This Exploited Land – a poetic mix of Victorian beauty and brass

Tom Mutton – TEL Programme Manager

When businessmen visited the Beck Hole Ironworks in 1860 their report in the Whitby Gazette gave a beautifully poetic account of this new enterprise. Despite the author’s lyrical writing style the article also illustrates a perceived total domination over the natural world that was the foundation of the industrial revolution.

This is partly what This Exploited Land is all about. Although in modern times we may miss the elegant language of the Victorian era, many of us have a very different view of the natural world and the potentially devastating effects of humanity’s exploitation of the planet. The way that nature has reclaimed the mines of the Esk Valley and Rosedale is humbling to see and shows us that we are surrounded by a beautiful and fascinating world that we should use our intellect to care for rather than abuse. To do this best we need to remember and learn from the past, being inspired by the monumental relics in the landscape and the stories from our ancestors who lived very different lives in the North York Moors we now enjoy.

Transcribed from Whitby Gazette 16 June 1860:

“…It is our pleasing duty to report the successful operation of the Whitby Iron Company’s (Limited) Works, at Goathland, which we noticed in our last impression as having been blown in on 7th inst.

A few of our principal townsmen spent Monday evening at those Works, and were delighted with the various departments. The magnificent engine which supplies the blast for smelting the iron from the ore moves round like a thing of life, and at once the ever-lasting hills of the valley resound with the voice as of a tide bursting upon our shores.

We heartily wish the Company success, as the pioneers in a pursuit which is destined to revolutionise the habits and maxims of the valley of the Esk, and with the facility of the rails and our own good port, we venture, the day is not distant when capital and enterprise will demand that the whole of the district become one grand scene of industry, and that, from one end of the valley to the other, Old King Coal, supported by the genius of man, will assert his power in developing those vast storehouses of wealth which, during the last few years, have attracted the attention of strangers to those exhaustless beds of minerals which nature has provided and stored up in this locality, for the use of man in the arts of civilised life. And Whitby will one day have to rejoice in the fact, that she is one of the principal ports in the kingdom for the export of iron to the commercial ports of the world.

Beckhole, the little village at the head of the valley where these works are situate, has now a strange sight to look out upon morning and evening, which are ushered in with a torrent of molten iron and a flood of lava gushing forth from the bowels of the company’s furnace. The sweet songsters of the woods and glens are now giving up their claim to the morning’s dawn and evening calm. The _________ voices of the sons of toil mingling with the music of the compressed air of the blast engine, wait for the dawn of the East, whilst the perpetual columns of vapour, smoke, and flame, tell of the presence of man, successfully reducing to practice the maxim of the company’s tablet, viz “Tis the prerogative of man to command, develope, and appropriate to his service the elements with which God has surrounded him.” The tablet at the foot of which the above inscription is fixed commemorates the incorporation of the Company, the date at which the first Iron was made upon the Works, and the names of the Directors; and was cast from the Iron first run from the furnace.

In this noble course of action the W.I.C.L., have led the way. We heartily wish them god speed, and doubt not the success which awaits their spirited enterprise; and hail with joy the event as a blessing to the surrounding neighbourhood, and the watchword to the progressive establishment if similar works, whose effect will be to convert this district into one of the most thriving seats of the iron trade of this country, creating labour for man and beast, and scattering in its train the blessings of trade hitherto unknown in the locality.”

WICL commemorative tablet - thanks to the Whitby Museum.

This tablet, referred to in the article and cast from the first Esk Valley iron, can be seen today in Whitby Museum.

It’s worth noting that Whitby Iron Company Limited was short lived – it was wound up in 1862.

Can you help?
There are two words in the article that are obscured by a tear in the paper from which it was transcribed – can you suggest what the missing words before ‘voices of the sons of toil…’ might be? please let us know.

Extract from the Whitby Gazette 16 June 1860 - thanks to Tammy Naylor.

This Exploited Land: the trailblazing story of ironstone and railways in the
North York Moors

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One thought on “This Exploited Land – a poetic mix of Victorian beauty and brass

  1. This is where I walk my dog most days, nature has taken over from man and the broken stone intermingled with tree roots, ivy and moss is quite beautiful. With the quiet of the valley and woods it is very difficult to visualise this as an industrial site with screaming blast furnaces. But every so often a Victorian reminder blasts through the peace, the roar of an occasional (and welcome) steam engine rattles above the woods. Nature hasn’t completely won yet.

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