Durham Dales – Escomb

I took a trip into the Durham Dales with my friend Graham Vasey. County Durham is a bit of a mystery to me, growing up on the south bank of the Tees I’ve always viewed County Durham as a place of declining post-industrial townships hastily built in the service of king coal and the ironmasters; Institute walls maintaining memories of explosions, collapsing shafts and pals whose bones fertilise foreign fields. Graham is slowly enlightening me and correcting my ignorance.

We arrived at Escomb to visit the beautiful Saxon church of St John, itself once a ruin, now saved and restored.

Boundary walls topped with raw slag and scoria brick paving speak of the district’s recent past

Keys at No.28

Stone

An austere beauty, each stone block has a tale, many carved by Roman hands

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The near-by Roman fort at Binchester was a convenient quarry for the Saxon masons; an intact Roman arch, it’s underside decorated with remnants of a medieval fresco

The altar cross recycled, below it a beautiful Frosterley Marble Grave slab

Two sundials, one the oldest in England

The key to the interpretation of the sculpture lies in Saxon mythology, to a period before the emergence of the cult of Valhalla and the Viking Gods. For just as the beast’s head has little resemblance to a stag, so too it bears little resemblance to a wolf. We are looking at a chaos monster… Nicholas Beddow 1991

sundial leflet

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The Devil’s door and Roman Lewis hole

 

Skinningrove to Saltburn

Anyone who is unfamiliar with the history of Skinningrove may be confused by the cliffs that tower over Cattersty beach. The horizontally bedded Jurassic cliffs of the coast have been replaced by what appears to be the remnants of ancient lava flows.

The origin of the cliffs are not Volcanic, I guess they could be called Vulcanic. There was once a large iron works on the clifftop, slag from the blast furnaces would be tipped, by trains, over the cliff edge completely covering the existing strata.  The blast furnaces have long gone, the cliffs are home to nesting fulmars and the occasional peregrine falcon.

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Vulcan – God of Fire, Volcanoes and Metalworkers

Skinningrove, a little creek formed by the Liverton Beck, has gained a weird picturesqueness by its ironworks on the verge of the cliff and its mountains of spoil from an iron mine. The Cleveland ironstone is used in conjunction with imported ironstone and if access can be obtained to the dressing-sheds – where the Cleveland ore is picked over by boys for the elimination of unprofitable stone – characteristic fossils, particularly the ammonite Amaltheus spinatus, can be obtained.

Geology of Yorkshire. PF Kendall & HE Wroot. 1924

Warsett trainThe train from Boulby potash mine skirts the edge of Warsett Hill passing the fan house that used to ventilate the ironstone mine.  Mining has existed in North Yorkshire for almost a thousand years, steel tracks for railways are still made at Skinningrove.

FlowersTragically, two young local men were recently found dead at the foot of the cliffs at Saltburn.

Tarmac – a fortunate accident

Edgar Purnell Hooley was the county surveyor for Nottingham. One day in 1901 he was travelling along a road, close to the Denby ironworks in Derbyshire. He saw that a barrel of tar had fallen from a cart and had burst open onto the road, someone had then covered the sticky mess with slag from the nearby iron works. Hooley noticed that the effected section of road was now dust-free and unrutted by the traffic.

Inspired by this, Hooley went away and experimented, mixing tar and slag to produce a durable road surface. In 1902 he obtained a British patent for a new road surfacing material which he named Tarmac and on 17th June, 1903 he founded the Tar Macadam (Purnell Hooley’s Patent) Syndicate Limited.

Hooley set up a works to manufacture tarmac at Ettingshall in Derbyshire utilising the waste slag from two local ironworks. Unfortunately Hooley was not a very good business man and the business ran into financial difficulties due lack of promotion and the failure to attract orders for the new product.

In 1905  Sir Alfred Hickman, Ironmaster and MP for Wolverhampton, realised the potential of the new product and bought the company from Hooley. Hickman re-launched the company as Tarmac Ltd. Orders then began to pour in to the point where demand began to outstrip production. In 1914, a new factory was opened at Middlesbrough, near to the North Eastern Steel Company.

os-1931-tar-macadam

Adventures in the Anthropocene

One ton of iron produces one ton of slag

Towards the end of the 19th Century the furnaces of Cleveland were producing 2.5 million tons of pig iron a year.slag-s

scoriaˈskɔːrɪə
noun
noun: scoria; plural noun: scoriae
  1. basaltic lava ejected as fragments from a volcano, typically with a frothy texture.
    “chunks of black scoria”
  2. slag separated from molten metal during smelting.
    Origin -Late Middle English (denoting slag from molten metal): via Latin from Greek skōria ‘refuse’, from skōr‘dung’. The geological term dates from the late 18th century.