Any Old Iron

Iron Fluer De Lis
Iron Fluer De Lis

The western area of Cumbria was once the main source of iron ore in Britain. Strange to think of it that way when today it’s all about tourism, walking and climbing mountains – you know, fresh air and exercise. Not the sort of thing you could expect if you were down a mine, hacking away at an iron ore seam, out under the sea bed. Well, exercise enough may be, but not much fresh air. You breathed what was there – no fancy ventilation in those days.

The ore was hauled to the surface by men working a sort of windlass with the rope wrapped round the drum and a bucket on each end – so one rose as the other fell. If the windlass operator missed his grip, with the weight of a full bucket on it’s way up, the uncontrolled spin of the handles could easily take his arm off. I’ll bet the bucket loaders at the bottom of the shaft stood well back while a load was rising.

Next up was the horse ‘gin, and yes, that is an apostrophe in front of the gin – ‘gin was short for engine (or may be we should say engin). A complicated toothed ratchet mechanism, probably designed and installed by the same people who were used to building the internal works of wind and water mills, stood over the mine shaft and instead of a water wheel, a horse plodded round in a circle to drive it until the loaded barrel reached the top and the empty barrel sank to the bottom. Then, the horse had to about face and travel the other way round his circle to reverse the process.

Fresh air and exercise, maybe – but I’ll bet he would have swapped it for a desk job.

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