Evidence of the early iron industry; from pre-Roman, Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon to early medieval periods has been found in the High Weald. You could see the remains of charcoal hearths, iron ore mining, ore roasting hearths, furnaces, production waste and pond bays used to power later furnaces.
Iron Bloomery Slag
This is an example of bloomery slag, typical of iron furnaces from pre-Roman times until the Middle Ages. The slag has trickled down either the inside or outside the furnace . The direction of the drips indicates the downward direction. Click the thumbnail to see a larger photo.
Ore minepits were often dug in woodland on narrow steep sided gills; the deeply cut stream beds were used in prospecting for iron ore deposits. Later, these pits filled up with debris which eventually became compacted. The evidence you will see today are small craters (approx. 2 to 4m across) which may fill with water in the winter and dry out in the summer. Place names such as 'Minepit Wood' can also be a clue to the location of ore mine pits.
Iron making sites were usually located close to and clustered around the mine pits to minimise movement of the ore.
Charcoal was critical to the production of iron. Coppiced oak, alder and hornbeam were all used. Round charcoal clamps were constructed, often on levelled ground. These areas of level ground, or hearths is often the only evidence today, that charcoal was produced in woodlands. Hearths were between 4 to 5 metres in diameter. The main clue to a site being a charcoal hearth is the almost black soil and sometimes small pieces of charcoal under the leaf litter.
The introduction of water power for the production of iron from the 15th century added many new features to the landscape. These included large ponds with dams or bays, overflow channels, mill races, leats and wheel pits. You can see evidence of hammer ponds and pond bays in the landscape today. These are often marked on modern maps, but many remain unrecorded, hidden in gills and woodland.
You can find more about Wealden iron industry by visiting the Wealden Iron Research Group website. They have undertaken detailed studies of many sites and have an online database of known iron working sites from all periods.