Backbarrow Ironworks by Richard Sanderson – Feb 2019

Richard Sanderson gave a talk to a packed Cartmel village hall on the history and future of Backbarrow Ironworks.  Richard talked about the long history of iron production in the area, using bloomeries. He then explained the important history of Backbarrow ironworks, described by Historic England as “…the best illustration nationally of iron-smelting technology development from the early 18thto the 20thcentury.” John Wilkinson’s father, Isaac, moved to Backbarrow in the 1720s and pioneered new metallurgical processes and John will have learned from him.

At most, 18 people worked there and the last blast was in 1964. The metal was taken away for scrap and the trustees are now attempting to preserve and conserve the site for the future. Richard illustrated his talk with photographs of the site when it was in use and the remnants that are spread around the site.

The trustees are working with many bodies, including Historic England, and would like further support from industries and local history societies.  They would like to hear from anyone who has memories of the ironworks and hope to provide conducted tours of the site in the near future.

1 thought on “Backbarrow Ironworks by Richard Sanderson – Feb 2019

  1. john nixon

    I have vivid memories of the iron works as my father worked there each winter for three years till its closure. Incredibly my pal mike stretch and I used to spend hours there searching the scap pile for things to swap at school. ( inert shell heads from the Eskmeals scrap were were a valuable swap item ! ). Incredibly during time off school a real treat was to go with my dad on the night shift when I would make tea and heat up their tins of food on the coke stoves in the gang huts which used to glow cherry red !!!. The men used to let my pal and I try and tap the furness , hitting the clay ‘eye ’ with the point of a huge bar, sometimes we did it to great cheers but it was very rare that we managed this feat. I remember crossing the gantry over the road to the bell and opening it for dad after he had tipped his scrap, iron ore or limestone in there and being told to step well back because of the gas ( there was a bottle of oxygen up there and a mask in case anyone was overcome ). Memories too of sitting on the still warm pigs as they were taken out to be stacked by electric cart on a cold winters night. Myself and my pal were there watching the casting on one occasion when the crucible ran out of control and tipped itself. We stood by the gang shed while men fled in all directions. The guy in the overhead crane reacted very quickly and traveled the ladel to the end of the casting shed where it tipped its contents into a flooded area resulting in the most frightning pyrotechnics I have ever seen !!!!. Clumps of semi molten metal were flying everywhere showering the casting shed and setting the crane alight, the crane operator abandoned his post in short order and incredibly nobody suffered any injuries. I have no idea how this accident came about but I remember it in pin sharp detail as does my pal and we both remember that the man operating the huge wheel on the side of the ladel at the time was Ronnie Backhouse. Too many memories to recount but happy to chat as I am touching on my experiences in my next book. Ring me any time 01229242284. Hope this is of interest… John. PS Had I enjoyed these adventure in todays sensitive times I am sure social services would become involved and I would be taken into care but… I SURVIVED AND LIVE TO TELL THE TALE !!! LONG LIVE THE ADVENTURES OF YOUTH !!.



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