On the ancient slagheaps of Rumbolds Moor

Francis Villy BA MD


Many traces of forgotten iron smelting exist among the hills of the West Riding. Conjecture has ascribed their production to various times and races, especially to the Romans and the mediaeval inhabitants of the district, the latter probably being the favourites. With regard to at least one such site the evidence is now indubitable - hence this note.

On the southern edge of Holden Gill, and overlooking Airedale towards Silsden, two considerable mounds exist. As I am informed, others are to be found in the vicinity as well as on different parts of both the Airedale and Wharfedale slopes of the range; but my business is only with the two mentioned above. These are divided from each other by an old trackway leading apparently in the direction of Rivock Edge, under which the plateau is marked by scores of old coal workings. Externally, therefore, the signs point somewhat to the iron and coal getting having been carried on simultaneously, the iron ore (probably in the form of iron-stone nodules) having been found in the course of coal-mining, collected, and then carted to the edge of the ravine, where charcoal for smelting could readinly be obtaind from the native timber clothing its sides.

A few months since Mr David Longbottom, of Silsden, brought to the Keighley Museum a number of potsherds which he had found under the sod of these two slag-heaps. These he has presented to the museum. Mr J.J. Brigg, of Kildwick Hall, also has a jug handle obtained there. The sight of these relics stimulated the Keighley Naturalists' Society to dig on the site, and a section was cut by the through part of one of the mounds, other parts of the neighbouring area being opened up in addition. The section disclosed about one foot of soil and charcoal under the sod, one foot of slag, and one foot of almost pure charcoal resting on the subsoil. It is not easy to see why the remains should be so disposed in layers. Possibly it has something to do with the management of the smelting furnaces

The finds, consisting entirely of potsherds, were meagre; but when combined with those already mentioned they are enough to prove decisively the general period when iron-smelting was carried on here. It is not necessary to describe them in detail. They are of different pastes and shapes, and include pieces of bases, rims and handles. Their date is fixed at within about 200 years of the year 1400 by 12 out of a total of 36 bearing traces of the characteristic green glaze of later mediaeval times.

A piece of coal seems (so far as it goes) to justify the suspicion that the ore was derived from the coal-workings. As Mr S. Margerison informs me, the charcoal is derived from oak, ash, elm and white-thorn. To these Mr Rosse Butterfield adds the birch

Mr E.J.S. Craven has pointed out a most interesting record probably connected with the site. In a "valuacon" quoted by Mr W.  Harbutt Dawson1, comparing the various sources of income of the manor of Skipton in Edward the Second's third year (1310) with those of the year 1609 (when the document was drawn up) the "ferme paid by two myners" in Holden is given as equivalent to eleven shillings in the former year and "nihil" in the latter. The greater number of the coal pits on the moor are in Holden, and the slag-heaps along the edge of the gill are. I believe, the only ones hereabouts within the boundary of Silsden, anciently part of the Skipton manor. Whether the "myners" referred to were coal-miners or iron-miners (or both) cannot be ascertained now; most probably however they were responsible for one or more of these slag-heaps. Clearly in 1609 either the the industry had been given up or the miners were passive resisters with regard to rent. It may be remarked that coal has been got from the same region more or les systematically by tunnelling even within the present century; but the open workings all seem to be of some age, and there may have been a quiescent interval between the employment of the two methods.

Probably the greater part of the deserted slag-heaps in the West Riding arose in a period similar to that named above; but we must not take too much for granted, especially as Roman coins have been found in some in North Bierley2.

Perhaps we may note in conclusion that in paste some of the Holden potsherds resemble part of those obtained from the Sutton mounds3, whist others resemble then in rim-section; none, however, are identical. As the glaze is not present on the Sutton pottery, but is apparenetly represented by a sort of black lacquer, we may perhaps guess in a provisional way that the Sutton finds are to be dated as anterior to the Holden Gill ones, especially as they are more roughly finished. That is to say, the Sutton mounds date from after the Roman occupation, but before the year 1200. Yet the potsherds found by the Rev. A. Cross in the mound near Rathmell (which is clearly of the same nature as that at Sutton) and now in the Giggleswick School museum, bear a strange resemblance to prehistoric sepulchral ware, so that the problem of the dating of these peculiar earthworks remains in a highly interesting state.


1. History of Skipton, pp.11-14. (back)

2. James's, History of Bradford, (1841), p.32; Whittaker's, History of Manchester, Vol. II, p.32 (2nd edition). (back)

3. Bradford Antiquary, 1910, p.335. (back)