Stone for both building and iron smelting has been extracted from beneath the ground in Northamptonshire since Roman times. This conference will look at aspects of the history of these industries which reached their peak in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The conference was held in Cogenhoe Village Hall located in the Nene valley between Northampton and Wellingborough. Afternoon visits will take place at Irchester Country Park, a largely unrestored former ironstone quarry and location of Irchester Narrow Gauge Railway Museum, which has several industrial steam and diesel locos as well as displays on ironstone quarrying.
Organised by NIAG and held on Saturday 15th October 2011 in Cogenhoe and Irchester.
The conference programme:
09:00 Registration with tea/coffee
09:45 Welcome and Introduction
10:00 Evolution of the Northamptonshire Ironstone Industry
11:05 'Winning' Collyweston Slate
11:45 Irthlingborough Ironstone Mines
12.25 Introduction to Irchester Quarries
12:40 EMIAC Business Meeting
13:00 Buffet lunch
14:00 Site visits: Irchester Country Park to see the remains of the Wembley ironstone quarry and to visit Irchester Narrow Gauge Railway Museum.
Images courtesy of Geoffrey Starmer collection.
In his short introductory talk, Peter described how the county's underlying geology had given rise to various extractive industries.
Peter Perkins and Mick Dix
Although evidence exists for ironworking by the Romans and Saxons, this knowledge was forgotten until the middle of the 19th century. During the next 50 years or so many quarries were opened, particularly in the north-east of the county, with output peaking during the First World War.
It wasn't until the early 20th century that mechanical shovels replaced hand labour; during the 1930s diesel and electric powered machines replaced steam-driven shovels.
With the opening of the new Corby furnaces in the 1930s and development of the larger quarries, output increased many fold, rising to 3 millions tons of ore per year in the 1960s.
With the availability of cheap high-grade imported ore, the industry went into decline and the last ore dug in January 1980. Only the tube works, now owned by Tata Steel, remain.
A master slater, who started working as a boy in the mines, David described how the limestone was first extracted and then split into roofing slates. Nowadays he obtains his material from quarries, but it still requires 'weathering' over winter before it can be used for slates; it is still split by hand. Examples of his work was shown.
One of the few ironstone mines in the county was owned by Richard, Thomas & Baldwin at Irthlingborough. When it closed in 1965, Alan was the surveyor. He described how mining techniques had changed over the life of the mine, from the labour intensive hand work to a fully mechanised operation. On the surface calcining clamps gave way to calcining furnaces, which in turn were replaced by a sintering furnaces.
The following websites provide additional background to the papers presented:
- Irthlingborough ironstone mines - www.apack1.co.uk
Please note: Although checked at the time of writing, NIAG cannot be held responsible for the validity of these links or the integrity of these sites.
Images courtesy of Ron Whittaker taken during the visit.