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Time Line

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16th Century
1539Sir William Sydney purchases Robertsbridge Abbey on its dissolution.
1539William Sidney engages Alexander & John Collins – ironmasters at Socknersh – to supervise building of a Forge and blast furnace at Robertsbridge and also a blast furnace at Panningridge (about 8 miles SW of Robertsbridge).
Forge was built in advance of BF and supplied with sows from elsewhere and later Panningridge.
1541Building of Robertsbridge BF commenced and completed. Started to supply sows to forge that summer (no ordnance was cast during the Sidney’s ownership of the Estate).
1541Saxbeche (Saxpes) and Woddye (William Woddy of Battle) supply 21 tons sows to Forge (possibly from Markly BF, Rushlake Green) (each sow typically weighed 10cwt).
1542Panningridge BF built for William Sidney about 8 miles SW of Robertsbridge.
1542-3Hammerman at Forge is Bartholomew Collins, younger son of John Collins Snr who was then founder at Rob BF.
1542Robertsbridge BF damaged by flood when bay breached. Extensive rebuilding required.
1542Panningridge BF built for William Sidney about 8 miles SW of Robertsbridge.
1542-3Hammerman at Forge is Bartholomew Collins, younger son of John Collins Snr who was then founder at Rob BF.
1540sJohn Trew founder at BF (probably after John Collins left)
1542-6Forge supplied by Robertsbridge BF.
1543-51William Hatto (alias Fewtrell) hammersmith at Forge.
1546Robertsbridge BF idled until 1573 (27 years). This was possibly due to a high sulphur content in the ore (from CaSO4) which rendered the forged product suitable only for nail making and small items.
For this 27 years the forge was supplied from Panningridge about 8 miles to the SW and from other Wealden furnaces.
1546List of employees at Forge.
1546-63Panningridge BF supplies Forge.
1548Pot supplied to Forge by Charles Polleyn of Buxted – a founder of pots.
1549Jane Bine (widow of Richard Byne died 1549, a Frenchman working for William Sidney at the forge) taxed until 1551 (unusual for a woman to be taxed beyond the year of her husband’s death).
1550Hugh Collins employs Hugh Marchant as finer at Forge.
1553Estate passes to Sir Henry Sidney (1529-1586), son of William
1554New huts purchased for Forge
1560sSir Henry Sidney employs ‘Dutch’ (German) ironmaster to make steel. (They prefer to use Welsh haematite iron to Wealden.)
1563Sidneys relinquish lease of Panningridge.
1563Panningridge BF leased by William Relf and Bartholomew Jeffrey.
1564Sidneys bring in more German workers to make steel at Forge.
1564Henry Sidney leases a blast furnace in Glamorgan in partnership with Ralf Knight and Edmund Roberts (London ironmonger) to provide iron as plate to Robertsbridge for conversion to steel and wire.
1565Two Steelworks set up, one in the buildings of Robertsbridge Abbey and the other at Boxhurst Farm 5 miles NE – 2 miles from Bodiam bridge where iron plates from Glamorgan were brought in and steel shipped out via the Rother.
1565-6‘Dutch’ workers employed.
1566-8‘Dutch’ labourers at Salehurst.
1567Robertsbridge Manor survey of demesne lands written in July - November
1572Steelmaking no longer profitable as undercut by imports from Baltic.
1574-8Sir Henry Sidney leases BF and Forge to Michael Weston ‘and partners’.
1576Alien workers present as taxed.
1586Sir Henry Sydney dies and Estate passes to Robert Sidney (1563-1626) second son as eldest son Phillip dies the same year.
17th Century
1609John Hawes, steelmaker, farmed (ie had a lease of) the Robertsbridge Abbey estate. No reference to steelworks in estate survey.
1609-30Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland, and Elizabeth (née Sidney), his wife, lease Forge (and BF?), and sell underwood, to Thomas Culpeper (of Wigsell in Salehurst) for 21 years.
1609Robert Sidney evicted from Udiam farm as property required by Richard Burke, Earl of Clanricarde. (Udiam was a source of mine (ore) and timber (for building) and underwood (for charcoal). An iron store was established there and wharf to ship products down the Rother to Rye.
1613Thomas Culpeper dies; lease assigned to Henry English (yeoman of Salehurst).
1623-30Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester, John Locherson (London gent), Kenrick Parrey (London gent), and Thomas Beare grant mine (ore) and timber rights [locations listed] to partnership of Henry English, & John Culpeper (of Astwood, Worcestershire) for 7 years.
1623Robert Sidney takes lease of Udiam Iron House (store for forged iron).
1626Robert Sidney dies
1629Henry English has two ironworks in Salehurst (ie confirming second 21year lease still operating).
1651William and Robert Hawes tenants of the BF and Forge.
1677John Roberts tenant of the BF and Forge.
1692BF & Forge occupied by Thomas Westerne a London ironmonger also with interests in Ashburnham and Brede furnaces.
18th Century
1707-18Elizabeth (Countess dowager of Leicester) and her son John Sidney, 6th Earl (1680-1737) (& son of Robert) lease BF to Thomas Snepp Snr (a yeoman of Battle) & Thomas Snepp Jnr for 11 years.
1713-25Thomas Snepp tenant.
1725Sir Thomas Webster (1677-1751) purchases estate from Sidneys.
1725-37Estate runs ironworks for 12 years.
1726-33Combined expenditure accounts with Beech Furnace (at Battle).
1728Reference to gun cleaning at Robertsbridge - first indication of gun founding at the furnace
1730Partnership formed between William Harrison (London founder), William & George Jukes (London ironmongers), Thomas Hussey, Maximilian Gott and John Legas.
1734-40Sir Thomas Webster leases BF to William Harrison, William and George Jukes for 51/2 years.
1737-47Sir Thomas Webster leases Forge to William & George Jukes for 91/2 years on condition they spend £100 on repairs (BF ruinous). Includes 2 boring houses, either side of Forge, and Ironhouse.
1740-7Sir Thomas Webster leases BF to William Harrison, William and George Jukes for 7 years. Lease includes closure of Beech BF at Battle from 1740.
1744Treading water wheel
1745William Harrison dies
1749William Jukes dies.
1751Sir Thomas Webster dies
1754-68Sir Whistler Webster (son of Thomas Webster) leases Forge + BF to John Churchill (a Staffordshire ironmaster). Churchill insists second finery hearth reinstated from air furnace installed by Jukes. Forge output stated as 7cwt bar a week. BF output stated as 7-11 tons / week.
1756Churchill and son propose supply of 200 ton ordnance.
1757Churchill and son propose supply of 400 ton ordnance (probably using Darwell Furnace as well).
1760Churchill and Webster share cost of adding a parlour and lean-to for forgemaster’s house.
1761Churchill loses Ordnance Board contract; casts guns for Robert Morgan, of Carmarthen.
1763James Bourne (a kinsman of Churchill) buys 195 cord of coppice wood on behalf of John Churchill.
1764Churchill uses coal at Robertsbridge (but may be for drying cannon mould rather than for production and no evidence Churchill has an air furnace). Churchill reports his furnace has blown up.
1764Mr Rose Fuller (of Burwash forge & Heathfield BF) writes to Board of Ordnance to say he cannot cast cannon at £14/ ton if using charcoal.
1765Repair of bellows at BF.
1767John Churchill bankrupt.
1767John Churchill dies.
1768-70William Polhill (of Hastings), David Guy (of Rye) and James Bourne (of Salehurst) take 18 month lease on BF + Forge & two boring houses.
1773-4James Bourne supplies guns to Board of Ordnance.
1787BF owned by Mr James Bourne but standing idle.
1787Forge owned by Mr Bourne making 50 ton/ year.
1793Robertsbridge BF closed permanently and Forge no longer recorded in accounts.
1801forge sold in bankruptcy.

Prepared by Tim Smith with additions by Jeremy Hodgkinson
WIRG Bulletins Series 1, 1969-1980, http://www.wealdeniron.org.uk/bull1.htm
WIRG Bulletins Series 2, 1981 – 2013, http://www.wealdeniron.org.uk/bull2.htm
Sidney Ironworks Accounts, 1541-1573, Edited by David Crossley, Royal Historical Society, 1975
WIRG Database of People http://www.wirgdata.org/
J S Hodgkinson, The Iron Industry in the Weald in the period of the Seven Years' War, 1750-1770, (unpublished MA dissertation, University of Brighton 1993) http://wealdeniron.org.uk/thesis.htm#7YW


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