In the spring of 1850, the fledgeling Cleveland ironmaking industry was floundering. Established as recently as 1840 by those great speculators Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan, the first iron foundry at Middlesbrough was not shaping up as planned. Despite the construction, in 1846, of smelting works to aid the operation at Witton Park, 20 miles to the west, the business was struggling to keep its head above water. Ore quality and quantity, as well as transportation costs, were becoming unmanageable.
In 1847, the ‘Cleveland Main Seam’ of iron ore had been discovered at Skinningrove, and Bolckow and Vaughan soon began shipping it in – but the solution was not ideal. Then, sensationally, in 1850, Vaughan and his mining engineer, John Marley, fell upon new deposits of iron ore in the Eston Hills. It was the defining moment in the history of Cleveland, and the point at which Middlesbrough’s looming financial disaster was averted.
In August 1850 – within weeks of the discovery – the first trial quarry was dug in the heights above Eston, and named ‘Bold Venture’ by it’s chief engineers. By the end of the year, 4,000 tons of ore had been extracted, smelted at Witton Park, and the iron finished and rolled out at the Middlesbrough foundry – all making full use of the new railway network.
On 6th January 1851, the Eston Mine and its railway branch line were formally opened amid great pomp and ceremony – and production began to boom. By the mid-1850s, Eston had its own blast furnaces…
And the rest, as they say, is, er, history.