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The Kirton-in-Lindsey Iron Ore Company - History

The short lived Kirton-in-Lindsey ironstone industry.

Published : 06 April 2018


The short lived Kirton-in-Lindsey ironstone industry.

The Kirton-in-Lindsey Iron Ore Company was founded in the late 1850s by two men, Samuel Frederick Okey and John Roseby, both from North East England. Roseby was born in Wallsend, Northumberland in 1824 and Okey was born in Eggleston, County Durham in 1811. Roseby's father was a mining engineer, and John Roseby, following in his father's footsteps, became a well known and well respected mining engineer in his own right. Okey's father, was a customs officer, notable for his five consecutive wives, the final three all being sisters. Both John Roseby and Samuel Okey seem to have been what you might call, Victorian entrepreneurs, not shy of taking a bit of a risk, and no strangers to the inside of a courtroom.

Too many words, skip to the end.

The industrial revolution was in full swing, the availability of easily accessible coal, ironstone and limestone in the North East, coupled with the deepwater port offered by the River Tees, made the area an ideal location for making iron. Iron was in demand, the railways were spreading rapidly, and they needed iron for making rails, wheels, engines and rolling stock. This was the world of Okey and Roseby. Roseby working as an engineer in the mines, and Okey trying to make a living and doing whatever it took to get on. Okey married in 1832 and was described as a colliery occupier of Wolsingham, County Durham in 1835 when he was taken to court for owing money to Edward and Benjamin Palmer. He managed to escape debtors prison by petitioning the Bishop Wood Charity to repay his debt for him. He was living in Witton le Wear at this time but by 1838 he was working in Liverpool, and both his second and third children were born there, but by the time his fourth child was born in 1842, he was living, (and presumably working), in Workington, Cumberland, another area with abundant raw materials for iron making.

Iron ore deposits around Kirton.

Iron ore deposits around Kirton.

Whether Okey was involved in iron ore mining or coal mining whilst in Workington, or something else entirely, is unknown, but he was still there in 1844 when his fifth child arrived. Then a year later, in 1845, his wife Elizabeth died. How this affected him we can only guess, but he was now a widower with five children ranging from 1 to 10 years of age. In 1847 he was shipping ironstone that had been gathered on the beach, from Saltburn to the Tyne. The 1851 census records him as living at Evenwood, County Durham, England, and his occupation as a coke manufacturer. (Coca bushes are not native to County Durham and so we can safely assume he was involved in the partial burning of coal to make fuel for the blast furnaces).

Okey married again in 1852, and his next five children are all born in County Durham. His name is in the Durham Chronicle in January 1857, supporting a bid to establish a fat cattle market in the city of Durham, due to the increased population and corresponding demand for butchers meat. His occupation is given as a coal owner.

John Roseby married in 1844 and was living and working at Witton le Wear, County Durham. This was probably where he met Samuel Okey, when the latter returned to County Durham from Workington following the death of his wife. Ten years later, Roseby was living and working at Sandsend on the coast near Whitby, he was already well known in the iron making industry, having discovered several beds of iron ore in the course of his career. We can suppose that it was Roseby that discovered the seam of ironstone at Kirton Lindsey around 1858/59, whilst in the employ of Rowland Winn, indeed by the time the news was made common knowledge, after articles had appeared in The Engineer and in The Times, Roseby and Okey had already formed the Kirton-in-Lindsey Iron Ore Company. By the close of 1859, Messrs. Roseby and Okey had leased almost a thousand acres of land in the vicinity of Kirton Lindsey for the quarrying and mining of ironstone. As well as a 400 acre lease from the Crown, there was also a 40 year lease of 300 acres from Mr. Thomas Martinson Richardson of Hibaldstow Cliff and another 280 acres from Mr. Edwin Tickler of Cleatham House.

By 1861, Roseby had moved his family to a new home on Wrawby Street in Brigg, and Okey had also arrived in the area with his family, and had taken out a lease on Belle Vue House, Prison Street, (now known as Queen Street), in Kirton Lindsey. Additionally, their works foreman, a man named George Graham, and his family were living at Mount Pleasant, tenants of the aforementioned Mr. Thomas Martinson Richardson of Hibaldstow Cliff's sister-in-law Elizabeth, having moved there from Lanchester, County Durham. The 1861 census lists Graham's occupation as a "Mining Engineer", a promotion from his 1851 entry, where he was described as a "Collier Agent".

Beginning in May, 700 tons of ironstone were shipped to the blast furnaces of the North East from Grimsby, via the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire railway in 1860. The following year, another 850 tons of ironstone were shipped the same way, and by 1862 production had more than doubled to 1,848 tons.

Belle Vue House, the home of the Okey family in the early 1860s.

Belle Vue House, the home of the Okey family in the early 1860s.

Before arriving in Lincolnshire, John Roseby had signed a contract with Rowland Winn of Appleby Hall, to act as his Mineral Agent, responsible for finding buyers and markets for Frodingham iron ore. This new job earned him a new residence, Haverholme House on the Ermine Street between Appleby and Broughton. By the close of 1861, Roseby had moved his family from Brigg and into his new company owned accommodation. Neither Roseby nor Okey did any actual 'work' at the Kirton-in-Lindsey Iron Ore Company, they employed other people to do that. The pair of them were just looking for investment opportunities and other ways to elevate their worth and positions in the social order. Some of these investments paid off but most of them didn't. In 1862 they invested heavily in the Castleford Ironworks near Leeds, and in 1863 sent 3,050 tons of iron ore to Castleford Ironworks and shipped a further 3,757 tons via Grimsby to their customers in the North East. This all went pear-shaped when they didn't have the capital to get Castleford Ironworks operational, and led to a Gazette notice dissolving their partnership by October 1863. Sam Okey went back to County Durham in 1864. The Kirton-in-Lindsey Iron Ore Company ceased to exist and the total amount of ironstone from Kirton in 1864 was 0 tons. George Graham was redeployed to the Castleford Ironworks in 1864, before returning to County Durham, where the 1871 census lists him as a "Coal Miner". John Roseby was in the bankruptcy court with debts of £10,000, a huge sum the equivalent of over £1 million in today's money. It was only due to the success of Frodingham ironstone that allowed Roseby to settle his debts. John Roseby continued to work for Rowland Winn for the rest of his life, he was elected member of the North of England Institute of Mining Engineers in 1872. He died aged only 57, at Haverholme House in 1882 and is buried in St. Bartholomew's churchyard in Appleby. Samuel Okey managed another ten years of wheeling and dealing before he too was bankrupted in 1875. He managed to father at least 17 children during his lifetime and died in Middlesbrough in 1885.

Pecten bed ironstone.

Pecten bed ironstone.

Mr. Angus Townley has published a hand written report by a John Brown of Darlington to Edward Watkin, the general manager of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, describing the iron ore and limestone situation in Northern Lincolnshire in 1860.

TL;DR - Conclusion.

The iron ore extracted by the Kirton-in-Lindsey Iron Ore Company came from quarries straddling the main road, (B1398), at the top of Cleatham hill, (see red blobs on map), the easternmost quarry was reused at a later date for the extraction of limestone. There is also an, 'old shaft', marked on the Ordnance Survey map near to the railway line at the bottom of Clay Lane, this was an exploratory shaft into the pecten bed, sunk by Messrs. Daglish and Howse from the North of England Institute of Mining Engineers. They proved that the Frodingham ironstone bed existed at Kirton Lindsey, but that it was covered with 140 feet of clay, much deeper than at Scunthorpe, and probably not economically viable to extract, it was said to be too calcareous to be profitably worked for iron. The pecten bed, through which they bored, is only around 4 feet thick at Kirton Lindsey and not considered worthwhile, although the same bed was quarried near West Halton to the north of Scunthorpe quite successfully up until as recently as the 1970s. Frodingham ironstone was just easier to get at near Scunthorpe, making it cheaper to produce. The quality of the land also played a part, the sandy warrens around Scunthorpe were considered much less valuable than the more productive agricultural land around Kirton Lindsey. Frodingham ironstone also had Rowland Winn and his money behind it, and although Kirton Lindsey and Scunthorpe both began mining iron ore at the same time, the quantity of iron ore extracted at Scunthorpe was ten times that of Kirton Lindsey from the very beginning.


Click here for an 1818 extract from the Endowed Grammar Schools in England, relating to Glanford Bridge Grammar School.


Click here for the Kirton in Lindsey entry from White's 1856, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Lincolnshire etc. etc.


Click here for details of the North Lincolnshire Light Railway proposed by the Board of Trade in 1898 which never got built.

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