Kirkby Bank and The Alum House

WhereGreat Broughton Village HallType of EventTalk
WhenMonday 15th May 2017 at 7.30pmTutor David Taylor, Grant Frew, John Kenny

At a very well attended lecture of more than forty members and visitors we were introduced to the history and development of the alum industry on Kirby Bank. The three lecturers, David Taylor, Grant Frew and Jon Kenny, each gave their own thoughts on the geology, history and geophysics of the alum site. This site was one of more than twenty works in North Yorkshire, with a wide variety of processes, between 1600 and 1870s. The Great Ayton and Kirby works were not operating for a long time.

The explanation of the geology given by David Taylor was illuminating, and very clear about the sequence of beds and the thicknesses. Similarly, with the reference to the seams of jet rock which are found just above the alum. There is little information about the works clear to see on the ground. There is much speculation about the water channels, for example. Personally, however, my own understanding is much more certain generally. 

Grant Frew’s historical survey similarly achieved its objective of aiding understanding. Beginning with the late 16th century we were given a tour through the ages up to the 1870s. The significance of alum to the textile industry, in particular, and the economy, in general, was clearly explained. But the industry did end owing to the developing chemical industry and it is not certain why the operation at Kirby Bank was so short. The myth about the Chaloners and the Papal monopoly was debunked, there being no evidence to support it, and that alone was a valuable service.

Jon Kenny’s discourse on the geophysics was quite revealing. Not much time had been allocated for this survey as the time available was shared with Kirkby churchyard, another worthy activity. The geophysics was essentially based on resistivity. This technique shows the possibility of the site but there is the element of the adventure attached and, like most interesting science, it does not appear to be exact. There remains much that can be done. Perhaps more excavation and reference to documents can be undertaken. Perhaps even an aerial survey using drones. What is clear is that we have an interesting project on the doorstep.

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