The restored remains of Duddon Iron Works are the most complete surviving example of a charcoal-fired blast furnace in the country and, happily for us, are just past the Duddon Bridge outside Broughton in Furness. It’s such a beautiful building, in a lovely setting and I marvel at the ingenuity and elegance of the Works.
In the 18th Century, blast furnaces revolutionised the way iron ore could be processed. Large furnaces were built using water power to drive bellows which could pump air into the combustion chamber to create an intense heat. The water wheel is missing but the course of the leat (or stream) has been traced, bringing water from the river half a mile away. Higher up the hill is the charcoal store, 100 feet in length, and as high as a church.
Duddon Ironworks was established in 1736 and operated until 1866, smelting iron ore bought in by boat from Millom. Pig iron cast here was sent down to Chepstow and Bristol where it was used in the manufacture of anchors, chains and other iron work for ships. It’s called “pig iron” because the molten metal ran out at the base of the furnace into sand moulded into a branching structure of one central runner and lots of little ingots which looked rather like a litter of piglets suckling on a sow.
The buildings are in the care of the Lake District National Park. At the site, this information panel (right) gives a description of the various parts of the furnace and, in the drawing, you can see the ingots laid out.
If you take the road out of Broughton, past the High Cross, towards Millom (A595), immediately after the bridge, turn right and the furnace is a short way along on the left and can be seen from the road.