The green and leafy National Park car park in Grosmont was once the site of Grosmont Ironworks – a major industrial complex producing nearly 1,000 tonnes of pig iron a week. Many ironstone mines surrounded the site to feed the 3 furnaces, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A nearby brickworks also operated between 1870 and 1957, producing thousands of quality bricks and many beautiful handcrafted ‘specials’.
The piles of slag and waste that the ironworks produced were enormous, estimated at around 1 million tonnes, and blighted this now-picturesque village for a long time. Although the furnaces ceased operation in 1891 it took another 50 years for all the slag to be removed, much of it recycled for use in road building. The ground conditions left from the industrial exploitation have helped encourage a variety of unusual and attractive plants to colonise the site, such as twayblade and sickle medick.
Lumps and bumps in the car park indicate the layout of the ironworks – the base of one of the blast furnaces and the boiler house chimney can be clearly seen. The project has conserved and protected these features, helping to uncover new ones through community archaeology events, and helped tell the story of this fascinating site, its history and how nature has steadily reclaimed the space.
Esk Valley Mine
Hidden at the edge of a field alongside the Grosmont-Goathland Rail Trail is the site of Esk Valley mine, also known as Holme House Mine. This relatively small scale operation is a good example of a Victorian vision to create a self-sustaining community around an industrial facility. Two terraces of miner’s cottages, a mine manager’s house, small chapel and group of craftsmen’s houses can all still be seen today.
Unlike many ironstone mines which were drift mines (worked horizontally in from a hillside), Esk Valley was a deep mine where a shaft was dug 60m straight down to the ironstone seam and the ore hauled up using a steam engine. The remains of the engine base and boiler supports can still be seen alongside the mine shaft.
The project has made the site safe with a metal grill placed over the shaft and repairs to the stonework surround. A new path from the Rail Trail will be installed to enable public access to this site for the first time in spring 2020. Interpretation is helping to tell the story of the mine, its workings, and the community that was built around it.
Beck Hole Ironworks
Further along the Rail Trail towards Goathland in fields alongside the track lies the site of Beck Hole Ironworks and mines, opened in 1859. In the peace and tranquillity of Beck Hole today it can be hard to imagine the fire, smoke and noise of the industry. Despite grand ambitions highlighted in the Whitby Gazette of 1860, the mining here was short-lived with the workings and associated cottages demolished within 30 years of being built.
The Rail Trail is a 3½ mile walk from Goathland to Grosmont following the route of George Stephenson’s original railway line of 1836. It can be combined with a trip on the steam trains of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway between Grosmont and Goathland to complete the loop.
The project will carry out surveys of the original railway bridges that now carry the Rail Trail to detail future conservation work needed to maintain this popular walking route. It has also provided interpretation along the route of the mining and industrial heritage features that can be found, including Goathland incline that once hauled goods and passengers up the 1 in 15 gradient using a system of gravity-fed water tankers on ropes and cables.
PAWS (Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites) are areas that have been wooded for at least the last 400 years but recently have been planted with mainly conifers for timber production. This dramatically reduces their wildlife value, although some of this value remains for several years before being lost forever, for example in the seed bank. The idea behind PAWS restoration is to sensitively turn plantations back to native broadleaf woodland, nurturing this residual wildlife value back into our landscape.
The impact and legacy of conifer planting throughout the 20th century is a similar type of exploitation to ironstone mining. At the time the work was first carried out the environmental implications were not fully understood. Now we have a better understanding of our impact on the planet we should use this knowledge to act in a more sustainable way.
There are many areas of PAWS across the Land of Iron area and the project is actively working with land managers to restore these by thinning conifers, allowing natural regeneration and planting native trees. Ancient woodland is a scarce and precious habitat, supporting some of Britain’s rarest species and connecting us to our ancestors who lived in the original wildwood that covered most of the country after the last ice age.
The water vole (Arvicola amphibious) is the UK’s fastest declining mammal, with numbers dropping continuously since the 1950s. This decline is mainly due to loss and fragmentation of bankside vegetation, alterations to river management, and the spread of American mink, a predator of the water vole.
The North York Moors has small but valuable populations of water vole in the upper catchments of the Esk, Murk Esk and Leven. Volunteers have been surveying these populations for the last 15 years and have seen declines similar to those seen across the country.
The project is currently developing land management agreements with farmers and landowners across the catchment area to restore vegetated riverbank corridors, install riverside fencing and construct backwaters ponds – all helping to link fragmented populations and hopefully reverse the population decline. The project illustrates the principle of habitat connectivity, and how “bigger, better and more connected” relates to individual species as well as whole environment and habitat types.
The 28 mile course of the River Esk is home to significant populations of Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) and Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) at the start and end of their life cycles. These fish hatch and spend their first few years of life in the river before leaving to travel hundreds of miles to their Atlantic feeding grounds, only then to return to the very same river to breed as mature adults.
This remarkable life cycle is linked to the equally remarkable life cycle of other creatures such as the rare freshwater pearl mussel. These incredible invertebrates can live for over 100 years and the population in the River Esk are the last surviving population in the whole of Yorkshire. However, the majority of these individuals are over 60 years old and have not produced young for 25 years, so are at risk of extinction in the next 40 years.
Barriers to fish migration along the river at Glaisdale Ford have been removed or reduced through physical changes to these man-made structures. A healthy river with clean sand and gravel is also essential for a healthy fish and mussel population so land management work to improve water quality has also been carried out, such as reducing run-off and enhancing the riverside environment.