Storrs Fire Clay Works/Top Cabin mine, Loxley, Sheffield, December 2020

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1. The History
During the industrial revolution in 1800s, the Loxley Valley became an important producer of refractory bricks for the Sheffield’s steel industry along with fireclay from Stannington’s pot clay mines. Pot clay is an ‘impure’ form of ganister and in the 1930s there were a total of three firms in the Loxley Valley using it to produce hollow refractories: Thomas Marshall’s, Thomas Wragg and Sons and Dysons. Between them, they supplied 95% of all the hollow refractories produced in Great Britain.

Wragg’s operations were located at Storrs Bridge and named Storrs Bridge Fire Clay works. The site was badly affected by the Sheffield Flood on 11th March, 1864 when Dale Syke dam burst sending over 700 million gallons of water surging down the Loxley valley. Although towards the bottom of the Loxley Valley, Wragg’s site was badly damaged but fortunately covered by its insurance policy, allowing the works to be rebuilt, allowing them to continue production of fire bricks as well as glazed sewage pipes and chimney tops.

Old advert for Wragg’s products:

Loxley Valley 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Wragg’s owned their own pot clay mine located up an incline south-west of the factory. Referred to as Top Cabin mine, it extended deep into the north-facing hill side, and radiated out to three areas of workings, namely under Lea Moor near Dungworth, Storrs village and Storrs Green and finally Storrs Hall and Storrs house. The mine itself was linked to the works via an inclined tramway which used gravity to transport the tubs of fireclay to the works.

Storrs Fire clay workers:

2020-12-28_06-15-59 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The mine was pretty basic and during the Second World War struggled given many of its miners had been called up to fight in the forces. This was slightly at odds with the fact that the industry was vital to the war effort given its strategic importance to the manufacture of iron and steel. It has been said that if the Germans had bombed the Loxley Valley successfully, the war would have been over very quickly. As a consequence, there was a gun site on Wood Lane, Stannington, which shot down several Luftwaffe planes during the Sheffield Blitz.

After the war, the mine’s fortunes went from strength to strength as a number of improvements were made to it. In 1947, electricity was introduced into the mine, along with underground haulage and improved access to the main road. This greatly reduced the distances the fireclay had to be shifted in the tramming tubs. These improvements led to increased productivity and in the 1960s it was not uncommon for miners to produce up to ten tons of fireclay on a single shift.

Looking over Thomas Wragg’s – date unknown:

Loxley Valley 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The 1950’s was large scale modernisations were made to the factory itself. It consisted of 12 beehive kilns and two tunnel kilns, but capacity was expanded in the 1960s when a west plant was added. Wragg’s was subject to a takeover initially in 1970 by Gibbons and then in turn by GR Stein Refractories who were previously formed by merger of Scottish-based John G. Stein and Co and General Refractories of Sheffield.GR Stein then became a subsidiary of Hepworth Ceramic Holdings Ltd. A collapse in demand for casting pit refractories, down to the introduction of continuous casting of steel worldwide and the general demise of the British steel industry eventually led them to close both factory and mine in the early 1990s and both factory and mine has been left empty and abandoned ever since.

2. The Explore
I’ve wanted to do a proper report on this site for a while as it (understandably) tends to get lumped in with the Loxley Valley in general. This place is interesting, though, given it had its own claypot mine which I’ve covered previously.

Detail of the site, taken from an old OS six-inch-to-the-mile map:

2020-12-22_07-24-53 by HughieDW, on Flickr

(1): southerly drift entrance to Top Cabin Mine
(2): main Top Cabin mine entrances
(3): incline boiler
(4): World War 2 air-raid shelter

Interest was reignited with this place with the possibility of a second ‘drift’ entrance to the mine (1). This is where I made my way to initially. While easily identifiable by the stone-lined passage, sadly the entrance has now been pretty comprehensively filled in. I then made my way along the route of the tramway that connected this drift entrance with the main mine (2). Much to my surprise (and joy) I found a former transportation cart half-way along the tramway between the drift entrance and the main mine, still in situ. As I approached the mine from the south-east, I also found some of the rails that the tramway used to run on.

I didn’t spend too much time on the mine itself, having previously explored it with @tarkovsky (see report HERE). The two mine entrances were also heavily flooded. Hence, I turned my attentions to the incline that leads down from mine to factory. With the site massively overgrown, winter is a good time to look at this place as more is revealed with the leaves off the trees and the foliage shrunk back. Following the course of the incline, I found a small collapsed brick building which must have been associated with the operation of the incline, once it had been mechanised. Then to my great excitement, I stumbled across the old boiler (3) towards the bottom of the incline, which would have powered the steam engine for the incline. After that I had a nosey outside of the factory itself, before looping back round to check out the former WWII air-raid shelter (4).

Overall, a very enjoyable mooch and nice to find things you never knew about at a familiar place.

3. The Pictures

The mine approach to the southerly drift entrance:

Loxlex Fireclay 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Halfway between points (1) and (2) on the map came across this:

img9674 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Tram rails just to the south of Top Cabin:

Loxlex Fireclay 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And Top Cabin Mine itself:

Loxlex Fireclay 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Loxlex Fireclay 06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Loxlex Fireclay 05 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Inside the manway, the water level has risen significantly:

img9680 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Loxlex Fireclay 04 by HughieDW, on Flickr

img9682 by HughieDW, on Flickr
And a couple of the tramway:

img8173 by HughieDW, on Flickr

img9496 by HughieDW, on Flickr

On to the incline. This collapsed structure was halfway down:

Loxlex Fireclay 09 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Is this some sort of incline cart?

Loxlex Fireclay 08 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And on to the massive boiler:

img9693 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Very photogenic:

img9685 by HughieDW, on Flickr

img9689 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Loxlex Fireclay 11 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And the inside, which is slowly rusting away:

Loxlex Fireclay 12 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Random pipe:

img9695 by HughieDW, on Flickr

On to the former works:

img9699 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Loxlex Fireclay 13 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Loxlex Fireclay 14 by HughieDW, on Flickr

img9705 by HughieDW, on Flickr


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