Mexborough & Swinton Times, December 02, 1939
Ironworks of Long Ago
Early South Yorkshire Forges
Traces at Conisboro´
A long time ago, well before the Roman invasion and perhaps about the period that the camp on Wincobank Hill was occupied, some of the local residents had a site near the head of Den Brook, where they fashioned arrows and spears from imported nodules of flint; samples of which have been found in Denaby and Swinton. At a later period they erected a furnace in which they erected a furnace in which they reduced the iron ore from the district to metallic iron, thus following or anticipating the operations at Wincobank.
Three at Conisborough
During the Commonwealth the Doncaster Corporation were searching for additional revenue, and decided to enquire what iron had been landed at their wharf on Chappell Garph over a series of years. Along with others John Crofte of “Conisboro´ forge”, was to be interviewed. The site of this establishment is quite unknown, for about this era three iron works were working in the village; one below the foot of the Old Hill another above it towards Kearsley, and one near Crookhill. It would appear that the latter was not operated by M. Crofte for should his market have been Doncaster, it would have been cheaper to send his iron direct per pack horse, that to carry it to the landing stage at Burcrott, and then barge it to Doncaster.
There was an old legend that an ironworks once stood on the site of the bone mill at the rear of the Castle Inn and that its dam extended nearly as high as the Castle Mills. Prior to the canalisation of the Don, and the construction of the reservoirs above Sheffield nearly every thunder shower on the watershed would have caused flooding at Conisborough; not a serious disaster for a bloomer producing wrought iron from imported cast iron but fatal to a furnace dealing with the raw ore. As there was plenty of ore, to be obtained in Conisborough Parks, and sufficient water at Kilnhurst to supply the four waterwheels there the probabilities are that cast iron was produced somewhere higher up the brook, and that the forges at Melton, Roche, Stone and Brookhouse may have taken supplies. The other concern was above the ford at the foot of the Old Hill, and the contours suggest that somewhere near the present Bone Works was a suitable site.
Five Old Shafts
Signs of iron ore mining are to be seen all over the Parks, five shafts are remembered while the entrance to a drift and its adjacent “feyer” on which the ore was exposed to the weather for a few months still exist. From the known outputs from the ironworks at Thrybergh and Kilnhurst, it is evident that large quantities of iron ore were required, there are traces of an old road from Swinton Connon to the latter works, over which both ore and charcoal may have been conveyed; the source of the materials for the furnace at Thrybergh is unknown. Messrs. Walker the Rotherham iron founders, built two houses, a stable and smith´s shop at Conisborough in 1776, and a couple of years later erected a further two houses and a new grinding wheel, these four houses were on the opposite side of the road to the Holy Well, and a little nearer to Hill Top. The grinding wheel would be required for finishing flat irons of which the annual output amounted to over 150 tons, and this of course suggests water power. The stable and smith´s shop of 1776 could have had no connection with the flat iron business, and it is not improbable that the horses were for carting the iron ore from the Parks to the Thrybergh furnace then being worked by Messrs. Walker. It well may be that the smith´s shop was for the purpose of repairing the tools of the miners in working the iron ore.
The diary of the eccentric Lord Torrington mentions a visit to Conisborough Castle and after remounting his horse he says he witnessed the boring of a large howitzer at the works of Messrs. Walker but a little thought coupled with a knowledge of the countryside suggest that this operation occurred at the Thrybergh works of this firm. This was in 1792, but a discovery of some old records revealed the fact that the new boring mill at Conisborough was built some 13 years previously, the stone built corn mill with its single wheel on the Conisborough side of the river does not appear to have been very suitable for handling cannon weighing a couple of tons, the two-wheel brick erection on the island over the ferry would be more suitable.
It is probable that some remains in the form of furnace slags, reliable records and other evidence relating to the past industry of the village may exist. And the contributor would be very grateful to receive details. The iron slags will resemble black glass sometimes porous like a sponge but often quite solid and of course, far heavier than an equal bulk of glass.