Monday, 2 December 2013

Chimney evidence stacks up

I think we can now say with confidence that the Crag Foot chimney was linked with the 1840's pump that drained Leighton Moss.

Some accounts had suggested that the square-sided chimney was part of the old mine workings that pepper Warton Crag (see my earlier blog entry: 'A Tale of Two Chimneys')  

But this weekend the County's Archaeology Adviser Peter Iles visited the site to compare old maps with the stone-work leading up to the base of the chimney.
Archaeologist Peter Iles at Crag Foot

After the visit he told me: 

"I was personally convinced that the chimney could have served the pumping station site, and that the documents that you have found within the archives strongly indicate that it was rebuilt under the supervision of Richard Gillow from an earlier chimney for this purpose.  The earlier chimney was presumably associated with the mining of iron and copper in the area, but its precise function is unknown."

So the present chimney probably served the Moss pump but it replaced one that may have been linked to the mines. It's good to discover that no-one was entirely wrong! 

The fact that the chimney was so far above the site of the engine house had initially persuaded Peter that the chimney was probably unrelated to the drainage of the Moss.  

But after revisiting the chimney he concluded that there was evidence of a buried stone flue leading from the base of the chimney down towards the site of the long-demolished engine house. 

"What we saw was a stone-built feature leading away from the chimney to the north, apparently constructed with limestone rubble walls and massive limestone capstones.  It appeared to be hollow and thus most probably a flue serving the base of the chimney.  It extended across the garden to Mill Cottage and in the adjacent plot seemed to be continued as a linear mound... At the lower end of this mound, as it proceeded north, it was lost within some garden landscaping, and could not be traced further.  It was possible, however, that at this point it was able to turn more to the northwest around the end of Mill Cottage and head directly towards the site of the pumping station." 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Bearded Tits and Drizzle Cake

The Autumnwatch team
BBC Autumnwatch has been a wonderful showcase for the wildlife attractions of Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay. Four days of filming and live broadcasting brought an unaccustomed bustle to the Yealand villages. I've just walked across the Moss and there are more visitors than usual: quite a crowd seeking out the bearded tits. I didn't go into the cafe, but I reckon the queue for the lemon drizzle cake might be even more impressive after Chris Packham's enthusiastic on-screen endorsement. 
Baking aside, the birds, deer and otters were rightly the stars of the show.  But I'm pleased to say the Beeb allowed me a few words about the history of the Moss -- I wrote the first guest blog of the week: 

...and on Tuesday I went on to Autumnwatch Extra and later Unsprung to talk to presenters Euan Mcilwraith and Nick Baker. The producers wanted a few props to illustrate the piece -- so Arthur and Barbara Walker's lump of peat (see post above) achieved its 15 minutes of fame. And Kendal Museum kindly lent me a couple of neolithic items which had been found on the Moss: an exquisite, leaf-shaped arrowhead and a wonderfully tactile stone net-sinker (for weighing down fishing nets). 

A neolithic net-sinker: courtesy Kendal Museum
Because the loan was at very short notice and because museums don't casually hand out their exhibits to enthusiastic amateur historians, the artefacts were accompanied through the evening by two vigilant student-curators from Kendal College: Rory Legge and John Holme. The three of us had a ring-side seat as the Autumnwatch producers and technicians choreographed an hour of live television from the barn at Grisedale Farm on the edge of the Moss. In a past life I was a studio producer for Radio 4's 'Today' programme and I was fascinated to see how a much more complicated live-location tv production was handled. It was a good show, delivered with near-balletic precision. 

I think this is one of the reasons we pay the licence fee.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

For Peat's Sake...

Where do you go when you need a lump of peat?  I've been asked to talk about the history of Leighton Moss next Tuesday ... and to bring along some props. When I thought about it, a peat turf seemed an obvious visual aid: it's messy, substantial and absolutely essential to the history of the Mosses. I'm pretty certain that if I have a lump of the stuff in my hand it will be easier to explain its historic importance as domestic fuel (about 10,000 pieces a year would heat the average cottage) and why it's the archaeologist's friend (because it preserves organic material like wood and leather so well). More detailed peat facts will be culled from the excellent "Peat and Peat Cutting" by Ian D Rotheram which has been my bed-time reading this week.

But where was I going to find the stuff?  A 'phone call to Arthur and Barbara Walker provided an immediate and positive response. They have a wonderful strip of land on the old Yealand mosses and this morning they kindly agreed to dig up a clod. I've just been down to pick it up: wonderful, dark, woody, fibrous stuff it is too, still oozing a tea-coloured peat juice. Just the job! Thanks Arthur and Barbara.

Barbara and Peat

Friday, 25 October 2013

A Tale of Two Chimneys

One of the very first things that anyone told me about Leighton Moss was that it used to be arable farmland, that a steam pump had drained it in the 19th Century, AND that the only surviving part of that pump and engine-room complex was the chimney at Crag Foot. Actually, that might be three things, but it’s the chimney part I want to focus on. 

The Crag Foot chimney is a lovely structure. It looms benignly over the Moss,  looking every inch the chimney to partner the 12 horse-power steam engine installed by Leighton Hall's Squire Richard Thomas Gillow in 1847.

But is it?

David Peter’s local history “In and Around Silverdale” is firmly of the view that this is the pump-house chimney.

But as I began to research a bit deeper, doubts began to seep in.

Peter Iles the County Council’s archaeology adviser pointed me to old maps showing that the engine-house (now demolished) was built down near the Moss – quite a long way below our chimney (which I’ve circled in green).

(Leighton Hall Estate Map 1857, kind permission of Richard Reynolds)

Such a long distance between chimney and boiler was unusual. It was customary and cheaper – Peter explained -- to build them alongside each other. Although he did concede that it could have been attached to the engine house by an extended flue – a kind of long, tunnel.

“This was done in some of the steeper Pennine valleys as it was cheaper than building a taller chimney for a valley-bottom mill, but I see little justification for the expense on this site.” 

People who have lived immediately around the chimney told me that they’d always understood it was nothing to do with the pump, and that it had been built to serve the so-called “Paint Mines” – the iron ore workings on Warton Crag.  This could explain why older maps show a chimney on its present site before the engine house was built.

So by this stage in my researches (wake up at the back) I was pretty much persuaded that this was NOT the chimney that went with the pump house.

But Richard Gillow Reynolds, present-day owner of Leighton Hall has always been convinced that it was. He told me so some weeks ago -- and he allowed me to take copies of some interesting documents from the Leighton Hall archives.

It wasn't until I took a much closer look at some of these that I understood why he felt so confident. 

Exhibit A is a  sketch attached to an estimate from Thomas Robinson back in 1848. He was the builder engaged to construct both engine house and chimney.

You have to admit that the 1848 sketch bears more than a passing similarity to our present day chimney. The accompanying details suggested the stonework was to be “hammer scabbled” -- roughly finished with hammer and chisel. Sure enough, the Crag Foot chimney  boasts a "scabbled" finish.  

Even more significant is the written estimate's reference to the flue:

"the Chimney flue under the ground to be got and built by Thomas Robinson" 

Might this support the idea that the Chimney was detached from the pumping house and connected by an underground flue? 

And the same document might even explain why some maps show a chimney on the site before the engine house was built.  The “old chimney” --Thomas Robinson writes in his estimate -- was to be “taken down and rebuilt” at a cost of £40 13s 4d.

So it could be that there was an old chimney on the site -- perhaps linked to the iron mines -- which was demolished to make way for the new 1847 chimney connected to the Moss-side steam engine by a length of underground flue.

I'm now almost convinced. If we could just find the line of that flue...