Treasure of the Week no. 21. The Low Moor Iron Works – what poetry!

Low Moor Iron Works: a poem. By John Nicholson. 1829 (1856 reprint).

JND 187/1 (Please quote this number if requesting this item.)

Tres 21 John Nicholson

Image reproduced from ‘Poets of Keighley, Bingley, Haworth and District’ by Charles F Forshaw.

In common with other writers of the early nineteenth century, John Nicholson (1790-1843), ‘The Bard of Airedale’ found romance in the achievements of industry.  The coal-fired flares of the iron works at Low Moor were compared to the smoking volcanoes of Etna and Strombolo. Beyond romance though, were the utilitarian products that issued

When first the shapeless sable Ore
Is laid in heaps around Low Moor,
The roaring Blast, the quiv’ring Flame,
Give to the mass another name;
White as the Sun the Metal runs,
For Horse Shoe Nails, or thund’ring Guns;
The trembling hair-spring of a Watch,
An Anchor, or a Cottage latch –
Most implements the Farmers have,
And those of Steamers on the wave
The Tailor’s Needle, or the Shell
The levell’d once where Princes dwell;
The Engine, Boiler, Cobler’s awl,
The Carronade, the pond’rous ball;
The place where Steam first moved his wings,
The Nails in Beggars’ Shoes and Kings’;
The Anchor’s Chain, the Fisher’s Hook,
The Sword – the Hatchet – and the Crook,
The sounding Anvil, all the blades,
The cause of many thousand trades;
No pen can write, no mind can soar
To tell the Wonders of Low Moor.

The importance of the Low Moor Iron Works in the manufacture of weapons is noted:

Throughout the world thy heavy Guns are known:
From the Pacific to the Indian shore,
Nations have heard their dread tremendous roar.

And at the Woolwich arsenal:

There Pyramids of balls for battle form’d,
By which each fortress of our foes is storm’d,
The bursting bombs of every size are there,
To guard the land Britannia holds so dear.

But now

Silent the Cannon, peaceful all the host;

In particular, and prophetically, the coming of the railways is noted: the days of the Courier, the Pilot, and the Duke of Leeds, stage coaches all, are ending:

Ye panting horses, smoking on the road,
Mark’d with the whip, and struggling with your load;
Your race of cruelties will soon be done,
The mail without you soon will swiftly run.

Summing up, Nicholson tells how Low Moor helped make Bradford:

What millions sterling have been made,
What tens of thousands have been paid,
What thousands here has genius fed,
Since the first blast has rear’d its head,
Crown’d with flame that dar’d on high,
And cheer’d the midnight cloudy sky.
But for Low Moor, old Bradford Town,
Had never like a City grown.

This poem was first published in 1829 and reprinted in 1856 by J Dobson of the Market Place, Bingley.

Nicholson started his working life in the mills but aged 32 moved to Harden Beck and became an established poet. After success with works such as Airedale in Ancient Times and The Siege of Bradford, he tried his luck in London, but soon returned to Bingley. In the 1841 Census, John (aged 50) and his wife Martha (45) were living with their eight children, aged 6 through to Ann (22) and Sarah (20), both worsted warpers, and Thomas (20), a wool sorter. John Nicholson was drowned while trying to cross the River Aire on stepping stones on a stormy night.

Tres21 birthplace of Nicholson

Image reproduced from ‘Poets of Keighley, Bingley, Haworth and District’ by Charles F Forshaw.

The Low Moor Iron Works have long since gone, but the recent re-opening of Low Moor station would surely have pleased ‘The Bard of Airedale’!


Map of the Week: Low Moor

In 1828 or 1829 surveyor Joseph Fox drew a map recording the property of the Low Moor Iron Company. The West Yorkshire Archives (Bradford) have a copy of his map, generously donated by Geoff and Mary Twentyman. The donors suggest that it was kept on display at the ironworks, and it has certainly been annotated at a later date. The original map is too fragile to be handled, a common problem with old material, but images of excellent quality are available on CD-ROM. The Local Studies Library reserve map collection also has a plan, labelled North Bierley, which closely resembles the Fox map. It has deteriorated quite badly but the detail included as this week’s chosen example perfectly clear.

The same landowners are mentioned in both maps, although the script in which their names are written differs. The plan of the Low Moor Ironworks is identical in the two maps, as are most buildings included. In the top left corner of the image are a collection of roughly circular features. These represent coal or ironstone mines. It is hard to imagine now that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Bradford was densely covered by mines, abandoned mine-shafts and piles of colliery waste. The Low Moor and Bowling Iron Companies smelted iron ore, obtained locally from the roof of the Black Bed coal seam, using coke made from the deeper Better Bed seam. The production of cast iron and ‘best Yorkshire wrought iron’ was extremely profitable for more than a century.

In the approximate centre of the map is the place name ‘Glass House’. This represents the site once occupied by Bradford’s only known glass-making furnace. The builder of the glass-works, known to be in existence by 1748, was Edward Rookes Leeds (1715-1788) of Royds Hall, Lord of the Manor of Wibsey.  In that era the space needed for a furnace and its attendant glass-workers was enclosed by a brick cone, and there were large underground flues. An excellent surviving example of such a cone can still be seen at Catcliffe, South Yorkshire. The Fox map in the WY Archives places a large circle at this site which could easily represent a glass cone in plan, but the map illustrated here has no such feature. Have the two map versions ‘caught’ the brick cone in the process of being demolished?

The fate of the glass works is being actively researched at present. It is possible that the works was not in active production for many years, but ‘Glass House’ long remained as a place name in Low Moor. Fox drew other maps; the LSL reserve collection contains a beautiful example showing Harden Moor, with the roads connecting Keighley and Bingley, drawn in 1830.

Derek Barker, Library Volunteer

Low Moor