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Report - Boulby alum works (surface and underground) - April 2015

Discussion in 'Mines and Quarries' started by Mutagen, Apr 8, 2015.

  1. Mutagen

    Mutagen 28DL Regular User
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    Managed a couple of passes out over the last two days so headed off over to Boulby Cliff for an exploration of the surface workings that are left from the old 17th-19th century alum works and then down to the foreshore to find and explore the old alum tunnel that linked the cliff surface works with the sea-level import/export side of things.

    A bit of history (bear with me)

    The very earliest works at Boulby were apparently kicked off in the mid-17th Century, had a bit of a hiatus soon after then started up again and ran until 1871. The alum that was produced here (via a rather messy process involving burning, urine and seaweed) was used as a mordant to fix dyes in cloth - to help import raw materials and export the alum itself, a shaft was sunk down to sea-level and met a sister tunnel that ran out to the cliff edge - carts would be used to haul the materials to/from the boats. The rock scars inherent to this part of the coast were cut by hand to form a rudimentary harbour for boats to approach more closely. The cliffs along this part of the north-east coastline suffer badly from erosion so much of the evidence for surface workings has been lost to the ravages of time, but some evidence still remains. Likewise, the alum tunnel is eroding severely and will eventually suffer a similar fate.

    Surface workings

    The majority of what is left on the surface comprises retaining walls for the alum clamp, air ducts to help control the burning of the alum-containing shale, some stone conduits for liquor transportation, steeping tanks and liquor cisterns that would have been lined with clay to prevent leaks.

    Two shots of liquor cisterns in various states of disrepair (the second photo is of a set of cisterns that are being restored by a local industrial archaelogical society):

    IMG_2186.jpg

    IMG_2258.jpg

    The retaining walls for the alum clamp still remain impressive and have weathered the passage of time quite well:

    IMG_2237.jpg

    IMG_2248.jpg

    I didn't spot the air ducts that were used to help control the burning of the alum shale at first glance but eventually located them and climbed up for a peek inside - one is blocked at the end; the other exits in the middle of the heather and would result in a broken ankle for anyone walking around on top of the alum clamp unaware that it was there:

    IMG_2251.jpg
    There are also a few little covered conduits that look as if they linked liquor cisterns with steeping tanks:

    IMG_2255.jpg
    It looks as if there was some form of tramway or cart track arrangement at Boulby (although I've not been able to confirm this) but some way of transporting material to the shaft was necessary: there is a large embankment that looks as if it once carried tracks over the top of it - underneath it is a small drainage culvert:

    IMG_2263.jpg
    The alum tunnel

    This is one area that needs to be timed well as the tides here can leave you in serious bother if you don't pay attention to the tide tables beforehand and plan accordingly: as mentioned previously, supplies of kelp, coal and urine were brought in by boat to the bottom of the cliff and taken in a tunnel to the base of the shaft which then ran to the surface.

    Erosion has played a major hand here and the tunnel is not as easily accessible as it used to be after significant work on the part of the North Sea: the access route now involves clambering/scrambling up slimy, wet, algae-covered rock, being peppered by smaller rockfalls from the cliffs that loom overhead - not for the faint-hearted! This shot shows the entrance to the main tunnel with a coupling rod from the old tubs in the foreground:

    IMG_2310.jpg

    The wall on the left hand side is what is left of another tunnel entrance that has eroded away over the last few years: no-one is entirely sure whether a further tunnel lies behind the wall, but the way the sea is working, we won't have to wait too long to find out!

    Once you've made the scramble up to the right-hand tunnel entrance, you're met with a pile of wash-in from the sea that is covering the original 18th-Century cart tracks:

    IMG_2309.jpg
    Just visible in this image is a wall on the right hand side that contains a side-room: this was apparently used to store raw materials or alum for export, out of the sea's reach. This shows how much of the tunnel has now eroded as the store-room contains a lot of flotsam and jetsam from the sea that has been washed in by the storms that pepper this coastline. You can also make out a significant roof collapse that has left a five-metre stretch of tunnel subject to the whims of Mother Nature: this is the part where I started to debate whether going any further was sensible .... had a good look at the roof fall, looked at the roof and the very precarious beams and stonework that remained and made a judgement call to continue .....

    IMG_2300.jpg

    The tracks here do not run along the centre of the tunnel, but move left-right as the tunnel goes deeper into the cliff face: visible here are the rollers that helped the carts along the tunnel to/from the shaft. In the trench at the right hand side are very old rusty multi-strand wire ropes that were presumably used to haul carts along - there is a refuge on the left hand side in this image. Just up ahead, the tunnel curves slightly to the south-west and ends at a huge pile of wash-in and other detritus (old rails, iron buckets, boot-soles etc that has been dumped down the vertical surface shaft:

    IMG_2299.jpg

    This is as far as you can get unless you are prepared to dig your way through to the shaft base itself: with the sound of small rockfalls back at the tunnel entrance ringing in my ears, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and made my way back over the roof collapse and out to the entrance.

    On the way back around to the foreshore access point, there are remains of the old cartway, a number of interesting looking natural caves and the remains of an old ship that was wrecked here many years ago:

    IMG_2312.jpg

    IMG_2314.jpg

    IMG_2318.jpg

    Thanks for reading!

    Mutagen
     

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  2. KM_Punk

    KM_Punk Muppet
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    Really good report :thumb You've seventh pic is the winner. Cheers for sharing
     
    Mutagen and Oort like this.
  3. Miss Mayhem

    Miss Mayhem 28DL Regular User
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    Captured well :thumb
     
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  4. Carter

    Carter 28DL Full Member
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    Love that, some cracking shots as well mate.
     
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  5. wellingtonian

    wellingtonian Subterráneo
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    Yep, interesting report. That tunnel is rather nice. Good snaps too :thumb
     
    Mutagen likes this.
  6. spring heeled jack

    spring heeled jack 28DL Full Member
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  7. spring heeled jack

    spring heeled jack 28DL Full Member
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    great place to visit . even better on a foggy day makes it more aerie . been up a couple of times of late . did you spot the tunnel that runs under the shale tips ? goes for about one hundred meters . plus there's two smaller tunnels as you come down from the pathway near the figure of 8 building.
     
  8. stranton

    stranton subterranean explorer
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    interesting stuff
     
  9. Cuuvin

    Cuuvin 28DL Colonial Member
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    Very Nice! good pics , good history, good narration, good all around! :thumb
     
    Mutagen likes this.
  10. Bugsuperstar

    Bugsuperstar Irresponsible & Reckless
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    Thanks, grand report. Some cracking shots there too.
     
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  11. mrlister2000

    mrlister2000 28DL Member
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    Excellent pictures. A very interesting piece of history! Thank you
     
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