Sound of Trumpet
2010-09-06 12:39:41 UTC
Henry 'stamped out Industrial Revolution'
The Telegraph (U.K.) ^ | 06/21/2002 | David Derbyshire
Posted on 21 June 2002 03:15:49 by Pokey78
The turbulent love life of Henry VIII, which led to the Reformation
and dissolution of the monasteries, may also have postponed the
industrial revolution by 200 years.
Archaeologists have found evidence that the Cistercian monks of
Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire, were developing a prototype blast furnace
for the large-scale production of cast iron when they were evicted by
the king in 1538.
Click to enlarge
Without the Reformation, it is possible that the seeds of industrial
Britain could have been sown in the tranquil cloisters of North
In an attempt to discover more about the industrious monks of
Rievaulx, researchers will today produce iron in the abbey grounds for
the first time in 450 years.
By analysing the slag produced in the recreated clay furnace,
scientists hope to find clues about the development of the full-scale
blast furnace, the invention that perhaps more than any other ushered
in the industrial age.
Although the popular perception of monasteries is one of study,
contemplation, prayer and bee-keeping, the reality of medieval
Yorkshire was very different. Rievaulx had its own facilities for
producing iron for the abbey's quarries and farms, and for sale to the
After the monks were expelled, an inventory of the abbey listed a
"bloomsmithy" at Laskill, an outstation about four miles from the
Dr Gerry McDonnell, an archaeometallurgist at Bradford University, was
intrigued to find out how far the monks had developed iron technology.
Since the Iron Age, the most common form of furnace had been a clay
stack, usually around 6ft high and 3ft wide and built around a frame
of willow withies. Charcoal and iron were piled into the top and air
was pumped into it with bellows.
Iron in a stack furnace forms a "bloom" on the clay which has to be
chipped off, heated and worked to remove as many impurities as
possible. Stack furnaces are unlikely to reach the 1,500C needed to
melt iron. To create cast iron, blast furnaces with mechanically
powered bellows are needed. Textbooks used to state that the first
were built in Kent in the 1490s.
But Dr McDonnell believes that the transition was far more complex.
"There is confusion between the idea that the blast furnace equalled
cast iron," he said. "Now there is evidence that cast iron was in use
long before that, even as far back as the Saxon period."
What matters is not the creation of cast iron, but the large-scale
production of cast iron in dedicated furnaces. Dr McDonnell believes
that the Rievaulx monks were close to creating such a furnace at
An excavation has revealed a square, stone built furnace around 15ft
across which was probably water powered. The slag of a primitive stack
furnace contains high concentrations of iron. But a chemical analysis
of the slag at Laskill reveals concentrations far more typical of a
"One of the key things is that the Cistercians had a regular meeting
of abbots every year and they had the means of sharing technological
advances across Europe," he said. "They effectively had a stranglehold
on iron. The break-up of the monasteries broke up this network of
"They had the potential to move to blast furnaces that produced
nothing but cast iron. They were poised to do it on a large scale, but
by breaking up the virtual monopoly, Henry VIII effectively broke up
An experiment by English Heritage and Bradford University will attempt
to produce iron today and tomorrow at the abbey for the first time
since the time of the Reformation.
Ian Panter, a scientific adviser to English Heritage, said: "There are
so many unanswered questions about the way monks produced iron that
the only way to resolve them is to rebuild one of their furnaces.
"It will take up to eight hours to reach peak temperature and heat
sensors will monitor each burn. Slag left over will be analysed and
compared with archaeological finds to provide further clues about
Rievaulx's industrial past."
TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; United Kingdom