Ridsdale Iron Works
Building Ridsdale Northumberland

Ridsdale Iron Works

Building In Ridsdale, Northumberland

The Ridsdale Iron Works, castle-like ruin in, was the point of manufacture of pig steel used in the construction of Newcastle's High Level Bridge.

We've driven past this 'castle' in Ridsdale many, many times over the years and have always meant to stop by, but never got round to it.

However, this isn't a castle, but an abandoned iron works built to emulate a rugged border stronghold. This ruinous pile is an important chunk of our industrial heritage and is a poignant reminder of the iron that holds up much of the north east.

There is something palatial about the arched entrances and rounded windows of the building, the towering heights from floor to sky of the foundry. There seemed to be some split floors and large square holes in the walls where I'd imagine machinery would have been lodged.

Inside these cavernous sandstone walls stood two massive beam engines powered by steam. These in turn powered the blowers to fires which roared to keep the blast furnaces active.

Ridsdale, an area rich in mineral deposits, was created as a domestic settlement for workers brought in from surrounding areas and employed at the ironworks. Local landowners and entrepreneurs wanted to exploit the richness of the land and a lease on the mineral rights was taken out by the Chesterhope Iron Company in 1836.

Three years later the foundry and village were purchased by The Derwent Ironworks at a sum of £30,000! The village was enlarged, two more blast furnaces were added, and production of pig iron was significantly increased. Ten years on, the production of iron was thriving in this small remote Northumbrian village.

Robert Stephenson was researching the best and most brawny steel to use in the design and construction of his High Level Bridge. Fifteen different varieties were tested and beating off fierce competition from more centrally located iron works on the Tyne and in Winlaton, the Ridsdale Ironworks came through with the most robust iron which Stephenson purchased in large quantities to erect his famous bridge of 1849.

The bridge allowed the first continuous route of train travel from London to Edinburgh. It was the first bridge in the world to combine travel by both road and rail and built on the minerals and efforts of men in rural Ridsdale.

A detail from William Bell Scott's painting 'In the Nineteenth Century the Northumbrians Show the World What Can be Done with Iron and Coal' of 1861 which we saw on one of the friezes in the Central Hall at Wallington Hall, showing Stephenson's High Level Bridge made with steel from Ridsdale.

After this significant sale of pig iron, the ironworks fell into decline and by 1847 were closed. A short life for such a substantial building.

Some years later, another acclaimed industrialist, William Armstrong paid the nominal fee of £3,500 to buy the village and the mineral rights from The Duke of Northumberland. The Roxborough to Hexham railway line and the Border Counties Railway had been built in the late 1850's and use of the line was overestimated, as use was low in such a rural region.

Armstrong bought a spur of the line at Redesmouth to transport iron to his Elswick works for smelting, as the quality of the iron ore was superior and he believed of great benefit to him in the use of munitions manufacture which he sold to many countries. This saw the use of the ironworks greatly reduce and in 1864, Armstrong tore down the front of the foundry to make way for the removal of the furnaces which were to be transported to his more centrally located works in Newcastle.

In addition to the ruined building you can still see the remnants of the ironworks in the grounds.

We had another visit in the winter time and in this beautifully bleak, peopleless place, it's hard to imagine the roar of fire and steam amidst the quiet of the sheep.

You can see the crude get-out plan, and the lack of regard for the building as the east wall was just torn down to functionally remove the massive blast furnaces and then left to fall into disrepair.

The building, now just walls and windows, a shell of its former self is now a scheduled monument and was on the 'At Risk' register. There are interesting information panels and good access to the ruin as the site received support from the Revitalising Redesdale project.

There are breath taking views up to the border and beyond and a quiet legacy of the heritage and history of Newcastle, and the significant advancement of road and rail travel in the world.

We were kept company on our wander by a Scottish Blackface and also a small robin who plopped himself down and eagle-eyed us wherever we went he went!

To add to the adventure, the Low Cleughs Bastle is just around the corner.

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How To Find Ridsdale Iron Works

Where Is Ridsdale Iron Works?

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55.156304, -2.144323

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Where To Park For Ridsdale Iron Works?

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55.154417, 55.154417

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Park further up the road outside The Gun pub where they is parking on both sides of the road.

Contributed by Jos Forester-Melville

Highland loving human. Thalassophile. I love a good smile. Happiest heading for the hills with my pickup filled with kids and dogs! Working four days, we enjoy a Fridate, and usually spend it scouting out new scenery. I love a gated track, a bit of off roading and if it involves a full ford, well, that gets extra points! I go nowhere without a flask and binoculars, and love the small things in life that make it big…Goldcrests, dry stone walls, Deadman’s fingers, blackberries and quality clouds.

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Jos Forester-Melville

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Ridsdale Iron Works was listed in Building // Northumberland // Ridsdale