they were visiting. The ‘beds’ offer thicker deposits of ironstone than are otherwise known and, in a short time, the first ironstone mining within the region commences here. As the mines develop, a focus for settlement is created and the village of Grosmont starts to take shape and grow.

The ironstone from around Grosmont is plentiful and the new horse-drawn railway provides an efficient means of transport through to Whitby from where it is exported (known as ‘Whitby ironstone’) to ironworks in the North East, on the Rivers Tyne and Wear. This new source of ironstone transforms and stimulates the development of the North East’s iron industry. In the years up to 1850, there are about ten ironworks in production in the North East and seven of these are using ‘Whitby ironstone’.

As time passed, more ironstone deposits are sought out and more mines started, associated with the construction and development of the local rail network to enable the ironstone and iron products to be exported from the region.

Thus began the North of England’s rise to the position of the largest iron producing district in the world, a position it achieved by the mid 1860s. By 1873, just over 40 mines had been opened in the Main Seam ironstone alone, and (locally) Grosmont and Rosedale districts were at their busiest. Total output for the Cleveland mines exceeded 5 million tons for the first time that year and, between 1873-1914 (inclusive), the Cleveland mining industry (in terms of tonnage of iron output) produced on average 38% of total British ore output.

Now it’s 2013. This Exploited Land is the project the National Park has been shaping in partnership with local people – focusing on industrial heritage preservation, environmental conservation, and providing opportunities for access, involvement, education and interpretation – and based around the Esk and Murk Esk valleys, and Rosedale in the North York Moors. Recently the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded us a Landscape Partnership development grant and over the next 18 months we’ll be working up the project into an application for £3 million funding (+ £2 million matched funding/in kind contributions) to enable delivery on the ground.

It’s very exciting to have this long term aspiration turning into something actual. It’s about time that the importance of the North York Moors in the wider region’s industrial revolution is remembered.

We’ll let you know how it’s going …………….

6 thoughts on “This Exploited Land

  1. Pingback: An Introduction to Geology: 9 | FossilHub

  2. Pingback: This Exploited Land – under development | The official blog for the North York Moors National Park

  3. Pingback: This Exploited Land – past, present and future | The official blog for the North York Moors National Park

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