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
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Forest of Dean (District Authority)
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
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
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
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
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