Wealden Iron Research Group dig deep into the past


Mayfield was the setting for some exploratory fieldwork by members of the Wealden Iron Research Group (WIRG.)

Group members, all of whom have an interest in Wealden’s industrial past, set aside a day for investigation in Huntsbank Wood.

The aim was to gain a clearer understanding of ancient iron-working practices in Wealden. Time was spent analysing the local topography for clues to where ancient iron working sites may have been situated.

A careful search of the woods and ghylls of the area produced two new furnace sites. These furnaces were known as bloomeries and used a very ancient technology, as they were in use before the blast furnaces.

Bloomeries operated in Sussex for about 2,000 years. By and large it was a cottage industry, with each iron maker producing a few pounds of iron a year.

There were, however, enough of them to make the tens of thousands of arrowheads and horseshoes needed for battles like Agincourt.

Bloomeries were forced out of business by blast furnaces that came from Europe at the end of the 15th century.

As yet WIRG is unable to say how old the Huntsback Wood furnaces are. To be dated, good pottery finds are required.

Evidence collected was mainly spoil from the furnace, which was traced uphill from the stream beds to the highest point where it can be seen. Pits where the iron-ore had been taken, were mapped and a site was found where ore had been roasted before it was smelted in the furnaces.

The event was organised by Peter Ponsford and Roger Houghton with the permission of the landowner, Mrs. Loftus. Like most landowners she is very interested in the history of her woods and joined the group at the end of the day with a large tin of chocolates to share amongst the hungry but satisfied investigators.

WIRG members share a common interest in this local history and the group was founded to focus and initiate research into the iron industry of the Weald. That industry finally disappeared shortly after the Napoleonic wars.

If you’re interested in taking part please contact with Dr Jonathan Prus: jonathan@avens.co.uk or if you’d like to know more about iron in the Weald, details can be found at: www.wealdeniron.org.uk.