Pleasington alum works


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Pleasington alum works
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Blackburn with Darwen (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SD 63467 28150

Reasons for Designation

Alum is a chemical used principally in the textile industry for fixing dyes. It is not found in a natural state in Britain but can be manufactured from some types of shale. During the medieval period in Britain alum was imported, mostly from Italy. Domestic production began in the north of England in the early 17th century. The industry flourished in the north for 200 years until the mid-19th century when it was overtaken by new techniques using shale from coal mining, whilst after 1880 aluminium sulphate replaced alum for most industrial purposes. The last English aluminium works (at Goole) closed in 1950. Approximately 50 alum sites have been identified in England. Most were along the Cleveland and Yorkshire coast. Other early sites are known on the south coast, particularly in Dorset and Hampshire. Alum works comprise two main monument types: the quarry where extraction and initial processing took place, and the alum house where final processing took place. Alum shale was extracted from quarries sited on steep inland hillsides or coastal cliffs. Initial processing on the quarry floor consisted of calcination by burning shale in clamps, and the production in settling pits of alum liquor. The liquor was transported to processing works in sealed casks or through wooden channels known as liquor troughs. Larger quarries possessed inclines and haulage gear and sometimes harbour facilities. Stores, workshops and laboratories can also survive. Evidence of secondary industries such as epsom salts and iron silicates production is also preserved at alum works. The alum industry was the first chemical industry in Britain. Its quarries and works illustrate the early stages of the industry and the technological advances through the period known as the Industrial Revolution. The alum industry also offers important information about wider changes in social and economic conditions during this period. The large scale of the industry's workings also mean that its remains are today a major component of coastal landscapes. A sample of the better preserved sites, illustrating the regional, chronological and technological range of this class of monument, is considered to merit protection.

Pleasington alum works is a rare surviving example of one of the earliest largely undisturbed inland alum works in the country and is the sole surviving example of an early 17th to late 18th century alum site in north west England. It contains substantial surface remains of the quarrying and tipping activities and will also contain buried remains of features associated with the other alum producing processes such as calcination and steeping.


The monument includes remains of the alum quarries and associated features of the early 17th to late 18th century Pleasington alum works, which is located in woodland to the south of Alum House Brook. As well as a number of quarry faces, the monument also includes surface remains of quarry floor working areas, test pits, roadways, spoil tips and tip runs, and will also contain buried remains of features such as steeping pits, the alum house and associated buildings, and early quarry faces. Alum was first quarried at Pleasington in 1609 when the then landowner, Sir Richard Houghton, employed the German mining engineer Anthony Snyder to commence operations. By the end of the year only some five to seven tons of alum had been produced but its limited transport costs to the nearby tawers and dyers of Bolton, Wigan and Coppull led to a rapid increase in demand, and by 1614 Sir Richard was granted the privilege of making alum for 21 years and of exporting 500 tons a year. Three years later, whilst visiting Sir Richard's home at Houghton Towers, King James I took the opportunity to view the alum mines. Although the precise date when alum manufacture ceased at Pleasington is unknown, reference to alum workers in the Blackburn parish registers in 1771 indicates that the site must have continued production towards the end of the 18th century. The main surviving quarry was cut into the north face of Alum Crag creating a working face about 260m long and 35m deep, the lower 15m-20m of which contains the grey alum shale. The quarry floor at the foot of the face is divided into two by a large spoil tip. The quarry floor on either side of this tip is now boggy but is considered to contain the buried remains of the calcination process where the alum shale was burnt to extract the alum, and the steeping pits where the liquid known as alum liquor was produced from the extracted alum. Although no surface evidence can be seen, buried remains of an alum house where final processing took place is expected to survive together with the remains of associated buildings such as workshops, offices and stores. On the high ground immediately to the west of the main quarry are a series of hollows indicating the site of early test pits and a short distance to the north west of these there is a smaller quarry face and working floor. To the north of the quarries, on the steep slope down to Alum House Brook, there is an access roadway and a large and complex series of spoil tips and tip runs consisting of both quarry waste and spent shale discarded after the steeping process.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Turton, R B, The Alum Farm, (1938), 80-2
EH Alum Ind Step 3 Site Assessment, Gould, S, Pleasington Alum Works, (1996)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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