In a steep, wooded dene where the Lumley Park Burn cuts dramatically through the sandstone beneath the towering concrete roof of the A1M flyover is Lumley Forge, quiet now but one of several sites on tributaries of the River Wear that were processing iron in the 18th century.
Although there may have been activity on it beforehand, the site first appeared in documents in 1779 when it was purchased by William Hawks whose father had been a smith at Ambrose Crowley’s Winlaton ironworks and whose company – Hawkes & Co – would become one of the biggest iron manufacturers in the North East in the 19th century supplying chains, cables, anchors and plate for shipping and iron for Newcastle’s High Level Bridge and Sunderland’s Wearmouth Bridge.
Three ‘balling’ or reheating furnaces together with known ancillary equipment such as blowers, tilt hammers and waterwheels reprocessed scrap iron that was bought cheaply as ballast from the colliers visiting the Tyne and the Wear. In its time the site produced a range of iron (and brass) goods including shovels, anvils, bar iron, nails and chains and is known to have re-forged the boiler of Timothy Hackworth’s ‘Royal George’, the world’s first commercially viable goods locomotive.
In 1855 a fire destroyed much of the site shortly after Hawks & Co had left and it was rebuilt as a charcoal manufactory and barley mill. Thereafter it became a stove and boot blacking company before being abandoned, then finally demolished and cleared in the 1930s.
Thanks to the efficiency of its clearance the only archaeological evidence left to remind us of this early location of County Durham’s iron and steel industry is a crescent weir, sluice, overflow channel, machine beds and revetment wall which in itself is notable for the use of ‘mossers’ or lumps of furnace slag substituted for the usual brick or stone – a practice that is apparently quite rare in the North East.
Today this peaceful tract of woodland continues to be improved and is a particularly contemplative feature of the Weardale Way. In 2012 a fish-pass was integrated on the Lumley Park Burn to allow salmon and sea-trout access to spawning grounds on its upper reaches. The geology here, like much of Durham, is susceptible to subsidence particularly after heavy rain and in 2013 the road below the hairpin to the north of the site suffered a dramatic slippage that required major repairs. This, in all likelihood, won’t be the last time and it’s just one more example of the considerable erosion that we’re witnessing in this 21st century climate.
Middleton, Penny. ‘Lumley Forge: A little piece of Durham’s industrial heritage tucked away below the A1 flyover’. Archaeology County Durham, Issue 8 2013: Durham County Council