John O’Brien was an Iron Ore Miner in Hodbarrow

Hodbarrow was a quiet stretch of beach with a disused windmill, a couple of lime kilns and a farm in 1855 and the town of Millom did not exist (Millom was the name of a district between the rivers Duddon & Esk, where the lords of Millom at Millom Castle, held jura regalia, the right to execute without trial, and not even the sheriff of Cumberland could enter without their say) and the area had a population of less than 100 inhabitants. The same area by 1891 had a population of over 10,500, due in 1855 to the discovery of haematite iron ore and over the years Hodbarrow took the shape we see today.

The main features left for modern eyes to see are two lighthouses, one of stone, which was built in 1866 and was paraffin fuelled and the other built of steel in 1905 to replace the earlier was electric. The two sea walls are unmistakable, the Old Sea Wall of concrete was completed in 1890 and stands 50′ from top to bottom. The Old Sea Wall only stood for ten years before subsidence took its centre section, but it still remains an impressive Victorian industrial edifice to this day. The Old Sea Wall was replaced with the Outer Barrier, at over a mile long and completed in 1905, it was built to subside with the land, which it has done for over a century, and apart from the fact that the seaward blocks are now out of their symmetrical alignment, you would never notice. The Outer Barrier reclaimed over 200 acres of beach and tidal estuary.

Hodbarrow Windmill stands high above Hodbarrow Point and looks the same today as it did in photographs taken of the first pit heads near by in the late 1850’s, it is often mistaken as a third lighthouse. When the pumps were finally turned off in 1968 the area behind the Outer Barrier began to fill with water and now a 200 acre lagoon exists, which is rich in wildlife.

At its peak Hodbarrow Mines employed over 1000 people, had 40 miles of railway and tram lines and many pit heads and their associated buildings, including Cornish pump houses. Sadly, all was demolished or ripped up in 1968-9, but one can still see where some of these things were if you look carefully.

In 1841 the population of Millom Below was just 356; most lived in the village of Holborn Hill, 3 were miners. From 1865 the population boomed due to immigrant miners from Cornwall and Ireland coming for work. Working conditions were hard, miners had to buy their own tools and candles from the Mining Company. Iron ore gives a red and greasy dust which adhered to everything, including the miners. They lived in makeshift huts until Millom Newtown was built in the early 1870’s. Sanitation was dire causing a smallpox epidemic in 1872. By 1900 the effort of these hardy men was rewarded by a strong local economy, arrival of the railway, ship building, trade and commerce and great community spirit


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