March 2023

An early attempt at steel-making in Chesterfield?

Research at The National Archives in London by our county editor has revealed a possible attempt to make steel in Chesterfield in the period around 1600.  We’ll take a brief look at this potentially important discovery in this blog.

The Leakes and the Foljambes

Hidden away in what are called Star Chamber depositions (witness statements taken as part of legal proceedings) taken in 1608 is a reference to what seems to have been an experimental iron mill. The case centred on whether the mill was in Walton or Brampton. At this date Walton manor was held by the Foljambes, and Brampton held by the Leakes of Sutton.  The River Hipper formed the boundary between the two. The Foljambes and Leakes were the two leading gentry families in the Chesterfield area in the sixteenth century and it was not unknown for violence to occur where they disagreed!

The last head of the direct male line of the Foljambe family, Godfrey Foljambe, died in 1598, leaving a young widow, Isabel, who married Sir William Bowes of County Durham. There was already an ‘iron mill’ powered by the Hipper on the Foljambe estate, but Bowes claimed in the court case that he had spent £300 building another one.

An experiment in steel making

Witnesses in the Star Chamber case gave conflicting accounts of a dispute between servants of Sir William Bowes and Sir Francis Leake in September 1605, but both sides described the new works as a mill to make ‘steel and iron’. This is an unusual phrase for this date, added to which Bowes is said to have kept the works locked, suggesting that he was experimenting with a new process there. Attempts to make steel were just getting underway around the start of the seventeenth century, in the Sheffield area as elsewhere, and it is possible the Bowes was trying to make steel at the mill on the Hipper, using iron smelted at another iron mill higher up the river. The experiments probably came to an end when Bowes died in 1611, if not before.

This ground-breaking illustration, which appeared in Philip Robinson’s 1957 book ‘The Smiths of Chesterfield’, attempted to reconstruct the area around the Griffin Foundry in the period around 1788. The surviving Cannon Mill is to the right of centre, behind the smoking chimney. It was in this vicinity that much earlier attempts may have been made to produce steel.
The location

In his deposition Bowes stated that when he gained control of the Foljambe estate through his marriage to Isabel there were already six corn mills, one lead mill and one iron mill on the Hipper in Walton. The first of these figures refers to the number of mill stones, rather than separate buildings, but it is clear that the river was already being intensively exploited by industry in the late sixteenth century.

Bowes’s new works stood on a piece of ground called Upper Whitting Holme, which in the 1770s became the site of Ebenezer Smith’s Griffin Ironworks and Francis Thompson’s engine-building forge. The only surviving built from either enterprise is Cannon Mill, built by the Smiths apparently for boring cannon during the Napoleonic War, which ended in 1815. The date 1816 on a cast-iron plaque on the building commemorates its use during the war, not when it was built.

The mills on the river in the early seventeenth century are marked on a map of the Foljambe estate in Walton surveyed in 1622. This marks the mill built by Sir William Bowes downstream from the corn mill, iron mill and lead mill. The corn mill remained in use until modern times and the storage pond which supplied water to this and other mills survives as Walton Dam off Walton Road. One of the other mill sites was later taken over by Hewitt’s cotton mill, which also survives and is one of the very few late eighteenth-century fire-resistant textile mills still standing anywhere in England.

Research on the history of the Foljambe estate at Walton in the early seventeenth century, for which the main source are the voluminous records of litigation in Star Chamber and other courts, is continuing and it is possible that more will be discovered about what Sir William Bowes was trying to do at the iron mill on the Hipper.

Wingerworth and its Lido railway

In this blog we take a look at a long-forgotten narrow gauge railway which ran for only a few years at Wingerworth’s Lido. No doubt it gave pleasure to many, but was probably a victim of the Second World War. We are currently researching Wingerworth for our next VCH spin-off book. The Lido and its railway will be included – we’d love to see pictures of it!

Captured in time. The Wingerworth Lido railway is shown on this extract for the 1938 Ordnance Survey 25-inch to one mile map. Described as ‘miniature railway’ its 2ft gauge actually makes it a narrow gauge railway! (National Library of Scotland).

A narrow-gauge railway at the Lido, which skirted the western and northern edges of the site, with a bridge over the north-west corner of the pond, was first mentioned in the Derbyshire Times of 5 July 1935.  

The Lido narrow gauge railway’s steam locomotive may well have looked like this – an illustration taken from manufacturer – Kerr Stuart’s – 1924 catalogue.

The single-track line had a large balloon loop at its north-eastern end and a smaller loop near Nethermoor Road, giving a total run of about a half a mile out and back. There was also a short siding at the western end of the line, adjacent to Nethermoor Road, next to a shed that presumably served as a station, and a longer siding which left the main line near the eastern balloon loop.

The track was laid to a gauge of 2 ft. The motive power was provided partly by an 0-4-0 saddle tank steam locomotive built by Kerr Stuart in 1915 bought second-hand (through T.W. Ward, the Sheffield merchants) from Sheffield Corporation. It was previously used at their Ewden Valley waterworks from 1931, during a phase that saw remedial works carried out.   It was repurchased by Wards in December 1935, who sold it simultaneously to T. H. Austin. Other motive power at Wingerworth Lido was provided by a four-wheel petrol mechanical loco, fitted with an 11 horse-power Morris engine, which may have been home-built.

1 shilling and 3 old pence return to Wingerworth Lido by bus, as advertised in the Derbyshire Times, 19 June 1936.

Originally part of the Hunloke Estate, the Lido itself had been purchased by Thomas Henry Austin (later the sole operator) and Frank Norman, both of Wingerworth, who developed the site commercially. In May 1934 the promoters announced the opening of ‘Ye old Smithy Pond’ for swimming, sunbathing and boating in and around the 5½ acre pond (which in the centre was 26 ft deep). There was an 18 ft diving stand, 12 rowing boats and several punts for hire, and two motor boats offered trips round the pond. The promoters were negotiating with East Midland Motor Services to provide a bus service from Chesterfield to Wingerworth, which apparently had not previously existed.  

The end of the Austin enterprise occurred after he was required, in 1939, by the Chesterfield rural district council, to construct better sanitary accommodation at the Lido. Austin’s plans to address this were presumably overtaken by the outbreak of war, when the venue appears to have closed down.

End of a short-lived era. The sale at Wingerworth Lido on 8 October 1941 included materials from the narrow gauge railway.(Derbyshire Times, 3 October 1941).

In October 1941 an auction was held of much of the equipment from the Lido, including the railway track and wagons, but not the locomotives. It appears that these had previously been returned to Wards. The rails, sleepers and wagons may have been requisitioned as scrap, since a newspaper report of the ‘remarkable’ sale makes no mention of them. It does, however, refer to the second-hand timber, sectional buildings, catering equipment and furniture, for which ‘extraordinarily good prices’ were realised, possibly because none of the items offered were obtainable new.

Austin, who lived at ‘Blackhill’, Wingerworth, died in March 1944, leaving effects valued at £4,570.

So ends this story of Wingerworth’s own narrow gauge railway. A short-lived affair, which never-the-less was doubtless enjoyed by many. And, among with the rest of the Lido attractions, helped bring a bus service to the village!

They’ll be much more about the Lido and lots more about Wingerworth in our forthcoming ‘History of Wingerworth’ VCH spin-off book, which we hope to publish later this year.

In the meantime, if you’ve any photos or recollections of the railway we’d love to hear from you.

Our thanks to R.T. Gratton, S.R. Band and the Industrial Railway Society for information in this blog, also to Rob Marriott and his Chesterfield History and Genealogy Facebook page for a useful discussion thread on the railway. We’ve also used contemporary newspaper accounts and Howard Bowtell’s 1977 book ‘Reservoir Railways of Manchester and the Peak’.