The huge kilns in the distance (left of centre) were built in the 1860s to process ironstone which had been mined from beneath the moorland hill behind them. The kilns are situated on the east side of the Rosedale valley in the North York Moors.
Starting from The Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge, there’s a superb 4-mile walk to the kilns by way of the old disused railway line which tracks the upper rim of the Rosedale valley.
After calcining (roasting) the ironstone was transported to blast furnaces in Teesside and County Durham using this and other moorland railway lines.
The surviving remains are of three enormous kiln compartments lined with fire bricks and originally sporting massive iron fronts. Calcining on site was a relatively crude process and eventually iron ore was roasted more efficiently at the blast furnace sites.
The kiln remains and railway line are dramatic, but they only hint at the scale and breadth of the industry that once went on here.
Above the kilns drift mines were driven up to three miles into the valley side, and by 1873 over 1600 tonnes a day of calcined ironstone was being transported away by rail.
Even when mining and calcining came to an end work still continued. The massive calcine waste heaps had a commercial value and another 230,000 tonnes of material was removed by rail from 1920 onwards.
When the Rosedale railway itself finally closed in 1929 the tracks and equipment were also salvaged and sold.
Coming to terms with giants of the landscape
The kilns with their impressive iron fronts were so enormous that villagers living in the valley below were concerned they might collapse. However, despite problems during construction the kilns were soon hard at work.
Some years ago fears were entertained that the immense calcining kiln lately built by the mining company would be injured by the giving way of the foundation. Now all cause for uneasiness on that score is past, and the settling down has ceased. The mines are in very good working order and now that a considerable number of new cottages have been furnished, conveniently situated near the works, there is plenty of accommodation as well as work, for the men who are daily arriving.Whitby Gazette, 28 April 1866
Living amongst industry
On the hill at the rear of the kilns are the remains of cottages and workshops where the miners and railway workers lived. The mine entrances were also on the upper level so the ironstone could easily be tipped into the kilns from above.
Very little now remains of what was once a busy complex of structures, terraces and buildings. But imagine raising a family here, amid the noise, dust and machinery.
Opposite the kilns on the slopes of the hill below there are patches of red gritty soil. These are the remains of the huge calcine dust heaps (a by-product of the roasting process) that originally blighted this area.
They were salvaged in the early 20th century when improvements in blast furnace technology meant the waste could be reprocessed to extract yet more iron. T.W. Ward Ltd of Sheffield reclaimed around 200 tonnes a day between 1920 and 1927.
Made to measure
The wooden wagons used in the Rosedale mines were made on site and were very unusual because they opened from the bottom, enabling ironstone to be dropped straight into the kilns. Each carried between 2 and 2½ tonnes.
Once roasted, the hot ore then needed to be loaded into differently designed, metal wagons for onward transportation.
Most of the photographs were taken later in the mining period when the kilns were disused and raw ironstone was being transported in timber wagons. The rare image from Ingleby Incline (above) illustrates the difference between the wagons.
Look at these walking guides
Three very good paperbacks from the Amazon Cicerone store. There are many others to choose from. Although I make up my own walking routes, I regularly look at these guides for inspiration.