THE ROBERTSBRIDGE PROJECT
Technology and Location
WIRG Bulletin References to Robertsbridge & Salehurst
Robertsbridge Abbey Forge
Series 1, No 1, 1969, P 4
(Note on Panningridge by David Crossley with ref to Robertsfield forge)
Panningridge - The Background
Documents in the De l’Isle and Dudley Collection show that Panningridge (Nat. Grid Ref. TQ 687 175) was built in 1542 for Sir William Sidney to smelt the ores of the Ashburn Valley, mined in the area now known as Pannelridge Wood. Pig iron was carried, probably along the existing hollow way towards Netherfield, to be converted into wrought iron at the finery forge at Robertsbridge. Between 1542 and 1546 this forge was also supplied by a furnace near Robertsbridge, built in 1541, but this fell into disuse during 1546 and Panningridge was the sole supplier until 1563. After 1563 less is known of the furnace; in that year the Sidneys relinquished the lease of the site, and thereafter it was run by William Relfe and Bartholomew Jeffrey, two ironmasters with widespread local interests
Series 1 No 9 1976 p12 : Inventory of Sites Visited by W.I.R.G
ROBERTSBRIDGE ABBEY FORGE: TQ 756 236 Wealden Iron pp.310-18
This important forge really ran as one unit with the Robertsbridge furnace, but had a separate pond some 400 yards below the furnace pond, both now dry. From it was the unusual feature of a leat or dyke, about 300 yards long, running E. and cutting deeply through high ground, to the forge site, SE. of the Abbey.
The road (a public footpath) from the Abbey to the forge site is metalled with slag, forge bottoms and even pieces of iron. At the actual site are two empty cottages. Here the road rises on a causeway across this low part of the valley but with higher, almost level ground on its W. side. It would almost appear that there might have been a small silted up pond or perhaps occasional flooding here.
Just beyond the cottages, on the W. side of the road, the field is very black, while on the E. side there is a heavy scatter of forge cinder with roof tiles and some glassy blast furnace slag mixed with it. On our visit several pieces of iron were picked up.
In the undercroft of the Abbey House are preserved a forge hammer cam, a small cannon, the head of a “riser” from cannon ball moulding, and some iron hammers. There is also an unusual flat shovel-like tool, triangular shaped, 17 inches long by 12 inches broad. In the garden are a number of cannon balls, 7½ and 9 inches in diameter. Smaller balls from the same heap have recently been stolen.
Series 1 No 4 1972 Page 25 – Review re steelmaking
D. W. Crossley ‘The Sidney Ironworks Accounts 1541-1573’, Royal Historical Society, Camden Fourth Series (1975).
All students of the wealden iron industry owe a debt to David Crossley for his excavations at Panningridge, Chingley, and Pippingford (all published) and the light they throw on the layouts and technical processes of this industry in the pre-Industrial Revolution period. The author, rightly not content with fieldwork alone, has also devoted much time to documentary research, where material was available. The publication of the Sidney Ironworks Accounts relates to Sir Henry Sidney’s interests in establishing, running, and maintaining a furnace and forge at Robertsbridge, a furnace eight miles away at Panningridge (excavated by the author, see Post-Medieval Archaeology Vol.6 (1972) pp.42-68), and a furnace in Glamorgan, S. Wales. This latter he rented to secure a supply of cast iron plates for his steel works at Robertsbridge Abbey and Boxhurst, nearby. The local Welsh haematite ores were found to produce iron more suitable for this purpose than those in the Weald. In a scholarly introduction, with many footnotes, the author has squeezed every bit of information from the detailed accounts to piece together the methods and materials used to build and maintain this industrial complex. For example the labour employed, which included skilled furnace and forge men, miners, charcoal burners, timber cutters, carpenters, stone masons, and carters, etc., and their wages, is all analysed, compared and date tested to see if their employment was seasonal or permanent. Much information from other sources, consulted by the author, is used for a final analysis, which makes a fascinating story.
The light thrown by the Accounts on this early steel making venture is obviously of great interest. It is soon apparent that the heavy initial overhead costs were not confined to the shipping of iron plates from Cardiff to Rye, and the to and fro of persons to Wales and back. The author explains that at that time Germany was the regular supplier of steel to this country, and the Sidney enterprise a new one here. it was therefore necessary to recruit (and probably bribe) skilled “dutchmen” to come over to work the new steel works.
To accomplish this, responsible servants were sent on an expensive recruiting mission to Antwerp where they were successful in bringing back “dutchmen”. On their behalf there are constant items in the accounts relating to travelling expenses from Antwerp to Robertsbridge, via London and Hawkhurst, and for food, beer, apparel, bedding, firing, and even ‘the expenses of a surgeon for medicine and blood letting. Some tried to leave, presumably they were under contract, and were arrested before they got further away than Rye. The steel produced had at first a wide sale, undercutting the German product, and was surprisingly sold by the barrel, in firkin barrels.
The reviewer found many small items of great interest in bringing to life the problems of suddenly imposing an industrial process on a traditionally rural setting. The constant passing of heavy wagons filled with “cole” and “mine” across the countryside necessitated many payments for “the liberty of passing through other men’s grounds”. Gates were obviously often too narrow and there are many payments for new gates and posts. Roads were often quite inadequate and there is constant reference to “mending the ways”. This was often done with cinder carted from the furnace or by “cutting bushes and thorns to lay in the lane”.
Naturally as much raw material as possible was supplied from the estate. Much building timber was required and this was either sawn on “sawstages” or “sawpits”. One interesting item was “timber work for the furnace” that had to be “reared” by the help of a number of people who were supplied with bread and beer. Was this a framed runway for the loading ramp or a frame round the furnace, as depicted on the Leonard fireback? There are several references to the sale of ashes and “cole dust”, from the furnaces. This was probably to farmers to spread as fertiliser. If so the practice may account for the scatter of glassy blast furnace slag that occurs on so many fields in the Weald. Again there is an interesting mention of rewards paid to the hammerman and finer for fining “old iron”, which suggests that the process was difficult or even dangerous. Does this account for the defective cannons, or pieces of cannons, still found on iron sites and apparently rejected as profitable scrap?
Tudor spelling is always a joy to decipher as it usually is phonetic and reflects local dialect. These Accounts are no exception. As examples furnace is spelt in at least eight different ways and iron in five!
It is a great pity that, except to fellows of the Royal Historical Society, this volume is unobtainable, and by its rules there can be no sales to the general public for 21/2 years after publication. However it is likely that the Sussex Record Office and the Library of the Sussex Archaeological Society will have copies that can be consulted. C. F. T.
Series 1 No 10 1976 P16
Steel was also manufactured in several places; particularly at Warbleton, where there is a place still called the Steel Forge land, and at Robertsbridge. In 1609, John Hawes held the site of the abbey of Robertsbridge with the buildings, &c., “lying between two fresh-water rivers, abutting at the great stone bridge at the Forge Pond,” and including various buildings for the steel-makers, among which were eight steel forges; “also one great gatehouse, called the West Gate, built of lime and stone, and used in part as a dove-house, and in part for the steelmakers; also a great gate called the East Gate, employed as a storehouse for iron, with a house attached to it for James Lamye, the hammer-man.”
Series 1 No 16 1979 P17
(Section from a Reconstruction Drawing of a Finery Forge Roger J. Adams)
………. The helve of the hammer is fixed into a large cast iron pivot (or hurst). An example still exists in the cellar of Robertsbridge Abbey House. Above the helve can be seen the ash spring which drives the hammer downwards as the cam comes to the top of its lift. Below is the anvil, set into a massive length of tree trunk, heavily braced and buried deep into the ground to resist the pounding it received. Outside the left-hand wall is a large undershot or breast wheel fixed to the end of the cam-shaft. To the right are the two forges, both blown by bellows driven by small water wheels usually placed along a single channel. Above the forges can be seen the hoods and chimneys, built, perhaps surprisingly, of lath and daub on oak frames. Near the door is a heap of the typical pudding-shaped forge-bed cinder lumps from the finery and an anvil used for maintenance of the tools.
Series 1 No 12 1977 P3
Errata: Unfortunately some errors in grid references have crept into Bulletin 9 (1976). Members may wish to correct their copies as below:- Robertsbridge Abbey Forge p.12, TQ 756 236 [corrected in this version] Bugsell Forge Salehurst p.12, TQ 723 256 [corrected in this version]
Second Series No 2 1982 P59
By the early eighteenth century Wealden pig was clearly uncompetitive in the London market. By the time of the withdrawal of the Ordnance cannon contracts coke-made pig output was rapidly outstripping charcoal iron sales. Only a tied local market such as that which existed at Burwash forge, or some monopolistic market such as the Ordnance could have kept the Heathfield plant in use and returning some profit, and its closure in 1788 was followed in 1790 by Fernhurst, Robertsbridge in 1793 (?) and Ashburnham in 1811.19 Burwash forge continued to 1803 and Ashburnham forge to 1829: their local markets and their position on family estates ensured their survival into a different age.
Second Series No 4 1984 P 35
The ironworks is Sir William Sidney’s Robertsbridge Forge, with the furnace coming back into blast in 1573.
Second series No 6 1986 P48
The availability of pig iron from Old Mill Furnace during the 1540s would have opened the option of expanding the forge into a double-finery forge on the Robertsbridge pattern, for which the employment of two French finers in 1549 seems quite good evidence.
Second Series No 10 1990 P 7 - (Brian Awty)
Schubert’s History of the British Iron and Steel Industry included a copy of a 1509 inventory of Newbridge Forge, where the employment of separate pairs of bellows in the finery and hammer-mill proved that the two-hearth Walloon forge was in use. He also cited the production of timp irons at Robertsbridge Forge in the 1540s as proving that Panningridge Furnace was equipped with the forehearth of the true blast furnace, because they indicated that the hearth there must be equipped with a tymp or tymp-stone, from below which the forehearth protruded towards the casting floor.
Second Series No 15 1995 P 9
Notes on Early-18th Century Memoranda on the Making of Iron (Full article in Bulletin) - J. S. Hodgkinson
The expenditure accounts for Beech and Robertsbridge Furnaces and Robertsbridge Forge, between 1726 and 1735, have received little attention.1 They are worthy of interest, however, for a series of memoranda preceding the accounts, which add to our knowledge of the detail of charcoal ironmaking in the Weald and elsewhere. There are several published descriptions of aspects of the practice of iron making, the most familiar examples from the Weald being those of John Ray and John Fuller; the latter a most comprehensive description The memoranda transcribed below (in italics) do not provide a full description of either the smelting or forging process. Rather they supplement the better known accounts. The memoranda appear to constitute a series of notes, perhaps made by the clerk of the ironworks for his successor, for the guidance of someone either new to the iron business, or to the Weald, or both.
………included in the sum for the campaign, which is comparable to the payments in the Beech/Robertsbridge account, is payment for ‘breaking the hole twice & the dam once’ and ‘casting 30 plates in sand’,
In March 1748 John Fuller observed to Samuel Remnant that one of his bellows had ‘been ill of an Astma this month’, and was particular that ox hides, rather than bull or stag hides, be used as replacements. By June the bellows had not been repaired and were looking ‘like a ship with Jury Masts after a storm’. Payment for work on bellows differed between Ashburnham and Beech/Robertsbridge. At the former, separate payments were made for currying hides and then sewing them; the hides, which were bull hides, and the oil to soften and preserve them, being purchased separately. The total payment when the bellows were repaired in about 1765 was £6, of which the sewing accounted for 10s 6d. At the latter (Robertsbridge) furnace we have no information about the supply of raw materials, merely that the repairer was given the old hides, though what use they could be turned to in their worn state is difficult to imagine. In terms of sewing the hides, labour costs at the two sites are roughly comparable.
company, managed by the Millington family, ran. James Bourne had taken over Robertsbridge Furnace.]
……. Again there is a difference between Beech/Robertsbridge and Ashburnham. At the latter many of the responsibilities of the moulder were paid for separately, although it is apparent that at all three works the jobs may have been done by several people. The cages would be the frameworks of metal strapping which encased the moulds of guns. Unlike the rest of the mould, this part would be reusable. The ‘skantling boards’, also known as strickle boards, were cut to shape from paper draughts and bore the exact longitudinal outline of the gun.
….. At Beech the charge is stated to be 308lb of ore which, over a twenty-four hour period, amounts to an average of 7392lb (3.3 tons), and equates to the production of about 0.75 tons of cast iron (assuming an ore:pig ratio of 4.3:1), about half the expected output of a Wealden furnace in the period.
Second Series No 16 1996 P 9 - A Wealden Steel-making Patent, J. S. Hodgkinson
References to steel making in the Weald are rare; steel forges are known at Pippingford and at Warbleton, and German steel workers were engaged by Sir Henry Sidney at Robertsbridge, and at an unidentified site at Boxhurst, in the 1560s. A hitherto unrecognised contribution to the search for a method of steel making is to be found in the patent granted to James Goodyer in 1771.2 Goodyer was a Guildford ironmonger, and in 1771 was the occupier of Abinger Hammer, near Dorking. In 1774 he took the leases of North Park Furnace, near Fernhurst, and Pophole Hammer, near Haslemere. He was declared bankrupt in 1777.
Steel making in England up to the 1770s was concentrated in two areas: in the north east, where the Crowley family had steel mills at Swalwell and Teams, near Newcastle, and in Sheffield.
Contd P 10
…….. in the 16th century immigrant workers (from Siegerland – Germany) had been able to produce steel at Wealden locations, sometimes also using Welsh pig iron, presumably with the finery method.
…. Goodyer’s patent, which was granted on the 20th December 1771, is for a modification of the finery process, and in the specification registered in Chancery on the 11th March in the following year, he described his method thus:
Place the pig or cast iron in the fire as when you intend to make bar iron, but the blast of the bellows must not be so strong; when some of the iron is sunk in the fire you must work from the bottom, as when you make iron, but keep melting iron as at first; when there is a sufficient quantity to make a loop let the whole sink to the bottom, and take it under the hammer as soon as possible to shingle and draw it as you do common iron; the fire must be kept as free from cinder as possible. The addition of common salt or other saline substances, any parts of the parts of animals or charcoal dust, makes the steel better for many purposes; for the finest steel, after if is made as above, it may be converted in the same manner as common steel is made from bar iron.
Goodyer’s method seems to rely on the fact that complete decarburization did not occur when the cast iron was first melted in the finery hearth. His method required the remelting of the bloom while at the same time melting more cast iron. Thus the new bloom formed would contain decarburized iron from the remelting of the initial bloom, together with partially decarburized iron added to it. The addition of salt or organic matter was not uncommon in early ironmaking; the intention of their presence being to modify the conditions in which carburization took place, although their efficacy is somewhat questionable.
Second Series No 20 2000 P 37
Crossley has demonstrated that the Robertsbridge ironworks, during the period before the construction of Iridge Furnace, drew their charcoal supplies from woods south of the river Rother, suggesting that Iridge Furnace may have had access to woodland on farms to the north of the river.
Second Series No 22 2002 P 40
Ironworks probably had at least one wagon team to carry out the various transport tasks necessary through the year, but other teams were hired from neighbouring farms, such as Stephen Goodsall’s team at Udiam Farm which carried guns from Robertsbridge Furnace to Maidstone, or along the short distance to Udiam Bridge where they were off-loaded on to barges bound for Rye.
The cost of wood was a major element in the economics of iron manufacture. At Ashburnham, wood supply consumed 30% of the expenditure of campaigns between 1756 and 1770. In assessing the consumption of wood for a blast in the Weald in this period, the evidence varies according to location. At Robertsbridge, the only figures given are those supplied in letters to prospective lessees, in which the estimate was between 1000 and 2000 loads of charcoal per campaign to achieve between seven and eleven tons of iron a week at the furnace, with a further seventeen hundredweight of bar iron at the forge.
Cont p 45
Prices at Robertsbridge and Ashburnham compare closely, those at the former not changing between 1747 and 1768. On top of these costs were those of carriage, ‘trespass’ over neighbouring land, and the occasional establishment of lodges to house the colliers. Carriage was the determining factor as in it lay the greatest variation: distance.
Contd p 45
It was common practice for some rights to be established in the leases for works. Churchill’s lease of Robertsbridge Furnace in 1754, which virtually reiterated the terms by which the Jukes brothers had it seven years earlier, obliged the landlord to sell all sixteen-year underwood grown within fourteen miles to the lessee for seven shillings a cord uncut. If none was to be available the landlord was to give adequate notice for the lessee to make alternative arrangements.
Contd p 46
Although hinted at, there is no evidence that any attempt was made to import coke into the region, but the use of coal as a fuel has been suggested on two sites.26 Straker refers to its alleged use by Churchill at Robertsbridge, and quantities of it were taken to Warren and Gravetye Furnaces.27 The operation of an air furnace, or the drying of cannon moulds, remain as likely explanations.
Unlike wood, which was a renewable resource, iron ore supplies could not be renewed, so it is a testament to the richness of the Wealden beds that Ashburnham and Robertsbridge, both working since the mid-sixteenth century, could still draw upon sources which were close at hand.
John Churchill’s correspondence with Sir Whistler Webster discloses that the Jukes brothers had converted the second finery hearth at Robertsbridge Forge into one.33 The executors of William Harrison installed one at Hamsell Furnace in the late 1740s, which was apparently still in use as late as 1758, and Edward Raby undoubtedly had an air furnace, very probably at Warren Furnace, to melt bronze when he widened his production to this metal in about 1769. William Bowen cast bronze mortars from metal which he received from the Board of Ordnance, and there is evidence that he did this at one of his Wealden furnaces. Linked with their use of surplus iron from Ashburnham, Crowley & Co. would have probably had an air furnace either at Greenwich, or on Tyneside. John Fuller had to decline the Board’s offer of part payment in old metal because he had no air furnace, declaring that he ‘must lie at the Mercy of those that have, to give what Price they please’. Some shot founders, such as Richard Gilpin and Stephen Remnant, both based in London, worked exclusively with air furnaces. The requirement of the Board of Ordnance that the iron guns they purchased should be cast from ore prevented the expansion of a London-based gun-casting trade using air furnaces.
Contd p 49
Churchill’s initial proposal to the Board was for 200 tons of ordnance in 1757 which, over an assumed average campaign of thirty-three weeks, is not unreasonable compared with the output level of seven to eleven tons a week quoted by the estate three years earlier. Churchill doubled his proposed output for 1759, and it is presumed that he was able to make this offer by running Darwell Furnace as well as Robertsbridge.
The Fullers had built a second boring house at Heathfield Furnace in 1742, and there were two at Robertsbridge Forge.
At Robertsbridge Furnace, earlier in the century, there are references to subordinates for the founder and filler, implying that the master founder’s wage at Ashburnham might have been intended for further division to pay his assistants; average weekly amounts confirm this.
Forges required no ore, their output was considerably less than the furnaces (Robertsbridge had an average output of 40 tons a year) and their products were generally distributed in a smaller area.
Second Series Vol 30 2010 P 38 - Jonathan Prus
So far we have been concerned with the conversion of potential energy in water into useful work: a second approach to the problem is suggested by the records of wheel-bellows systems being operated by man-power alone. In 1744 Fuller alluded to this: “…both Mr. Crowleys furnaces are blown out for want of water… they tread the wheel att Waldron, Robertsbridge and Beckley, which is an excessive charge…”.(Crossley and Saville, 1991, 188)
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