1965 - 2010 Closure & Beyond


The Decision to Close the Mine - The Announcement - The Reaction in The House - Arrangements for the Work Force - Final Closure of the mine - Demolition of the Sinter Plant - Other Demolitions & Disposals - Property and Land Sales - The Final Scene

The Decision to Close the Mine
Several years before September 1965, when the mine ceased production, it was already becoming economically difficult to justify converting into iron this comparatively low grade ore, with its high phosphorous content.   The writing was 'on the wall' as early as 1958 when the Newport docks, importing foreign ore for Ebbw Vale, were being improved.   This was to allow the reception of larger ore carriers containing higher grade ore from countries such as North and West Africa, Spain, Sweden, South America and Newfoundland.   Swedish Concentrates, flue dust and mill scale were being added to the raw ore on the sinter strand in an attempt to improve the quality of the finished sintered ore, prior to its despatch to Ebbw Vale.
     Eventually, in May 1965, the Company decided that, due to a change in the procedures at Ebbw Vale, no sintered ore from Irthlingborough would be required after the end of September 1965.   After this date it would be uneconomical to keep the mine open merely to produce the weekly output of 1,500 tons of raw ore, at that time being despatched to the Company's furnaces at Scunthorpe, and no other steelworks in the country was in need of any sintered ore.   It was therefore decided to cease production on the 30 September 1965 and thereafter to hold the mine on a care-and-maintenance basis for a period of six months.
     The first priority, when the mine closure was decided, and before any official announcement was made, was to calculate the Company's liability on outstanding orders for materials and equipment.  A refurbishment of the sinter plant was in an advanced stage of planning and orders had been placed with approximately 20 firms.   Cancellation charges amounted to over £3,000, the largest being with Huntingdon Heberlein & Co. Ltd., where new pallets for the sinter strand were on order.
The Announcement
The following announcement was duly made to the press with instructions that it was not to be published before the morning papers of 30 June 1965.
On Thursday 1 July 1965 the local Evening Telegraph made it their main news item, with the front page heading :-
This was small comfort to the Irthlingborough District Council, now facing a further loss in rates of approximately £6,000 per annum, while already applying for new industrial development in the town following closures in the leather industry.
Arrangements for the Work Force
At that time there was no Government requirement for employers to make any payment to redundant workers, but a Bill concerning this was passing through Parliament and was to become law in 1967.   The Company adopted the figures for redundancy payments proposed in this Bill, and all the Unions involved were said to be satisfied with the redundancy terms.   All workers were given the opportunity to relocate to the Company's Scunthorpe Works, and a coach was laid on to take interested workers, with their wives, to see the town and the conditions at the works.   In the event only 5 workers took up the offer, and only one staff member actually relocated to Scunthorpe.   Although the Company needed to retain as many workers as possible up to the end of September, any employee who could find employment elsewhere was encouraged to do so.   Of the 223 men employed at the end of June, 26 had left by the end of July.   Any man leaving on his own account would, of course, lose any redundancy payout.   Notices to workers began to be issued on the 25th. of August and it was decided to close the hostel at 12 noon on the 9th of October.   At that time there were 20 men living there, and all left before it closed.   None had found alternative employment at that time.
     It was decided that there should be no special event to commemorate the day on which the mine ceased production.   A few men, mostly members of the staff, were invited to take part in a photo call portraying the last train of ore emerging from the mine entrance, and this picture (fig. 1) appeared in the local Evening Telegraph on Friday 1 October 1965 under the heading "THE END OF A WAY OF LIFE".
     The 36 workers, including one woman, retained after the end of September consisted of the following :-
Deputies 4
Underground Labourers7
Surface Labourers4
Chemist's Assistant1
Navvy Driver1
Lorry Driver1
Apprentice Electricians2
Bricklayers & Labourers3
Some of these employees were retained to do building maintenance work on the Company's extensive estates in the Irthlingborough, Finedon, Burton Latimer, Denford, Blisworth, Gayton, Tiffield, Hunsbury and Thornhaugh Parishes .   There was also an office staff of about 15 people.   This number was later reduced to 7 when the office moved from the works site back to Pine Lodge (fig. 2), where it remained until its closure in 1976.
Final Closure of the mine
Early in 1966 it was decided to close the mine completely by progressively withdrawing all equipment and rail track and solidly stowing the 10 tunnels, to prevent subsidence, at points where they passed under highways.    This entailed stemming with a total of some 3,800 tons of ironstone, between brick walls arched into the tunnel sides.   The ironstone was gained from a stock bank retained on the surface at Irthlingborough Works.   Drainage and ventilation pipes were provided through the stemmed tunnels, using, in the main, the 4 inch (10 cms.) ‘Carlton’ compressor pipes, of which there were nearly 16,000 feet (4,800 m.) available when the mine closed.   Where there was a rail track present in the tunnel to be filled, wagons filled with iron ore were moved into place and additional material was packed around them.   The brick linings from the kilns were used for the brickwork as these kilns were being demolished by direct labour, their supporting reinforced concrete columns having been demolished in 1955 when they were considered to be unsafe. (fig. 3)    All ventilation shafts and the Steps Entrance were filled, using either ore from the Irthlingborough stock banks or brick rubble from surrounding buildings; the adits, including two at Finedon, were bricked up.   The final sealing of the Irthlingborough adit was completed in December 1966 exactly 50 years from its inception in 1916.   The original commemorative plaque above the entrance arch was left in position, stating laconically 'E.V. 1916'.   It is now no longer visible.
Demolition of the Sinter Plant
Having contacted many firms, and failed, in their attempt to sell the Sinter Plant as a 'going concern' the Company decided to invite tenders from several contractors to demolish the plant (fig. 4) to ground level.   The work was eventually offered to Birds Commercial Motors Ltd.    This included the setting aside of all iron and steel scrap, which would remain the property of RTB.   All concrete and brick rubble, apart from the kiln lining bricks, was the property of Birds, who were permitted to bury it in the White Lodge Quarry, north of Wellingborough Road.   The coke crushing plant, known as the Rod Mill (fig. 5), which was used for a short time after closure by the Company's Scunthorpe works for tests, was excluded from the contract, as were the workshops, former office building, the main-line weighbridge (known as 'the bottom weighbridge') with its associated structures and the recently constructed main loco battery-charging building.  The latter building was the last structure to remain upstanding, being used for some time by Whitworths Mills for storage purposes. Some electrical switchgear was also retained for use by the Company as follows :-
7 - 440 volt Ferguson Palin oil circuit breakers
6 - 440 volt Allen West contactor starters
1 - 3,300 volt to 440 volt Hackbridge transformer
Other Demolitions & Disposals
Any machinery and equipment which could be utilised in the Company's many other enterprises was 'ear-marked' and moved to its new location; this still left a considerable amount of metal to be disposed of as scrap.   A brief inventry of materials and equipment which were listed as available at the mine in October 1965 can be found from the 'links' page.   The narrow gauge locomotives were sold to scrap merchants in Wellingborough, where they remained until 1997 when they came to light while the scrapyard was being cleared (figs. 6 & 7).   The 10 Eimco loaders were sold to W. J. Redden & Sons Ltd., Highfield Works, Wellingborough, where at least 4 machines were visible in 2010 (fig. 8).    The Blackett drilling machines were also sold to the same scrap merchant, but were immediately sold on to another mining enterprise.
     Sadly all steam locomotives, with the exception of the 0-4-0 Ebbw Vale-built ‘Siemens’ which was transferred to the Company’s Blisworth Quarry, were cut up for scrap, especially if they had a copper firebox.   The one exception was the steam loco., 'Henry Cort', a 0-4-0 W4 class saddle tank loco. with a copper fire box, built by Peckett & Sons Ltd., Bristol, in 1903.   It had been transferred to Irthlingborough in 1957 from the Company's Blisworth Quarry where it had been operating since 1954.   It was now to be preserved, thanks to the good offices of The Rev. 'Teddy' Boston and the generosity of the Company, because of its name.    Henry Cort of Gosport was an 18th. century iron founder who perfected a method of 'puddling' iron.   Despite having patented his invention he eventually died in penury on 23 May 1800.   On 1 February 1967 the loco (fig. 9) was despatched by road from Irthlingborough to the Foxfield Light Railway Society It was repainted in its original livery and put into steam as the first steam locomotive owned by the Society.   Unfortunately, due to the presence of asbestos in the vehicle, it is not at present (2011) able to be run.   Soon after September 1965 the loco. was decommissioned; its driver, however, Mr Arthur (Sonny) Horn, was retained until January of the following year to enable him to complete 50 years of continuous service with the Company.   He had started work in January 1916 as a horse boy, and was among the first 14 men to be employed at the mine.   During his long years of service he had turned his hand to most labouring jobs, eventually becoming a locomotive fireman in 1947.    Although it is certain that he was never known to drive a motor car, he was able, when the loco. driver retired, to step naturally into his shoes, having had no formal training or ever having passed any formal tests - a prime example of 'on the job' training.   It should be noted that, although the Company acknowledged his long service as being unbroken since 1916, the employment register does show that there were three periods when he was not employed during the 1920's and 1930's.   He was, however, distinguished in being the only worker to be present at both the opening and final closing of the mine.
     The fitters, blacksmiths and former mine deputies were now kept busy, with oxy-acetylene guns, reducing all the metal items to scrap and also constructing farm (fig. 10) and garden gates from the old drill rods, eventually to be erected on the Company's estates.   At Finedon there was a considerable length of 75 lb. track, both flat bottomed and bullhead, laid down by the Ministry of Supply during WWII.   This had to be removed by being reduced to scrap by cutting it into 3 foot lengths (1 m.) or, in the case of some of the flat bottomed rail, despatched for re-use at Blisworth Quarry; in addition a storage bunker, comprising some 47 tons of girders, together with eleven Gloucester side-tipping wagons, were dismantled, cut up as scrap and dispatched to Scunthorpe to be fed into the Company's Open Hearth furnaces.
Property and Land Sales
One or two sales of land lying above the mine began immediately with a request on the 20 September 1965, by The Old Wellingburians' Sports Club, to buy the Company's sports field near the Finedon Water Tower; this sale eventually went ahead.   Certain farmers bought land which they tenanted, but the majority of the land was held until much later, when it was conveyed to the Company's Pension Fund.
     In Irthlingborough itself the 24 houses owned by the Company on the north side of Wellingborough Road were sold, either to sitting tenants, or on the open market as they became vacant; the last house was sold in 1994.
     The area south of Wellingborough Road, on which the kilns, sinter plant, workshops and offices stood, was the subject of a successful planning application for housing and light industry, and was eventually sold in 1976 to the building company Andrews Carvell to become the Pine Trees Estate.   The area south of the kilns had previously been sold to Ferrersand Aggregates for gravel extraction.
     The Workers' Hostel on the A6 Bypass Road was somewhat more difficult to dispose of; a very early enquiry in August 1965, from the Children's Department of the Northamptonshire County Council, had come to nothing.   Interest was shown later by the Governor of the Wellingborough Borstal, who thought it might be perfect as an open prison for offenders in their final year of internment.   Unfortunately this Governor was soon moved on to another post, and the proposal was dropped.   Various further suggestions were put forward, including the building's use as a hospital, refugee camp or for warehousing, but the Ministry of Transport would not countenance any development north of the A6 highway.   Eventually, in 1972, the Company, while looking for a building in which to store its more sensitive documents and records, which at that time were required to be stored for long periods and were at present being held in their London Offices, found the hostel to be eminently suitable and adaptable for this purpose.   The hostel was promptly converted and, despite their Chief Archivist in London requiring the building to be extremely secure, and the local fire service, on the contrary, calling for easy means of escape, the conversion to a Record Office was completed successfully; it remained in use for 27 years, after which it was sold.
The Final Scene
To the casual observer it seems that little evidence now remains in Irthlingborough of the existence of a once thriving industry, but a closer look provides more tangible evidence.
     If one looks South West into the neighbouring fields from the A6 highway between Irthlingborough and Finedon (fig.11) the sudden drop in ground level can be seen by the discerning eye, where robbing of the iron ore has once taken place.
     At Lakeside, a development on the Pine Trees Estate, in a now privately owned enclosure, the water which flows continually down the main tunnel from the mine can be seen,(fig. 12) emerging into a small lake.
     When the developers of the Pine Trees Estate came across a wheel during building work, they took it to be a pithead wheel, and erected it in Grimmer Walk as a small commemoration of the mine (fig. 13).   It was, in fact, a pulley wheel, attached to a concrete block which hung down at one end of the endless rope haulage system on the surface, near the top weighbridge, to keep the rope taut (fig 14).
     The main mine adit, which stood bricked with its ventilation tubes for ten years (fig. 15), has now been completely covered with turf and is impossible to discern (fig. 16).
     Before Dairy Way was built there remained, for many years, traces of the black and white tiled floor of the Power House building erected in 1917 (fig. 17).
     In Wellingborough Road a gate, made of drill rods by the blacksmiths during the closure period, is another oblique reference to the presence of a mine (fig. 18).
     Perhaps the most poignant natural feature on the surface is a mature oak tree (fig. 19), now the subject of a Tree Preservation Order, standing behind William Trigg Close on the Pine Trees Estate.   This tree would have been seen by Professor Henry Louis all those years ago, in December 1914, when he was first prospecting for a possible site for a mine.   If only it could talk, what a story it could tell.


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