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Pleasington alum works

A Scheduled Monument in Pleasington, Blackburn with Darwen

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Latitude: 53.7483 / 53°44'53"N

Longitude: -2.5552 / 2°33'18"W

OS Eastings: 363485.789512

OS Northings: 428134.873023

OS Grid: SD634281

Mapcode National: GBR BTL3.M2

Mapcode Global: WH970.Q1GT

Entry Name: Pleasington alum works

Scheduled Date: 21 January 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018652

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27832

County: Blackburn with Darwen

Civil Parish: Pleasington

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lancashire

Church of England Parish: Feniscowles Immanuel

Church of England Diocese: Blackburn


The monument includes remains of the alum quarries and associated features of
the early 17th to late 18th century Pleasington alum works, which is located
in woodland to the south of Alum House Brook. As well as a number of quarry
faces, the monument also includes surface remains of quarry floor working
areas, test pits, roadways, spoil tips and tip runs, and will also contain
buried remains of features such as steeping pits, the alum house and
associated buildings, and early quarry faces.
Alum was first quarried at Pleasington in 1609 when the then landowner, Sir
Richard Houghton, employed the German mining engineer Anthony Snyder to
commence operations. By the end of the year only some five to seven tons of
alum had been produced but its limited transport costs to the nearby tawers
and dyers of Bolton, Wigan and Coppull led to a rapid increase in demand, and
by 1614 Sir Richard was granted the privilege of making alum for 21 years and
of exporting 500 tons a year. Three years later, whilst visiting Sir Richard's
home at Houghton Towers, King James I took the opportunity to view the alum
mines. Although the precise date when alum manufacture ceased at Pleasington
is unknown, reference to alum workers in the Blackburn parish registers in
1771 indicates that the site must have continued production towards the end of
the 18th century.
The main surviving quarry was cut into the north face of Alum Crag creating a
working face about 260m long and 35m deep, the lower 15m-20m of which contains
the grey alum shale. The quarry floor at the foot of the face is divided into
two by a large spoil tip. The quarry floor on either side of this tip is now
boggy but is considered to contain the buried remains of the calcination
process where the alum shale was burnt to extract the alum, and the steeping
pits where the liquid known as alum liquor was produced from the extracted
alum. Although no surface evidence can be seen, buried remains of an alum
house where final processing took place is expected to survive together with
the remains of associated buildings such as workshops, offices and stores. On
the high ground immediately to the west of the main quarry are a series of
hollows indicating the site of early test pits and a short distance to the
north west of these there is a smaller quarry face and working floor. To the
north of the quarries, on the steep slope down to Alum House Brook, there is
an access roadway and a large and complex series of spoil tips and tip runs
consisting of both quarry waste and spent shale discarded after the steeping

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.

Pleasington alum works is a rare surviving example of one of the earliest
largely undisturbed inland alum works in the country and is the sole surviving
example of an early 17th to late 18th century alum site in north west England.
It contains substantial surface remains of the quarrying and tipping
activities and will also contain buried remains of features associated with
the other alum producing processes such as calcination and steeping.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Turton, R B, The Alum Farm, (1938), 80-2
EH Alum Ind Step 3 Site Assessment, Gould, S, Pleasington Alum Works, (1996)

Source: Historic England

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