Reading the Past: ‘Snapshots’ of Ironstone Life in Rosedale

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant

The Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, David Ross Foundation, and the North York Moors National Park Authority among others, will shortly be coming to an end in March 2021.

Rosedale Bank Top calcining kiln after conservation work was completed in 2019, with the new interpretation panel and Cor Ten silhouette. Copyright NYMNPA.

Rosedale Bank Top calcining kiln after conservation work was completed in 2019, with the new interpretation panel and Cor Ten silhouette.

Over the past four years the project has helped to protect, interpret and conserve the most iconic of the old ironstone mining sites and remains within the North York Moors. We have also helped to nurture the unique natural environment that surrounds them by working closely with land managers and other national partners ensuring habitats and species, such as riverbanks, ancient woodland and the Ring Ouzel, are cared for in the long term.

Yet even as we help to preserve the integrity of the monuments and help to protect the rich bio-diverse landscapes for the benefit of future generations, the voices of the individuals who once worked in the ironstone mining industry – the navvies (temporary workers), railwaymen, miners and families that expanded the populations of small villages like Rosedale during the Industrial Revolution – remain largely silent within the landscape in which they once worked, memorialised only in the receding industrial remains.

It is with this thought in mind that I turned to one important historical record where the individual stands recorded for posterity – the humble newspaper archive.

It is a place where accidents were recorded and individuals were named, where drunken brawls in isolated villages were highlighted and surreal accidents at remote kilns noted. The current newspapers of the time provide an invaluable insight into the social life and activities of the communities that populated the working life of the ironstone industry. It is here that you can understand the often-hidden tensions and terrors that so bedevilled a thriving but dangerous industry which helped to power the country in the 19th century.

Rosedale East kilns with new fencing as a part of the Land of Iron project. Copyright NYMNPA.

Rosedale East kilns with new fencing as a part of the Land of Iron project.

Below are a few sample extracts taken from local and regional papers during the height of the ironstone mining industry in the North York Moors, with a particular focus on Rosedale and its concentration of the unique railway, ironstone mines and imposing calcining kilns at Bank Top and Rosedale East. This way we can get a ‘snapshot’ of a particular place within a relatively short amount of time.

Please note that the following extracts reflect mores of the time. You may find elements of the extracts upsetting. 

Liverpool Daily Post 10 June 1862
CLASH BETWEEN MINERS AND IRISH LABOURERS
At Rosedale, last week, the English miners combined to drive out the Irish labourers out of the valley, which they did. Some sharp fighting took place. The cause of the party feeling is stated to have been owing to an Irishman contracting for work at an under price.

Whitby Gazette 8 April 1865
ROSEDALE ABBEY
On Saturday morning last as a boy named John Hugill, 12 years of age was preparing a set of ironstone wagons for being drawn up the incline, another wagon unexpectedly ran against them with great force at the moment the boy was bent down between 2 wagons which he was coupling, and they were driven together with great violence causing such severe injuries to the boy that death resulted in a few minutes.

Whitby Gazette 29 August 1868
ROSEDALE WEST MINES
A fatal accident occurred on Monday 24th to a miner named Thomas Taylor of Low Row, 19 years of age.  It appears that he had gone to his usual work in the mines at 2 o’clock and had only been at work about 10 minutes, when a huge portion of ironstone from the roof, weighing five or six tons, fell suddenly, and in its descent, came in contact with the poor fellow mutilating him in a frightful manner.

York Herald 5 December 1868
HORSE BURNT TO DEATH
On Wednesday night, a valuable horse, belonging to the Rosedale and Ferryhill Mining Company, was accidentally burnt to death. A driver, named Foster, was fetching a set of loaded waggons out of the Rosedale East mines on to the top of the new calcine kiln, when, through neglect of having a spring catch on, he was unable to get the horse unyoked from the waggons. The consequence was that the horse was dragged into the kiln, which was full of burning ironstone, and burnt to death.

Leeds Mercury 10 April 1871
THE ROSEDALE IRON MINERS
Gentlemen, I would earnestly call attention to the sad and disgraceful state of drunkenness prevalent among the workmen engaged in the Rosedale iron mines …. For two or three days following each pay-day Rosedale village presents a scene of inebriation which baffles description. The miners may be seen staggering about the village in all directions, and not unfrequently fighting and kicking each other in true Lancashire style.

Malton Gazette 15 July 1871
ROSEDALE MINING FATALITY
On Saturday morning, a young man named Nelson, a native of Thornton Dale near Pickering, was proceeding to his work underground, being a miner, between 7 and 8 o’clock, having under his arm a small barrel, open at the top, containing 4 to 5 lbs of gunpowder, used for blasting purposes. Wishing to light his pipe, he struck a match, part of the match or a spark from it, ignited the powder, which exploded with great violence. His injuries were fearful, that death terminated his suffering in 2 to 3 hours later. He was accompanied by another man who escaped with rather severe shock and singeing of his whiskers and eyebrows.

Rosedale Hollins Mine and incline, with Bank Top calcining kilns visible at top right. Copyright NYMNPA.

Rosedale Hollins Mine and incline, with Bank Top calcining kilns visible at top right.

Of course this is just small selection of the more dramatic clippings from the Land of Iron newspaper archive, but it is a fascinating insight none the less. The tough living and working conditions invariably led to accidents and fatalities, and as we can see above it was not uncommon for fights or brawls to break out when workers were paid their often meagre wages (Hayes and Rutter 2009).

The end of the ironstone industry in the 1920s brought further change to Rosedale as bit by bit the railways were removed, the structures of the kilns were left to decline, and the mines themselves closed down and sealed. It is pertinent to remember those real individuals, the men, women, and children (and animals) who lived and worked here, often did so in adverse conditions. The newspaper clippings can only ever report on a fraction of their lives and experiences.

Further Resources

For those who are interested in researching the lifestyle of the ironstone industry workers further, or are interested in pursuing their own research during the current lock down period, I recommend the British Library-ran Newspaper Archive resource.

For further reading on the ironstone industry within North Yorkshire, I recommend Hayes and Rutter much-reissued ‘Rosedale Mines and Railway’ 2009 publication. A newly updated edition of this book is due to be published this year.

For historic photographs, have a look at a previous blog entry to see two ‘colourised’ historic photographs from Sheriff’s Pit mine entry and the Ingleby Incline railway.

Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme logos

2 thoughts on “Reading the Past: ‘Snapshots’ of Ironstone Life in Rosedale

  1. Another source of information is “Rosedale and its Ironstone Mines” written by Simon Chapman and published by Peter Tuffs in 2004.

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