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Alum works at Kettleness

A Scheduled Monument in Lythe, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.5318 / 54°31'54"N

Longitude: -0.7142 / 0°42'51"W

OS Eastings: 483302.65885

OS Northings: 515931.632153

OS Grid: NZ833159

Mapcode National: GBR RJG1.57

Mapcode Global: WHG9Q.0C55

Entry Name: Alum works at Kettleness

Scheduled Date: 29 April 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018144

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29545

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Lythe

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Lythe with Sandsend

Church of England Diocese: York


The monument includes remains of the Kettleness alum quarries and associated
features. It lies on the promontory projecting north into the North Sea, 7.5km
north west of Whitby. As well as the quarries, the monument includes an alum
house and associated processing features. The alum quarries and works were
worked intermittently from 1728 to 1861 and were amongst the last alum works
in the region to be opened and the last to close. The works and part of the
nearby village were destroyed by a landslip in in 1829 but by 1831 were
working again.
The quarry was cut into the east and west sides of the promontory, creating a
north facing working face of up to 600m in length and 50m in depth, from
which the grey alum shale was extracted. The quarrying started at the northen
end of the promontory and progressed southwards. As the quarry floor expanded
the alum house and processing activities were established on the ever
increasing space in the quarry floor. At the foot of the quarry face is a
terrace representing the last stage of quarrying.
The first stage of processing was calcination, remains of which survive as
areas of burnt shale at the base of the quarry face. The next stage was
steeping which occurred in stone lined pits, some of which survive on the east
side of the quarry floor. The raw liquor produced was sent to the alum house
by timber channels known as liquor troughs which ran through a stone tunnel.
The alum house stood on a level terrace on the west side of the quarry floor.
Stone footings for the alum house and for a set of tanks on the terrace above
are visible. Remains of other structures such as culverts, workshops, offices,
stores and a laboratory are partly exposed and are also thought to survive
below ground level throughout the area of the scheduling. An embanked and
partly revetted roadway crosses the monument from east to west.
A series of rutways used to guide horse-drawn wagons and post holes from
harbour facilities survive in the intertidal area on the west side of the
promontory, although these are not included in the scheduling.
The bench is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Alum is a chemical used principally in the textile industry for fixing dyes.
It is not found in a natural state in Britain but can be manufactured from
some types of shale. During the medieval period in Britain alum was imported,
mostly from Italy. Domestic production began in the north of England in the
early 17th century. The industry flourished in the north for 200 years until
the mid-19th century when it was overtaken by new techniques using shale from
coal mining, whilst after 1880 aluminium sulphate replaced alum for most
industrial purposes. The last English aluminium works (at Goole) closed in
1950. Approximately 50 alum sites have been identified in England. Most were
along the Cleveland and Yorkshire coast. Other early sites are known on the
south coast, particularly in Dorset and Hampshire.
Alum works comprise two main monument types: the quarry where extraction and
initial processing took place, and the alum house where final processing took
place. Alum shale was extracted from quarries sited on steep inland hillsides
or coastal cliffs. Initial processing on the quarry floor consisted of
calcination by burning shale in clamps, and the production in settling pits of
alum liquor. The liquor was transported to processing works in sealed casks or
through wooden channels known as liquor troughs. Larger quarries possessed
inclines and haulage gear and sometimes harbour facilities. Stores, workshops
and laboratories can also survive. Evidence of secondary industries such as
epsom salts and iron silicates production is also preserved at alum works.
The alum industry was the first chemical industry in Britain. Its quarries and
works illustrate the early stages of the industry and the technological
advances through the period known as the Industrial Revolution. The alum
industry also offers important information about wider changes in social and
economic conditions during this period. The large scale of the industry's
workings also mean that its remains are today a major component of coastal
landscapes. A sample of the better preserved sites, illustrating the regional,
chronological and technological range of this class of monument, is considered
to merit protection.

The alum site Kettleness is unusually complete and preserves evidence of
all procesess associated with the industry including quarrying of the raw

Source: Historic England


Cranstone D, EH Alum industry step 1-4 reports, (1997)

Source: Historic England

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