EMIAC 82: Stoned in Northamptonshire

Cogenhoe,15th October 2011

Conference Details

Introduction

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.

Programme

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

10:50 Break

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.

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Large steam navvy working at Storefield quarries in 1964 after leaving Irchester in 1940
Large steam navvy working at Storefield quarries in 1964 after leaving Irchester in 1940.
Loco '7' & loaded train approaching exchange siding with BR at Irchester
Loco '7' and loaded train approaching exchange siding with BR at Irchester.
'Progress' Peckett 1402/1915 at foot of calcine clamp near Wollaston
Progress Peckett 1402/1915 at foot of calcine clamp near Wollaston.
Belt conveyor driven by a steam engine in Islip Ironstone quarries c.1940
Belt conveyor at Islip quarries c.1940.

Images courtesy of Geoffrey Starmer collection.

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Conference Report

Peter Perkins

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.

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David Ellis

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.

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Alan Pack

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.

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Additional material

The following websites provide additional background to the papers presented:

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.

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Images taken during the visit

the working face in Wembley Pit
The remains of the working face in Wembley Pit.
the hill and dale formation left after removing the ironston
The hill and dale formation left after removing the ironstone.
0-6-0ST Peckett loco No 86 at the Irchester Narrow Gauge Railway Museum
0-6-0ST Peckett loco No 86 at the Irchester Narrow Gauge Railway Museum.

Images courtesy of Ron Whittaker taken during the visit.

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