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Our History

Situated on the site of Loftus Mine, the first mine to open in Cleveland, Land of Iron celebrates the legacy of ironstone mining and the broader industrial heritage of the region. The Tees Valley was the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire. Her 83 ironstone mines dispatched iron worldwide, forming the fabric of railways and bridges across Europe, America, Africa, India and Australia.

Sydney Harbour Bridge Sydney Harbour Bridge - JJ Harrison

On August 7th, 1848, the first mine in Cleveland opened in Skinningrove. It was the first of 83 ironstone mines in the region. Ultimately, they would dispatch iron worldwide, building railways and bridges all across Europe, Africa, America, India and even the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia.

Humble Beginnings

The mine’s origins arose from the chance meeting of Anthony Lex Maynard and Samuel Frederick Okey. It was September 1847 and Okey had come to Saltburn to pay the men who gathered nodules of ironstone from the beaches, to be shipped north to Newcastle. He was examining the beach for more when Maynard approached him, asking what it was he searched for. Okey explained and Maynard mentioned that he had something similar on his own property. The two agreed to go and look at it together, they passed through the village and, with a pick from Mr Maynard’s stable in hand, they crossed Skinningrove beck. From a rock wall of some five or six feet, Okey cut the first ironstone in Cleveland.

Okey recognised the value of the ironstone but was unable to take the contract, he proposed his friend instead and Maynard drew up the following agreement:

“I hereby give Mr. James Burlinson permission to work the ironstone on my property at Skinningrove, and for the ironstone he obtains to pay me 6d per ton.”

A year later, Burlinson sold his agreement for the price of “a glass of brandy and water.” This was subsequently increased to two glasses.

Over the next twenty years, men flocked from the four corners of the United Kingdom as, one after another, a further 80 mines were opened. Hamlets which once housed only hundreds, now burgeoned with thousands of miners: coalminers from Durham, Northumberland and Scotland, tin miners from Cornwall, farm labourers from Norfolk, all joining together to make Cleveland the most important ironstone mining district in Britain. It was responsible for one third of Great Britain’ iron output.

Tom Leonard — Our Founder

Tom Leonard was born at Charltons, a mining hamlet near Guisborough, in 1922. He was educated nearby at Boosbeck before starting work in the South Skelton Mines offices. He continued his education at evening classes and quickly developed a passion for writing.

During the Second World War, Tom Leonard served in the Royal Air Force. He returned to civilian life and to his old job in the Mines offices. He also started to write articles and to cover sporting events for the now defunct Cleveland Standard. He was offered a job with the Evening Gazette and wrote as a District Reporter, covering all aspects of local life, until he fell ill.

Outside of work, Tom was an active member of the Lifeboat Committee and was involved in local football, having a sportsmanship trophy named after him.

As he saw that the remains of the region’s ironstone industry were rapidly dwindling, his dream arose to open a museum to preserve, display and interpret this integral part of local history for posterity. He started collecting tools and memorabilia from the region’s closing mines, but for many years the collection was merely on display in the Gun Room at Guisborough Hall. However, a chance conversation between Tom Leonard and his old friend Tom Robinson, owner of the land containing old Loftus Mine, led to the collection being moved to its present location: the mine where ironstone was first mined in Cleveland.

It took around five years for a team of volunteers to clear and prepare the site which had stood derelict since the last tubs of ore had been removed in September 1958. Sadly, though, Tom Leonard never saw his dream fully realised, he died in 1981, two years before the museum opened.

His relationship with The Green Howards, who were based locally during the 1950’s, took him all over the World. In honour of his friendship over 25 years the 1st Battalion Green Howards annually present two Shields bearing his name. The Regiment also provided the pall-bearers and sounded the last post at his funeral, a great honour for a man who had never actually served with the regiment.