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Whitecliff Ironworks is an important and unique heritage site in the Forest of Dean. It was the second coke-fired blast furnace of three built in the Forest of Dean and the industrial remains today remind us of the association of producing iron using coke. The site, now a Scheduled Monument, is important because it is the only surviving example left in southern England.
Before 1750 the iron industry was fuelled with charcoal but a change to coke was underway. In the Forest of Dean, formerly one of the main iron-making areas in Britain, a coke-fuelled blast furnace was built at Whitecliff between 1798 and 1801 by a local coal owner, James Teague, in partnership with ironmasters from Shropshire.
The building phase was badly affected by flooding, but the furnace was 'blown in' in 1801 or 1802. By 1808 Whitecliff was now owned by Thomas Halford, James Teague, Isaiah Birt and Wickenden. Halford was not satisfied with the output the ironworks were achieving and in 1808 he approached David Mushet, a noted Scottish metallurgist, offering to pay him for his advice on a major rebuilding of the works. Mushet designed and supervised the project, between 1808 and 1810.
Mushet moved to Coleford to take up full-time management of the Whitecliff works in February 1810. After just six months Mushet quickly disengaged himself from the partnership. In late 1810, or possibly early 1811, Mushet left Halford to run Whitecliff on his own. The scale of iron making at Whitecliff, after 1810, is unknown, but it had ceased completely by 1816 and possibly as early as 1812. There is no evidence that iron was ever produced again at the site and it seems there was then a period of rapid decline. David Mushet went on to successfully produce iron at Darkhill Ironworks.
The furnace was built alongside the proposed route of the tramway from Coleford to Monmouth but much of this was not constructed until 1812.
Some of the iron made at Whitecliff went to the tin plate works down the valley at Redbrook, from where trows carried goods along the Wye to the burgeoning markets of the British Empire. Records of iron making here in 1808 suggest that about 80 tons of iron-ore and 120 tons of coke were consumed by the furnace for a weekly output of about 20 tons of pig iron. The quantity of raw materials used was probably uneconomic. Whitecliff's short commercial life was due to the difficulties of using Forest of Dean coal, which did not coke well, and the rich iron ore of the area.
After abandonment, one furnace at Whitecliff was demolished but the other survived as a ruin. In the early 1980s a small local trust began the task of preserving it and its setting. That work is continued by The Forest of Dean Buildings Preservation Trust.
Whitecliff is on the Hidden Heritage App route, bringing historic locations to life with 'then and now' images, find out more here.
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- Free Entry
- Dogs Accepted
* Always open with free access. On-road parking.