The history of Whitby and surrounding area would not be complete without reference to its industrial past. The landscape of the North York Moors around Whitby are often thought to be essentially pastoral and rural. Whilst one would expect the presence of remains such as limekilns, watermills and windmills it may come as a surprise to find that the extractive mineral industries have featured very considerably in the past and that therefore the region is ‘rich’ in industrial archaeology terms. The biggest of these industries was undoubtedly iron making due to the presence of ironstone which during the late 1860s made Cleveland one of, if not the, biggest iron producers in the world. Furthermore the Liassic alum shales formed the basis of the United Kingdom’s earliest chemical industry with a history reaching back to the beginning of the 17th century and the occurrence of ‘Whitby’ jet created a considerable mining and jewellery manufacturing business in the 19th century. These three industries, which are to a large extent peculiar to the area, along with other more traditional industries such as building stone and roadstone quarrying; railway networks; pottery, brick & tile making; and the localised and specialised glass-making industry in Rosedale make this region of great interest to the Industrial Historian.
Regrettably because of the extractive nature of some of the industries and perceptions during the early 20th century that the ‘debris’ remaining behind after these industries were ‘eye-sores’ the remains are not as extensive as they might have been with today’s emphasis on preservation of our industrial history. In many cases the only signs of once very extensive industries are the uneven ground and smallish pit heaps left following the abandonment of a mine.furthermore there are few small artefacts remaining meaning that these important historical industries are not well represented in Whitby Museum.
However there are some notable exceptions, in particular the remains of the ironstone industry in Rosedale and its remarkable mineral railway, the remains of the alum industry, particularly visible at the Peak Works near Ravenscar which is now in the hands of The National Trust.