Early ironmaking may date as far back as Roman times, multiple furnaces were in existence at Rievaulx Abbey by the 16th century with other small-scale operations on surface outcrops in Bilsdale, Bransdale, Rosedale and Fryup Dale. Records also exist for coastal collection of ironstone from the foreshore and cliffs.
Underground ironstone mining started at Grosmont around 1837, these workings are in the Pecten Seam, with the stone being shipped by sea from Whitby up to the Tyne.
The Main Seam ironstone was first worked at Skinningrove in 1848, but still with no furnaces locally, the stone was shipped out to Witton Park in County Durham.
On June 8th 1850 John Vaughan and John Marley identified the vast main seam outcrop at Eston, a story fully told in the wonderful “A Century In Stone“. This begins the explosion of Cleveland Ironstone mining with quarrying starting by August, at this time stone is still taken by rail up to Witton Park. To exploit this new supply, Bolckow and Vaughan open blast furnaces near Middlesbrough by 1852.
More mines immediately around Eston follow rapidly in the 1850s, such Normanby, Guisborough and New Marske (Upleatham)
The expansion continue during the 1860’s towards Skelton, Brotton, Slapewath and Spa Wood, following the expansion of the local railway network to connect mines to furnaces.
Through the 1870’s the rapid expansion outwards continues with mines such as Boosbeck, Lingdale, Kilton and Grinkle.
Mines towards the North-West around Eston have the advantages of a thicker seam, a higher iron content, no shale-band of impurities and being closer to the blast furnaces of Teesside. So towards the end of the 1870s when the initial boom is over, some of the less profitable mines towards the South-East like those around Grosmont start to close.
Fortunately for Cleveland, Gilchrist and Thomas then pioneered the Bessemer converter to turn iron into steel and by 1883 iron ore output again surges and peaks at six and three-quarter million tons, with outputs generally reamining over 5 million tons per year until the start of the First World War.