Iron Smelting in Tripsdale

WhereTripsdaleType of EventSite Visit
WhenTues 5th May at 2 pmTutorGeorge Allison

26 members assembled at Chop Gate Village Hall car park, drove to Hagg House, circular walk in Smidesdale, not named on the OS map, lying to the southeast of Tripsdale. Parking up the right hand  track from Hagg House Farm, George led us across rough uphill woodland first to a stone lime kiln, lime being needed in the smelting process.  A Hull university student has made a study of it, we hope to see her report. Local stone has been constructed around two large boulders making a circular chamber. A tree is now growing through the centre of it!

In the vicinity was a stone ruin, the remains of a dwelling or building for storage or used for working the iron sponge. The date 1769 was carved alongside an entrance.  Several field areas had been enclosed with dry stone walling with ‘smout’ for sheep to move between. Of interest were the posts with square holes . From the opposite side of the valley the enclosed area could be clearly seen.

Leaving the enclosures we descended to the stream which we crossed and scrambled up the other side to the site of two ironstone smelting chambers -bloomers, marked by boulders. Nothing remained except the cinders in the slag heap. Alongside were several large depressions, thought to be the ‘bloomers’.  There were many very old gnarled oak trees which had been pollarded to make charcoal to fuel the furnaces.

The area used a process of extracting the ore from the ironstone seam, making the charcoal from the local oak and beech, and the lime from the limestone. The process was carried out in “bloomers” where the ore/ charcoal/ lime was mixed and heated by igniting the charcoal and using bellows to increase the temperature. The ore when heated up in this way would release impurities, which melted or fluxed into the lime and came out as slag. The charcoal provided the high temperature and also the means of reducing the iron oxide in the ironstone to metallic iron by combining with the oxygen in the iron oxide to form carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide gases vented from the “bloomer”.

The product was a sponge like block as the temperatures were not high enough to actually melt the iron, this would be similar in size to the original piece of ore. To form the iron bars the sponge would be hammered whilst still hot or reheated by a blacksmith forming a block which could then be further formed into the desired object.

At Smidesdale we saw the lime kiln, the wood land to provide the charcoal and some spoils which included some heavy sponge containing the iron. The “bloomer” would have been close by possibly the round holes in the ground. The buildings were probably for storage or working the iron sponge.

George told us that a botanist from Kew gardens declared the woodland to be one of the most ancient oak forests in the country.  Acorns from the oaks have been germinated at Duncombe Park and planted to regenerate the wood. Looking across the valley from the Lime Kiln, George pointed out ‘The Buckingham Stone.’  We paused to have a closer look whilst on our way down.  

Legend has it that Lord Buckingham (George Villiers), was out riding and hunting and after a long and memorable chase his horse died there.  During his long wait for a replacement horse, he became cold causing a fever from which he never recovered, dying at Kirby Moorside, in an Inn, in 1687 aged 59.

It was Lord Buckingham, who had started the Bilsdale Hunt in 1668, the hunt is the oldest in England. George was literally a bit of a “playboy”, and from his base at Helmsley Castle embarked on a life of wine, women and active sports that included his passion for hunting. He is reported to have brought his grey ‘Turkish’ horse back from the war. The old nursery rhyme “georgie porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry” has oft been attributed to the Duke.

One story they have in the dale,  tells of a wonderful run in which the Duke took part, and which resulted in a monument of his fame as a fox-hunter being found in the dale to this day — Bucking- ham’s Stone. The story, as told me by Mr. Robert Garbutt, is this : — 

” Some of the old dalesfolk affirm it was rolled into its present position by the followers of the Duke’s hunt by his express wish after a wonderful and very long run, with his hounds, in which some say three horses were killed. His Grace’s horse — a favourite — dropped dead on the very place, and was buried here.” 

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