Charlton reports that during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st, Thomas Chaloner was travelling in Italy and noted that the geology of the papal alum works was very similar to the geology of his native Guisborough. At the time the alum trade was a papal monopoly and was very beneficial to his holiness, bringing him in yearly a large revenue. Chaloner had no knowledge of how to produce alum so in secrecy, managed to smuggle two or three of the papal alum workers out of Italy in large casks.
The Pope, when informed of what had happened, was extremely displeased and thundered out a dreadful curse against Mr. Chaloner and the workmen who had eloped with him.
The curse is very long and invokes saints, angels, virgins, martyrs, confessors and all things in heaven and on earth to curse Chaloner and his men in all their deeds and actions. I have reproduced the latter part of the curse below.
May they be cursed whereofever they are, whether in the house or in the field, in the highway or on the path, in the wood or in the water, in the market or in the church. May they be cursed in living and dying, in eating and in drinking, in being hungry and in being thirsty, in fasting and in sleeping, in slumbering and in waking, in walking and in standing, in sitting and in lying, in working and in resting, in pissing and in shitting and in blood letting.
May they be cursed in all the faculties of their bodies, inwardly and outwardly. May they be cursed in the hair of their head and in their brain, in the crown of their head and in their temples, in their forehead and in their ears, in their eyebrows and in their cheeks, in their jawbones and in their nostrils, in their teeth and in their lips, in their throat and in their shoulders, in their wrists and in their arms, in their hands and in their fingers, in their breasts and in their hearts, in their bowels and all the interior parts of their body to their very stomach, in their reins and in their groins, in their thighs and in their genitals, in their hips and in their knees, in their legs and in their feet, in their joints and in their nails. May they be cursed in all the joints of from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, nor may their be any soundness left in them.
May the son of the living god, with all the glory of his majesty, curse them, and may heaven with all the powers that move therein, rise up against them to damn them, unless they shall repent, and make proper satisfaction for this their crime. Amen Amen. So be it.
Despite the curse, Chaloner’s alum business became extremely successful and established the first large-scale chemical industry in North Eastern England.
This tales in now regarded as a myth. An alum industry existed in Germany and Ireland in the 15th century. Thomas Chaloner’s father, John Chaloner, was a senior government official and had experience of the alum industry in Ireland.
The History of Whitby, and of Whitby Abbey, before the Conquest. Lionel Charlton 1779
Alum, North East Yorkshire’s fascinating story of the first chemical industry. Alan Morrison 1981