Between 1855 and the end of that century a number of significant events occurred that impacted on the lives of my ancestors, and directly on my own life too. They placed our lives within a context, a history of the times, something which I am finding to be the most interesting part of my family tree search.
The first was the discovery of a vein of haematite, iron ore, on the Cumbrian coast in the small village of Haverigg. Analysis showed it to be the richest and purest ore with the highest iron content in the whole world. The second event was the massive slump that occurred in the market value and price of copper and tin which severely affected the lives of many, especially mining families, in the southern English county of Cornwall. Connecting these two events led to the migration of many Cornish miners, including my maternal great grandfather William Waters, to that tiny Cumbrian village. The third event was the “cutting of the first sod” of The Outer Sea Embankment Works (The new sea wall) to protect flooding of the Cumbrian iron ore mine on April 27th 1900.
The family grows!
By now the mine was known as Hodbarrow, my great grandfather William would live for only a further year and his son William, now 28 years old and working down the mine, would become the head of the household. In July 1901, young William would marry Emily and begin his family of 13 children of which six of them died before they were 2 years old. My mother, Marian, was the 13th and born in 1920. Thankfully …. she survived and lived to a ripe old age of 91!
The big problem with this particular iron ore mine in Cumbria was that it extended quite some way under the Irish Sea and when first opened a sea wall or barrier was constructed, mostly from wood, to minimise inundation of sea water. It didn’t last long, so a second wall was built of concrete which lasted considerably longer until it too just “sank”! And so a third wall was commissioned to be built quite differently using huge blocks of concrete and massive rocks which presumably would keep the sea away from the mine entrance and shafts whilst also maybe flexing with the tidal flow.
And so the first sod was cut in 1900 at the village end of the wall only 100 metres away from grandad’s miners house in Concrete Square. The name says it all about the houses shape and construction, and a large village party was held near there with “bunting, union jacks, and the village brass band”! The wall took 5 long years to complete with many related injuries and deaths, the final stone being laid on April 13th 1905.
I was born in that house, 10 Concrete Square, in 1947. Today, the whole square of houses has gone, bulldozed to oblivion, but 100 metres away that bloody great wall survives, snaking away for a couple of miles around the coast to the site of the old ironworks and foundries, still defying everything the Irish Sea can throw at it!
A family defined by iron!
Across these 100+ years ironmaking became an economic magnet and lifeline for the area. When the vein of iron ore was found the nearby “town” of Millom was really an ancient settlement of 100 souls, but within a few short years it had grown to 10,000 with an ironworks and associated industries, a railway line and station, a sea port and all fed from the richest iron ore in the world from our tiny village of Haverigg. My great grandfather worked in the mine, and so did his son, my grandfather. My dad worked at the ironworks, in the foundry, after his military service. And it was Millom Ironworks that gave me my own first job as a laboratory apprentice at the age of 16 having been a complete failure at school …… except I was brilliant at chemistry ….. was sent to night school for 3 years …. then to university …… MSc, PhD …. and the rest is history!
What history defines YOUR family?
As you can see from my post 4 generations of my family were defined within the context of iron making and the mining of the ore to feed the blast furnaces in West Cumbria. Within 100 years however that boom in Cumbria was dead and it was time for yours truly to move on. I’d be interested to know of what history or historical events defined YOUR history, maybe the latest 3-4 generations? Do tell!