22 June 2012
A historic landmark in the North Pennines, that inspired one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, has been safeguarded for the future thanks to restoration work carried out as part of a Natural England Environmental Stewardship scheme.
The Bolt’s Law Incline Engine House near Rookhope in Weardale is a legacy of the area’s mining history and a rare survivor from the early days of the industrial railways of Co. Durham. The site has important literary as well as historic importance, as it is mentioned in the poem ‘New Year Letter’ written by W.H. Auden in 1940. The beauty and wildness of the Weardale landscape and its mining heritage was a life-long inspiration on Auden’s poetry.
Situated at the top of a long slope, or incline, the building once housed a steam-driven engine that would have been used to haul wagons full of iron ore, lead and limestone for more than a mile up and down the steep hillside. Disused since the 1920s, time has taken its toll on the buildings at Bolts Law and to prevent further dilapidation Natural England has supported urgent consolidation work through a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement with the land owner.
In a sensitive restoration project supervised by architect Peter Kempsey of Countryside Consultants and carried out by Shaun Ramshaw Building Contractor, the stonework of the building has been painstakingly consolidated to prevent further collapse using traditional building skills. The walls of the building have been re-pointed with lime mortar and fallen stones have been re-set.
Local people took the opportunity to find out at first hand about the works at the Engine House during a recent visit to the site. Tom Gledhill of Natural England and Peter Kempsey were joined by members of ‘The Friends of the North Pennines’ to look at the completed work.
Tom Gledhill, Natural England Historic Environment Adviser, said: “Through this work an important example of the industrial heritage of the North Pennines, and one that also has important literary connections, has been saved from further dereliction. This work wouldn’t have been possible without the support and interest of the local community and the skills of all the partners involved.”
Today, the Engine House has a new lease of life as a landmark for cyclists on the Coast to Coast route and looks set to remain an important part of Weardale’s industrial and literary heritage for many years to come.
The work at Bolt’s Law Engine House was funded through the Higher Level Stewardship scheme, which is managed by Natural England and supports the good stewardship of the countryside delivering a wide range of environmental benefits.
Fact File: Bolts Law
The Bolt’s Law railway was originally built by the Weardale Iron Company to transport the ironstone and limestone needed for its business. The first section was completed in 1846 and ran over the moorland as far as the edge of the Rookhope Valley, the line reaching an altitude of 1,670 feet at its highest point. The mining settlement of Rookhope lay in the valley below and to connect the village to the Bolt’s Law line a railway incline was constructed down the hillside.
The incline is approximately 1¼ miles in length with a gradient of between 1in12 and 1in6 at its steepest point. At the head of the incline a large stone built engine house was erected with gantries outside to guide the ropes from the winding drums housed inside and which pulled the wagons.
Next to the engine, which would have been similar to those used in steam ships of the day, was a boiler house with a distinctive square chimney. It is thought that this may be the feature that W.H. Auden (1907-1973) saw when he visited the area in the 1920s and refers to in New Year Letter written in 1940:
“The derelict lead-smelting mill,
Flued to its chimney up the hill,
That smokes no answer any more
But points, a landmark on Bolt’s Law
The finger of all questions.”
Auden’s poem Funeral Blues (“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone/Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone”) was made famous when it was used in the film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ directed by Mike Newell (1994)
A recession in lead and iron mining and the closure of the Tow Law and Tudhoe ironworks made the line uneconomic and it eventually closed in 1923. The machinery at Bolts Law was removed soon after, although the track itself remained until taken away for war salvage in 1943.
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About Environmental Stewardship
Environmental stewardship schemes are administered by Natural England, on behalf of Defra, and fund farmers and land managers throughout England to deliver effective environmental management on their land.
About Natural England
Natural England is the government’s advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and advising on their conservation.
We run England’s Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.
We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.