Friday, 12 November 2010

Are You In A Rut?

If so, you could have learnt about ‘rutways’ by attending the Books and Banter session, entitled ‘Saltburn’s Rutways, presented by Rachel Graham of Teesside Archaeology at Stockton Library this month last year..

Rutways were created as safe routes for horsedrawn carts transporting cargoes between the foreshore and ships beached at low tide; such journeys were often made in poor visibility or when the tide was flooding or receding.

In 1986 John Owen reported on 17 locations on the North East coast of Yorkshire where rutways could be traced. The rutway sites are found from Saltburn to south of Scarborough, with all but two north of Whitby.

Teesside Archaeology, in partnership with the Nautical Archaeology and the Teesside Archaeology Societies, has been surveying rutways in the Saltburn area since 2005. Work can only been done at those times of the year when the tides are at their lowest, usually during one week in the summer – they haven’t been brave enough to work in March, the other optimum time. On any one day tasks have to be completed within a five hour time period.

 Huntcliffe (Behind Saltburn pier)

Initially surveying has been conducted on the shore below Huntcliffe, just south of Saltburn. The majority of the rutways have a gauge width of 4ft 4ins, the size for Yorkshire carts. A simple width gauge assists in identifying the location of the rutways which will originally have been cut by hand as long ago as the 17th century. Erosion has worn them away over the years; their existence is not always easy to confirm and may be confused with cracks and faults in the rocky foreshore.

Square post holes have been located which may have been used as guide posts or to hold lamps to light the way in the dark. It is hoped to date the holes from the wood still left in one.

A row of round post holes, 7ins in diameter, leads out to sea with rows of 3.1/2in dia. on either side. It is believed these are more recent as they cut through the rutways; these may have been used to set out salmon nets.

The surveys completed have shown that the rutways ran round the base of Huntcliffe down towards Skinningrove to the south and can be traced to two inlets probably used for loading and unloading ships.

The concentration of rutways at Huntcliffe indicates substantial traffic with and up and down system akin to railway lines. Ships would have been able to beach on Saltburn’s sand and to be service by the carts using the rutways. {The picture in the gallery shows Huntcliffe in the background)

It is most likely that the rutways were used as part of the Yorkshire alum industry. They may also have been used to collect ironstone fallen out of the cliffs until around 1850 and the discovery of Cleveland’s main ironstone seam. Other uses could have been the collection of seaweed for the fertiliser industry or even the salvage of wrecked vessels (there are record of around 50 vessels lost at Saltburn and Huntcliffe.

A major ingredient for the alum industry is the shale found in this area. Alum works were in operation at Kettleness and Peak, near Ravenscar, north and south of Whitby. Shale, coal and seaweed are used to produce alum used as a mordant, or fixer, for dyes. The Archaeological team is monitoring a building being washed of the cliffs which is believed to be an alum house.

In 1790, when around 5000 tons of alum were produced, this would require 4450 tons of kelp, 35000 tons of coal and 56500 gallons of urine. For the 60 ton ships of the time the traffic on the rutways would have been considerable.

There are rutways at sites in Cornwall with those at Prussia Cove appearing on the first Ordnance Survey maps (1850s). These have the same 4ft 4in gauge but are up to 1ft deep. [If you Google Prussia Cove you may see pictures clearly showing the rutways]

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