North York Moors

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History set in stone

The Whitby Jet Heritage Centre entrance Credit Tony BartholomewThe Whitby Jet Heritage Centre entrance Credit Tony Bartholomew

Looking at the tranquil landscape of the North York Moors, it’s difficult to believe that this was once an essential contributor to the industrial revolution, thanks to the rich natural resources found underground in this area.

There were dozens of ironstone mines within the National Park together with several short-lived blast furnace sites. Ironstone was once Britain’s principal source of iron and a key material during the industrial revolution. Much of it was found in Rosedale where the population grew from 558 to almost 3000 in just 20 years thanks to the massive development of mines and kilns. There was also a maze of underground workings under Roseberry Topping and elsewhere in the Cleveland Hills.

Look closely and you’ll notice places where alum was once quarried. Alum was used to fix dyes in textiles and make leather supple. At one time most of the English alum supply came from the fringes of the North York Moors National Park and along its coastline.

Whitby has long been associated with jet, the petrified remains of the monkey-puzzle tree from the Jurassic period. It's only found along the seven-mile stretch of the coast near Whitby and inland in a number of North York Moors valleys. Excavations show that the black stone was used as early as the Bronze Age, but jet is particularly associated with Queen Victoria and the jewellery she wore when in mourning for Prince Albert.

See for yourself

  • Cleveland Ironstone Mining MuseumJoin a guided tour of the fascinating Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum, see how ironstone was drilled and blasted over a century ago, experience an "explosion" and find out about life underground
  • At low tide in Skinnigrove you might be able to spot the marks made by the wagons used in alum production
  • Find jet and learn about alum and how it was used on a coastal craft foreshore experience near Staithes with Sean and Tricia from Real Staithes
  • See the remains of the Alum House on the north side of Sandsend Beck and follow the Sandsend Trail (pick up the leaflet from local shops)
  • Visit the Whitby Jet Heritage Centre in the town and discover the fascinating history behind the area’s very own minor gemstone. Browse the many jewellery shops with handmade pieces crafted from Whitby Jet.
  • Find ammonites of all kinds on display at Whitby Museum as well as exhibitions on a range of subjects from Cook and Scoresby, to archaeology and native jet.
  • Walk part of the Cleveland Way National Trail which passes numerous alum quarries and works on the coast, including the remains of the Peak Alum Works, near Ravenscar, cared for by the National Trust and open to the public.