Whitecliff Iron Works


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1021420

Date first listed: 13-Apr-1977

Date of most recent amendment: 23-Feb-2011


Ordnance survey map of Whitecliff Iron Works
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Gloucestershire

District: Forest of Dean (District Authority)

Parish: Coleford

National Grid Reference: SO 56870 10149


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Iron has been produced in England from at least 500 BC. The iron industry, spurred on by a succession of technological developments, has played a major part in the history of the country, its production and overall importance peaking with the Industrial Revolution. Iron ores occur in a variety of forms across England, giving rise to several different extraction techniques, including open casting, seam-based mining similar to coal mining, and underground quarrying, and resulting in a range of different structures and features at extraction sites. Ore was originally smelted into iron in small, relatively low-temperature furnaces known as bloomeries. These were replaced from the 16th century by blast furnaces which were larger and operated at a higher temperature to produce molten metal for cast iron. Cast iron is brittle, and to convert it into malleable wrought iron or steel it needs to be remelted. This was originally conducted in an open hearth in a finery forge, but technological developments, especially with steel production, gave rise to more sophisticated types of furnaces. A comprehensive survey of the iron and steel industry has been conducted to identify a sample of sites of national importance that represent the industry's chronological range, technological breadth and regional diversity.

Whitecliff Iron Works survives well and many of the processes associated with the production of cast iron are readable in the remains. Whitecliff is considered to be of technological and historical importance due to its association with David Mushet, a pioneer in the development of steel. It was at Whitecliff that he conducted some of his early experiments in steel production. Additionally, the survival of the associated charging platforms, limekilns and two further furnaces provide a clear history of the development of the site and tangible evidence of the processes that took place here.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the remains of the former Whitecliff Iron Works, which are situated in a steep sided narrow valley leading south west from Coleford. Building of the first coke fired furnace at Whitecliff was begun in 1798 by Samuel Botham, a land surveyor from Uttoxeter, and his partners Bishton, Phillips and Teague, the last of whom was the only one already established in the Forest of Dean, and who also had interests in collieries. Botham, Bishton and Phillips were all from Shropshire and Botham had through his work come into contact with the Friends of Coalbrookdale, and developed an interest in iron forges, which lead to his investment in the project at Whitecliff. The first furnace was not completed until 1804 after Botham had withdrawn from the partnership. Documentary evidence shows that by 1808, a second furnace had been constructed adjacent to the first, together with the loading ramp which was built, along with its retaining wall, to climb from the valley bottom to the north to meet the charging ramps for the furnaces towards the southern end of the site. At this point the business was part-owned by Thomas Halford, a London stockbroker, who brought it to the attention of David Mushet, an eminent iron maker and metallurgist who was at the time working at Alfreton Ironworks in Derbyshire. Although the works were successful, producing 18 to 21 tons of very high quality iron per week, Halford wanted to improve production at Whitecliff to reach up to 40 tons per week, and encouraged Mushet to buy into the partnership in order to make use of his expertise. By 1810, the two owned the entire concern, and Mushet had relocated to Coleford. Halford had put in place plans to expand the works, building at least one further furnace towards the north of the site, and Mushet used the furnaces for experimentation towards better production of iron, and the development of steel production. Despite the apparent success of the venture at this point, by 1812, Mushet had withdrawn from the partnership. He moved to Dark Hill ironworks & brickworks complex (scheduled separately as Gloucestershire 28878), also in the Forest of Dean to join his son Robert, who is considered to have pioneered the production of modern alloy steels in the later 19th century. Halford was bankrupt by 1816 and the Whitecliff site fell into disuse. The furnace complex is orientated north east to south west with the remains of the furnaces surviving against a steep natural rock bank. One furnace survives substantially above ground, that known as Whitecliff Furnace. This was the second furnace to be constructed on the site and dates between 1804 and 1808. The structure survives as two conjoined elements. To the west is the stone faced charging ramp and attached to the east the furnace stack. The furnace was charged from the western side along the ramp with iron ore, coke and limestone which acted as a flux. The furnace survives to a height of around 6m and the base of the stack is 6.3m by 6.8m, with wide round arched openings to three sides. Immediately to the south are the exposed foundations of a rectangular building thought to be a workshop or engine house. To the north side are the ruins of a further rectangular building also thought to be an engine house or forge. A later lean-to shed attached to these ruins is excluded from the scheduling. Further north are the remains of a second furnace which, from map evidence, appears to be the earliest on the site. The above ground remains include the charging platform and rear wall of the stack. There is an additional building just to the south east of the second furnace known as Furnace Cottage which appears to have been associated with the iron works. It is now an inhabited dwelling and is therefore excluded from the scheduling, however the ground beneath the building is included as it may contain undisturbed archaeological remains associated with the iron works. The ruins of parts of a third set of furnace buildings are situated further to the north and are now incorporated into agricultural buildings. They retain a good deal of historic fabric, including a splayed opening indicating that one of these structures may have been an the engine house associated with this furnace. To the west, alongside the loading and access ramp, and opposite the charging platforms for each of the two southernmost furnaces, are the remains of a pair of limekilns. Each is constructed of local limestone rubble with some brick lining, with round arched openings, and were charged from the west side. Further to the west is the site of the former Monmouth tramway and Coleford Railway, beyond which is a former of limestone quarry. The latter is likely to have provided limestone for the kilns, but it is extensive, having continued in use until the 1980s and is therefore not included in the scheduling. The Whitecliff Iron Works site was accessed from the south-east, via the road running from Coleford to Newland and a pair of stone-built gatepiers with capping stones survive. A culverted stream runs along the western side of the road and is likely to have provided some of the water supply for the works. The former loading and access ramp for the site rises from the north east, with the ruined furnaces situated towards the southern end. Furnace Cottage, all paths and other modern surfaces, a modern shed, fence posts and inspection chambers are excluded from the scheduling; although the ground beneath all these features is included.

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: 21697

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Standing, I J, 'Journal of the Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Arch.' in The Whitecliff Ironworks in the Forest of Dean - Part One, (1980), 18-28

End of official listing