The Bloomery In Rylstone
The 'bloomery method' was a method of producing iron which lasted from the Iron Age to medieval times. Iron ore and charcoal were heated together (generally after a preliminary roasting of the ore) within a small furnace. The typical furnace from Roman times onwards had been up to a metre high and up to a metre in diameter and was constructed of clay or stone with a clay lining.
Several bloomeries were excavated at a site near Dacre, both Iron- Age and medieval bloomeries with the assosciated slag were found.
Some photos and a sketch are shown below by kind permission of J. Brophy from his publication, 'Nidderdale Iron a Forgotten Industry', which illustrates the process and what can be expected to be seen on the ground today.
Arthur Raistrick taught a WEA class in Wharfedale in the 1980s and he mentioned at one meeting that he had examined a bloomery at Norton Tower in April 1967. Unfortunately, there are no written records of this. He found charcoal on the site and black glassy slag with fragments of silica, which indicates that it was heated at a temperature of about 650 degrees centigrade.
He also found matt slag, which is a mixture of unsmelted and partially smelted galena. Hence, there was lead smelting on the site as well as iron production. This was common with iron working, as the lead required a much lower temperature than iron to work. Raistrick also uncovered a clay hearth of whitish-grey fire-clay, (clay probably from Rylstone Fell), which contrasted with the underlying red clay. Both clays had been baked hard. There was no stone structure surviving. He put the possible dates for the bloomery as between 1150-1650.
Interestingly, many manorial hunting park woodlands were partly given up for iron-smelting in Wharfedale. This mostly began in the 14th century, but there was also a peak of manorial entrepreneurialism in the 16th and early 17th centuries (perhaps the Nortons or Cliffords, if not the earlier de Rilstons, undertook such smelting at Rylstone), and this certainly fits with Arthur Raistrick’s very broad dates! Timber for charcoal was more important than proximity to the clay-ironstone ore from the shale rocks, so the Norton Tower woodland area was perhaps ideal.
There is no other evidence of where the site might have been. The bloomery and attached smithy of such sites usually leave building platforms, evidence of a dam and leat for water-powered bellows and evidence of waste, but these are not obvious at Norton Tower now. There are no names in the Tithe Award that are suggestive of iron or lead smelting.
1. Personal communication on Iron working by J. Brophy of Iron Age Nidderdale Group.
2. Personal communication from the late Richard Harland.
3. Personal communication A. S. Armstrong.