My new Victorian book Captain Amberton’s Inherited Bride is set on the North Yorkshire Moors around Whitby, one of my favourite places in the world. It’s where my characters live and where my hero Lance, a retired army captain, owns an ironworks, partly inspired by these ruins of an old blast furnace located, weirdly enough, at the side of a carpark in Grosmont, North Yorkshire.
According to local legend, ironstone (the Pecten seam) was discovered here in 1835 during the digging of the 130-yard railway tunnel that connected the Esk Valley to the Vale of Goathland.
At the time, Grosmont was essentially a farm next to the ruins of a 13th Century Priory. Three years later, there were three ironworks in the local area, producing 70,000 tons of iron ore per year. All of this development led to a dramatic population boom so that by 1870, Grosmont was home to 1700 people, compared to around 300 today.
By the late 1800s, however, steel was being made from cheaper, but superior imports and the industry and population gradually declined. A large number of iron workers emigrated to the US (the village draper even became an emigration agent) and the blast furnaces that had run day and night for almost 30 years gradually went out. The last mines and works finally closed in 1915. It is, however, still possible to see traces of iron ore, as well as a large number of fossils, in the banks of the Musk Esk today.
The area around Grosmont is part of the North Yorkshire Moors, which became a National Park in 1952, and remains an area of outstanding natural beauty (even on, and sometimes especially on rainy days). But my story’s not all about ironworks, bad weather and gorse-covered moorland. In fact, it’s not about iron or gorse at all. It’s basically a love story with ironworks and snowstorm included.
(Thanks to The Rail Trail: North Yorkshire Moors National Trust booklet for additional information).