Boulby Alum Quarries

I needed to unravel a few knots and put some ground under my boots. I was undecided as to where to go…time for the coin. A flip of the coin as to whether it would be moorland or coastal, a second flip to decide on a old favourite on a new site. The outcome, coastal/new.

A while ago I was reading about the Boulby Alum Quarries, I’d never visited the place, I did once try to get there via the the Loftus quarries but failed. I had read that Boulby was one of the best examples of its kind in the country, so that was that, Boulby was the place.

I walked along the Cleveland way to Rockhole, looking for a path into the quarry. All I could find was the trace of a track heading towards Rockhole Hill. I followed the track which got fainter and fainter and took me deep into the quarry. The vegetation got higher and thicker and the track eventually petered-out completely at a large pile of droppings. I’d been following a rabbit track which had led me into a deep thicket of gorse and brambles. I looked for a way forward but couldn’t seen anything that resembled a path.

I had a choice, try and push forward through the quarry or retrace my steps back up to the main footpath and start again. I decided to push on and look for another path. I thought that if I could skirt around Rockhole hill towards the cliff edge I would come across a path, a simple enough plan. The problem was that the foot of the hill and the quarry floor is covered in chest-high rosebay willowherb, bracken, gorse, brambles and boulders, there are also a number of small, steep-sided beck channels concealed beneath the vegetation. The flanks of the hill are steep but less treacherous, they are covered with deep heather and large, impenetrable patches of gorse and brambles. It took me about half and hour of constant scrambling and slipping to cover the short distance to the cliff edge.

Much to my relief, my efforts eventually led to an overgrown track that looked as though it was heading towards the main quarry and alum works. After that it was fairly plain sailing, there were still patches of gorse and brambles to get around but the ground was fairly level and the surrounding vegetation was fairly low.

Moving along the track I began to noticed low walls, the remains of a building, a stone-covered culvert and two beautiful circular stone-lined tanks. The production of Alum started here in the mid 1600s, the Rockhole quarries and structures are the oldest part of the site.

I continued to walk north into the later sections of the works and suddenly found myself standing in the quarry, an amphitheatre of alum, ruins of massive stone walls and heaps of alum shale, facing the sea and backed by the massive sandstone cliffs, a wonderful sight.

The cliffs are never static, large blocks litter the site, some bearing fossils.

Walking around the ruins, the mind starts to wander. It is easy to forget that this was a place of industry and imagine that these are the remnants of a cliff-edge citadel whose myths are still waiting to be discovered.

These cliffs are the highest point on the east coast of our island. The land above the quarry has been occupied for thousands of years, its soils contains the evidence of the district’s earliest house. Archaeologist Steve Sherlock has also found evidence of prehistoric salt production and jet working on the land behind the clifftop, evidence of early industry, albeit on a small scale. Our prehistoric ancestors performed rituals and buried their dead on these clifftops. It is also the location of the famous Saxon Princess burial.

I left the quarries and followed the path that runs between Rockhole Hill and the cliff edge. The track is becoming overgrown, an indication that this site doesn’t see many visitors. A couple of short sections of the path have eroded away, this is not a place for anyone who is nervous of walking along a cliff edge. The track leads back to the Cleveland Way via a couple of lovely tiny woods, shoehorned into the short valleys running down to the cliff tops.

If you are going to visit the quarries I would advise that you avoid following the track down into the Rockhole Quarry, my legs are covered in small cuts, pin-cushioned by brambles and gorse and it took a fair bit of effort to escape the quarry. The cliffs along this part of the coast can be unstable, the track around Rockhole Hill is difficult to find but definitely the one to take, however it is not without danger and should be approached with great caution.

Secrets released in floating egg

Kettleness

A coastal walk with Graeme Chappell

Kettleness – Cat Beck – Randy Bell End – Hob Holes – Runswick Sands – White Stones – Redscar Hole – Hill Stones – Kettleness Sand – Kettleness Scar – Wind Hole – Long Sand – White Shoot – Maiden Wyke – Lucky Dogs Hole – Kettleness Alum Works

The Fairies long gone, the sound of Claymoor battledores no long ring over Runswick shores.

Hob has flit, kink coughs go untreated.

A whale lays headless and rotting on the rocks at White Stones. The stench of death and decay is all around, even the gulls avoid this place. We push on, scrambling over rocks, mouth breathing.

17th of December 1829. The village and Alum Works of Kettleness slid down the cliff to the sea. No lives were lost. The village and works were swiftly rebuilt.

Ore was gathered from these beaches when Teesside furnaces were still an idle dream.

Iron returns to its source, the sea reclaims its own

Shap Granite, batholith born, ice borne.

The sun is shining, we are bold.

We wade through whin following a cliff-top path to the Alum Works, we watch Gannets. A very good day.

Slapewath

Lockdown walking

The terrier is quite old now, he is happy enough but his days of traipsing across moors have come to an end. The path between Slapewath and Boosbeck is ideal for him, it runs along the bed of an old railway built to service the local ironstone mines. The path is wide with no inclines, just right for a half blind, half deaf border terrier who likes to do things in his own time.

Slapewath is a strange place, at first glance it looks fairly rural but peer into the woods and along the tracks you’ll see scrap and storage yards, workshops and plant yards, most built over old ironstone mining sites. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at least half a dozen mines operated locally, extracting ore to feed the furnaces of Teesside.

Ironstone wasn’t the first extractive industry to leave its scars on this valley. Jet has been quarried from the escarpment edges for millennia, jet is only found in this corner of North Yorkshire and was highly prized by our prehistoric ancestors. Beautifully carved jet objects have been found in high-status prehistoric burials throughout our islands.

Another industry that left its mark on the local landscape was alum production. During the seventeenth century, thousands of tons of rock was quarried and processed to produce alum.

The pathway is very muddy in places, local footpaths have taken a hammering during lockdown. Beneath the footpath is a tunnel /culvert. It’s empty apart from some beer cans and a pair of knee-high ladies boots.

With the summer foliage gone, it is possible to get a better view of the remnants of Carr’s Tilery at Margrove.

Slape Wath – Slippery Ford’ from ON sleipr and vao

Aysdale Gate – Asi’s valley’ from ON Asi and dael

Alum & the Papal Curse

charlton

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.

Sources –

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