Standing just a field away from the cliff edge on the rugged coastline between Skinningrove and Saltburn is the Huntcliffe Guibal fan house. This fascinating reminder of a once great industry that was a major regional employer and which led to the development of many of the area’s coastal communities now stands derelict at one of the highest points along this stretch of the coast.
The Guibal fan house and railway line allowing transportation of potash from the mine at Boulby to Teesport
The Guibal fan house, named after its Belgian inventor, was built around 1892. It was used for ventilating the ironstone mines whose tunnels criss-crossed their way through the rock beneath Warsett Hill. The central section of the fan house contained a huge fan nearly 10 feet wide fan. It would rotate at a speed of 50 rpm, drawing air through the mine, allowing the miners to work deep underground. It was powered by a static steam engine that drew the foul air up the shaft and then up a specially designed chimney to the open air. Once in operation fresh air would be drawn into the mine through the drift entrances and could be controlled and directed by a series of shutters or doors usually operated by young boys.
The Guibal fan house
Ironstone mining in Cleveland and North Yorkshire began operating on a commercial scale in the early years of the 19th century. Quarries and mines were opened wherever the ore was located. Tramways, railways and even harbours were constructed to service the mines and hundreds of men and boys were employed to work both underground and at the surface.
Looking out over the cliffs at Skinningrove from inside the Guibal fan house
The mines were worked on the pillar and bord system where a series of ‘bords’ or passageways were cut through the seams and then the remaining pillars were gradually removed as the miners worked back to the mine entrance. Many mines were accessed via a vertical shaft while others were entered along near-horizontal tunnels or ‘drifts’ into the hillside.
Graffiti covered walls inside the fan house
Huntcliff Ironstone Mine which was a drift mine and commenced operations in 1872 by which time ventilation techniques had become more sophisticated. An earlier system involved simply lighting a fire at the base of the shaft to draw the stale air upwards but by the mid 19th century mechanical ventilators were being used.
The railway line allowing transportation of potash from the mine at Boulby to Teesport passes next to the fan house
By the turn of the century the ironstone industry was in decline and although a few mines were in operation until the 1950s and 1960s most had already closed down. Huntcliff Mine closed in 1906 but the fan house, minus its inner workings, still stands as the best remaining example of a Guibal fan house in the country. Despite the graffiti and the affects of the harsh weather the fan house remains designated an ancient monument and stands as a reminder to the once glorious and productive past of Ironstone mining.
Cast iron sculpture created from a mining winding wheel