Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

The Stape Molasses Shale Mine and Railway

Whilst exploring the depths of the internet, I stumbled upon an article from the Moors Line Magazine, Spring edition of 1983, which delves into the intriguing narrative of the Stape Molasses Shale Mine and Railway. This railway, albeit short-lived, held a peculiar charm crafted to ferry “molasses” procured from a unique geological reserve.

Within local folklore, there are intriguing references to “treacle mines,” a notion firmly rooted in reality. Millions of years ago, a plant akin to sugarcane flourished in expansive, marshy woodlands across the expanse of northern Europe. These colossal plants, towering over fifty feet in stature, ultimately met their demise during a significant cataclysm, perhaps a minor ice age. This event laid waste to the forests, entombing them beneath layers of sediment. Across the eons, formidable heat and pressure turned most of the buried cane into substandard coal. Yet, the deposit near present-day Stape defied this rigorous metamorphosis. Instead, it transmuted into a stratum of permeable shale, harbouring a dense ebony substance reminiscent of molasses.

For generations, inhabitants of Stape harboured a keen awareness of the hidden treasures concealed within their cliffs. In certain locations, a viscous, syrupy elixir trickled forth from the hillside. These sites remained shrouded in secrecy, for this “molasses” possessed considerable worth. A trace of one such location is even mentioned within a 17th century volume, which narrates a tale of a tunnel dug into a nearby hill, wherein the molasses pooled. Regrettably, the memory of this site has faded into obscurity. Ultimately, the proliferation of inexpensive sugar from the Caribbean rendered the extraction of this local variety futile. Nonetheless, the 1880s witnessed a meteoric surge in sugar prices, beckoning the attention of certain enterprising local magnates. Together, they established a company to exploit this reservoir of “molasses shale.”

The Stape Molasses Shale Mine Company undertook the construction of a rail branch line to facilitate the conveyance of the harvested molasses. For close to two decades, the line operated before succumbing to the vicissitudes of plummeting sugar prices.

Come the 1920s, both mine and railway lay abandoned, leaving behind naught but faint vestiges and tales woven into the fabric of local folklore.

It has been some time since my last visit to Stape, in 2007 in fact. Today’s photo is of the local Board School, erected in the year 1897. In the year 2007, it served as the Ken Ather Outdoor Centre. The final miner to toil within the confines of the Stape Molasses Shale Mine was Samuel Eddon, who died in 1962. It is reasonable to surmise that his offspring received their instruction within the walls of this school.

To download pdf of original article, click this link:

The Stape Molasses Shale Mine and Railway







2 responses to “The Stape Molasses Shale Mine and Railway”

  1. mark c adams avatar

    I remember. In its mining heyday the Stape molasses shale contaminated the rain so much that the villages around suffered from the sky. In Great Ayton the children were made to wear hats on rainy days so that the place became known as ‘Yatton’, which is a corruption of ‘Yer hat on?’

    1. Fhithich avatar

      Hahahaha, surely you jest?

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