The former Elsecar Ironworks


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
The eastern portion of Elsecar Heritage Centre, Wath Road, Elsecar, extending uphill eastwards to include the terrace on Furnace Hill which was the former charge yard, along with associated features.


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
The eastern portion of Elsecar Heritage Centre, Wath Road, Elsecar, extending uphill eastwards to include the terrace on Furnace Hill which was the former charge yard, along with associated features.
Barnsley (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
Rotherham (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Standing, earthwork and buried remains of an ironworks established in 1795, extensively redeveloped from 1850, closed by 1885.

Reasons for Designation

The former Elsecar Ironworks, 1795-1885, is included on the Schedule for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: extensive remains of the ironworks survive representing the full process flow of the works from the receipt of ore and fuel, through various processing to the dispatch of final products; * Period: representing a large-scale C19 ironworks which has unusually largely escaped extensive overbuilding via redevelopment; * Rarity: for instance the blowing engine house, with connected structures, is a nationally rare survival; * Group value: particularly with the Grade II*-listed ironworks buildings and the Elsecar Central Workshop complex, along with the scheduled Elsecar New colliery and its Newcomen engine; * Documentation: the ironworks is relatively well recorded through maps, plans, and other archive documents, including some Victorian photographs.


The conversion of iron ore into usable metal entails a series of processes. Central to this, in the early C19, was the coke fired blast furnace: a tall, upright furnace where a mixture of coke, iron ore and limestone was fired and blasted with air to raise the temperature to over 1,400 degrees Celsius, producing molten iron that was run off into sand beds to cool and solidify into pig iron. The pig iron ingots might then be sold as a raw material or further processed at the ironworks, such as being re-melted to be poured into shaped moulds to produce items of cast iron, or refined in various types of finery forges and puddling furnaces to produce wrought iron, iron that is malleable. This could then be further worked by heating, hammering and/or rolling to produce bars, sheets, or rails. Ironworks typically also included facilities for preparing the feed for the blast furnaces: producing coke from coal, and roasting iron ore, both processes designed to remove some of the impurities before being fed into the blast furnace. Various developments in technology through the C19, such as pre-heating the air blast (hot blast, patented in 1828), the Bessemer Converter (allowing cheap, bulk production of mild steel, patented in 1856), and the 1865 Siemens-Martin process (producing higher quality steel) all changed the fortunes of pre-existing ironworks, typically either seeing their modernisation or demise. The Elsecar Ironworks was established in 1795 by John Darwin & Co of Sheffield, capitalising on the availability of ironstone and coal on Earl Fitzwilliam’s Wentworth Woodhouse estate and to take advantage of the Elsecar branch to the Dearne and Dove Canal which opened in 1798. A blast furnace was operating by November 1795, with two blast furnaces by 1806, producing 2,495 tons of iron, consuming four fifths of the output of the Earl’s adjacent Elsecar New Colliery. A French publication about modern technology published in 1811 indicates that the ironworks was also operating refinery furnaces by this time. Although a third blast furnace was added around 1813, the company appears to have had financial difficulties ending in bankruptcy in 1827. Earl Fitzwilliam then took control of the works, initially via his steward, and then from 1828, under the management of Henry Hartop, who was an ironmaster and partner of Milton Ironworks which was also on Fitzwilliam’s estate. The Elsecar Ironworks continued operating, principally producing items for the estate, mainly for use by the Earl’s collieries. It did not introduce hot blast (unlike Milton) and by 1849, when included in a Royal Commission report, was no longer producing wrought iron, just good quality cast iron.

In 1849, both Elsecar and Milton ironworks were leased to William and George Dawes, sons of John Dawes of Bromford Ironworks, West Bromwich, a detailed plan of the works drawn for this lease survives. Under their management, Elsecar Ironworks underwent several stages of modernisation and new development including the construction of the rolling mill in 1850, which, in 1859, produced the plating for HMS Warrior, the navy’s first ironclad warship. The furnaces were overhauled and updated with the introduction of hot blast, thought to have been powered from a new blowing engine house built to the south of the blast furnaces. Puddling furnaces and finery forges were newly built or refurbished to supply wrought iron for rails and plate produced at the works. In 1866 there were 44 puddling furnaces at Elsecar, many converted, or in the process of conversion, to the more efficient Wilson process. There were also two sheet rolling mills, one of which was considered to house ‘the finest train of plate rolls in the kingdom’, made at Elsecar itself. The evolution of the works can be traced via schematic plans dated 1859 and 1867. Between 1867 and 1869 the three existing blast furnaces were replaced by four, plated cylindrical furnaces, all returning gases to heat the blast as well as to fire the boilers for the blowing engine. A White’s patent blooming mill, used to refine and roll cast metal into useable lengths was installed by 1872, and parts of the works were converted to gas power, including a Siemen’s gas puddling furnace, which exploded in 1874. Around this time there were 32 puddling furnaces in operation, at least five steam hammers preparing the metal for the rolling mills, and numerous other devices used to form, cut, trim, perforate, rivet or harden the iron. Each area of the works was linked by light railways, some sections carrying a ‘small but very energetic locomotive’.

In 1876 the Dawes brothers separated their interests, George maintaining control of the Milton and Elsecar works. In 1880, as George was approaching retirement, the 6th Earl sought to attract a new tenant for the Elsecar and Milton works, but none could be found. All four furnaces were blown out by 1882 and, in 1885, after a few years spent processing stockpiles of pig iron, the entire workforce was discharged. By the end of the year the hammer beds and five large chimneys had been demolished. Several of the ironworks’ buildings (notably the rolling mill and casting house) were absorbed into the workshop complex which the 4th Earl had constructed immediately to the north in 1850 to serve his collieries and other interests. Elsewhere many of the surface structures were levelled to provide yard space for the Earl’s collieries. The charge yard was levelled in the early C20, forming an informal football ground. Ownership mainly passed to the National Coal Board in 1947 and then into council ownership in the late 1980s following the closure of the last local collieries. Since 1994 a large portion of the former ironworks has been used as the terminus and works for the Elsecar Heritage Railway.

In addition to the maps and plans from 1849, 1859 and 1867, details about the ironworks can be found in surviving correspondence, contemporary newspaper articles and the Royal Commission report of 1849. Also surviving is a series of photographs of the works probably taken around 1880. This material has been included in detailed research by Historic England (2019) which is only summarised here.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the charge yard including buried processing remains and the earthworks of a bank of kilns, along with the associated transport system including the earthworks of an incline and engine house; the standing and buried remains of the charge yard retaining wall and furnace bank; the standing and associated buried remains of the blowing engine house and associated structures; and the ironworks yard including buried remains of furnaces, engine beds and other associated features. The above ground structures of ironworks buildings that remain roofed (Elsecar Heritage Centre Building 1 (casting house), Building 2 & 3 (works entrance), Building 19 (workshop) and Building 20a & 21 (rolling mill)) are excluded from the scheduling, but are instead listed at Grade II*.

DESCRIPTION: the ironworks extends south-east from the now culverted Harley Dike, taking advantage of the hillside to provide a raised terrace for the charge yard so that material could be fed directly into the tops of the blast furnaces which rose some 15m from the lower ironworks yard. This lower yard is now mainly overlain with the infrastructure associated with the Elsecar Heritage Railway, along with that of the Elsecar Visitor Centre and associated businesses, these reusing surviving ironworks buildings.

The charge yard is a levelled area around 100m square considered to include the buried remains of a tramway system and evidence of the processing of iron ore, coke and limestone, together with slag and scrap. Along its north side there is a low earthwork which is identified as a bank of ovens or kilns marked on an 1867 plan and interpreted as a set of calcining kilns for roasting iron ore. Beyond this is the incline from the valley bottom, at the head of which are the footings for the winding engine house and a weigh house, together with the earthworks of a small reservoir for steam-raising. A geophysical survey of a small portion of the charge yard identified a large void below the centre of the yard, most-likely a former mine shaft.

Parts of the north-western side of the charge yard are supported by revetment walls, the most substantial section, being towards the south, forming a bridge abutment originally around 40m wide, this being the furnace bank. The upper 7m of this abutment is exposed, partially robbed of its facing stonework, but retaining some stubs of ironwork of the bridges that formerly spanned across to the tops of the blast furnaces. Below is the base of the blast furnace bank which includes five low arches of blocked tunnels which would have been used for the air-supply pipe work leading to the bases of the blast furnaces. Foundations and other evidence of the blast furnaces are considered to lie below the current yard surface between the furnace bank and the former casting house, this expected to include evidence of the earlier furnaces on the site, not just the last ones erected in the late 1860s. The Grade II*-listed casting house (Building 1), which dates to the 1860s is considered to overlie further buried remains of earlier phases of the ironworks. The levelled yard to the north-east of the casting house, east of the rolling mill, is also considered to retain archaeological remains of the ironworks including evidence of finery and puddling furnaces, hammer and engine-beds, service ducting and other features. An upstanding fragment, now forming part of the revetment of the bank up to the charge yard, is identified as the chimney base for the blowing engine recorded in 1849. By 1859, the blowing engine had been relocated to a new engine house to the south of the blast furnaces. This survives as a substantial, brick-built, roofless ruin featuring high-level arched windows and lower level openings for pipework and access, the interior, being partly infilled with debris, expected to conceal further in situ features. Extending westwards from the engine house is a tall, corridor-like brick building, also brick-built, which is thought to have carried pipework or possibly the blowing cylinders for the new hot-air blast system for the blast furnaces. It would have also acted as a protective screen between the blast furnaces to the north and the boiler plant to the south. The boiler plant, depicted with six boilers in 1859, survives as an area of earthworks including the upstanding remains of the chimney base.

The rolling mill (Building 20a & 21), a substantial iron-framed building built in 1850 which lies on the north-western side of the ironworks site, is listed Grade II* and is excluded from the scheduling. This has been converted as a public events venue, however the ground beneath its C20 flooring is included in the scheduling because in situ remains are expected to survive such as foundations for engine beds and other machinery. The attached building to the south-west corner (Building 19) is also Listed Grade II*. It is the only surviving building that was part of the ironworks before the Dawes brothers took over the lease in 1849 and is interpreted as a workshop. While the building is excluded from the scheduling the buried deposits within its earthen ground floor are likely to retain information about the building’s use. To the south, forming the boundary to the ironworks along Forge Lane, is the entrance building (Building 2 & 3). This range is listed Grade II* and was built in the 1860s as part of Dawes’ improvements to the ironworks. While the building is excluded from the scheduling the ground beneath it is included. Just outside the ironworks, and included in the scheduling, there are the footings of a detached house mapped by the Ordnance Survey in 1849 which is also thought to have been occupied by a supervisor at the ironworks, although this house was not included in the 1849 lease.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: this covers the full extent of the Elsecar ironworks as outlined above, the boundary drawn to follow the course of the culverted Harley Dike to the north-west, Forge Lane to the west, then cutting across to follow, (but not include) a field boundary along the southern side of the charge yard. This excludes the pair of Grade II* listed worker’s cottages that remain in domestic use, but includes the demolished remains of a detached house just outside the work’s entrance that is also thought to have been housing for one of the ironwork’s supervisors. The eastern and northern sides are also drawn to follow, but not include, modern fence line boundaries for ease of management, this to include the full extent of the earthworks of the charge yard, the incline, engine house and steam raising reservoir, together with a 5m margin for the support and protection of the monument. The north-western section of the boundary follows a boundary wall alongside the road between Wath Road and Distillery Side: this boundary wall is included in the scheduling.

EXCLUSIONS: fence posts, sign posts, electricity pylons and telegraph poles are excluded from the scheduling. The above-ground structures of all roofed buildings within the monument are excluded from the scheduling, those built as part of the ironworks being listed Grade II*. The railway station, station platform, footbridge, railway safety fencing, signage, railway track, ballast track bed, signals, associated railway control equipment and features are all excluded from the scheduling. Also any items such as temporary buildings, vehicles, equipment or material (such as coal) that lie on top of concrete or tarmac ground surfacing are also excluded from the scheduling. Because in situ archaeological remains related to the ironworks have been reported to survive immediately beneath modern surfacing, the concrete and tarmac ground surfacing within the scheduled area is included in the scheduling. The ground beneath all excluded buildings and other features is also included in the scheduling.


Books and journals
Rimmer, J, Went, D, Jessop, L, The Village of Elsecar, South Yorkshire: Historic Area Assessment. Historic England Research Report 06-2019, (2019)


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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