Posts Tagged ‘wealden iron furnace’

If you like some old slag then last weekend was your thing, at the annual Fernhurst Furnace Open Weekend. With a forecast for bad weather as the remnants of hurricane Katia lashed the country I wasn’t expecting much, but in the event, apart from the odd shower, we escaped the worst of it and the show went on. Sheltered in the woods on the track down to the site of the old Wealden Furnace I hardly noticed the wind.

Unlike many of the shows and events that I do, this one is not commercial, being primarily a small community based event and has another purpose, to raise awareness of the remains of the North Park Iron Works which operated  on the site for over 200 years.  One of dozens of Iron Furnaces in the Wealds of Sussex, they were eventually put out of business by the successful use of coke for smelting in the Ironbridge gorge, releasing the ironmasters from their dependance upon charcoal as a fuel source and allowing iron working to be concentrated on massive sites.

It’s hard to get a sense of the size, noise and activities of the iron workings from the remains on the site you can see today. Almost all of the Wealden Furnaces have disappeared leaving little trace which makes this site something special. The most obvious feature is the size of the furnace pond and it’s retaining bank, availability of water being one of the biggest restrictions on the Wealden sites. Below the sluice it is possible to make out the remains of the wheel pits, the casting floor, furnace base and the charging ramp. You can even just make out the remains of the casting pit for the naval cannon that were made on the site.

This model gives a better feel for the scale of the buildings in the photo you can see the actual wheel pits and stream just to the right of the one in the model. You can learn more of the history of the site at the furnace website.

The iron industry in the Weald existed from Roman times (and probably well before that) but as the industry in the north of England scaled up in the 18th Century the Wealden Ironmasters were forced to rely upon their iron making and casting skills to compete. As well as making ‘pig’ or lump iron for the hammer forge at Pophole on the nearby Wey the furnace cast cannon for the Navy.  This cannon is a good example of the type that would have produced by the Wealden furnaces (though this one is not from this furnace).

The two sites, furnace and forge needed to be separate because of the restricted supply of water (power) and charcoal (fuel). This cannon ball was found in the grounds of a cottage close to the hammer forge at Pophole on the Wey and was most likely cast from pig iron smelted at the furnace 2 miles away.

Making iron from the ore requires a lot of heat, fuel and plenty of power on hand so we weren’t able to demonstrate it over the Weekend. But Fergus and Penny from nearby Butser Ancient Farm did take us right back to the start of the technology by demonstrating how to smelt copper from ore, very much the same principles which were refined (pun entirely intended) to smelt iron.

Fergus used Malachite which is a very rich copper ore, copper carbonate, the oxide of copper giving the mineral it’s characteristic green colour.

To turn the green malachite into copper the temperature in the clay furnace needs to reach almost 1400 degrees centigrade which is achieved using good quality lumpwood charcoal and plenty of air blown through the fire from the hand powered leather bellows.

The green tinge of the flame indicates that the furnace is reaching the right temperature and the copper in the malachite is being released. This happens as the charcoal creates a reducing action by burning and producing carbon monoxide that then steals oxygen from the copper oxide to make copper.

At the end of the process the crucible containing the molten copper and remains of the malachite mixed with some charcoal is removed from the furnace to pour into moulds.

Though in this case the copper pulled a disappearing stunt and flowed to the base of the crucible where it stuck fast until cooled and released by Fergus – though it does look more spectacular in this shape and contrasts with the original green of the malachite.

I was impressed that you can produce your own metal with some clay, charcoal, a pair of bellows and some ore. You really could try this at home. Though it might be better to try it with Butser ancient farm first and you can find out more about their courses including Fergus’ metal making on their Butser Ancient Farm website .

The title of this post is a shameful attempt to attract hits and maybe even readers via the search engines, though whether they will be impressed with my old slag is doubtful. Given the centuries of iron working at the site, and at nearby Pophole hammer forge, slag tends to turn up all over the place and would have been used to fill in the notoriously poor Sussex roads, but I found my old slag in the end and a fine example it is too. I shall have to leave the rest of the weekend to another post.


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If you fancy a visit to the site of the medieval  North Park Iron Works near Fernhurst (that’s in West Sussex, close to Haslemere in case you are wondering) – it’s the annual open weekend on the 10th and 11th September. I will be there with my lathe and shavehorse as will friends making besom brooms, blacksmithing, smelting bronze (or is it copper), burning charcoal and there will be plenty of refreshments on hand. Not forgetting the highlight of the event the Sealed Knot civil war reenactors. More (and probably more accurate details) from the flyer below or the furnace website at http://www.fernhurstfurnace.co.uk/

Poster-2011 – pdf flyer for the event this weekend

Look forward to seeing you there!

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It’s taken a while to write another post, but last weekend I demonstrated pole-lathe turning at a local event, the Fernhurst Furnace open weekend, so here goes.

The site of the furnace is tucked away in secluded woods midway between Haslemere and Midhurst.

The Fernhurst Furnace was a medieval Wealden Ironworks which operated for over 150 years and included a cannon casting pit, the remains of which can still be seen today. The Iron Industry was a major influence upon the shape and management of woodland in the Wealden Landscape. The furnace would have used thousands of acres of coppices for several miles around to feed its enormous demand for charcoal. The invention of coke to fire furnaces in the 18th century spelt the end for the Wealden Iron Industry, but the size and extent of the coppice remains today as a valuable resource although much is neglected and unmanaged.

Despite downpours during the week soaking the site the weather smiled on us over the weekend. Chris Wool-Palmer, a local woodsman and charcoal burner made charcoal with his transportable metal kiln. Chris burns with Alder wood which makes large lumps of high quality charcoal. You can buy his ‘Didling woods’ brand of bbq charcoal around Midhurst.

Too many demonstrations to include them all in one post but Fergus from Butser Ancient Farm was demonstrating an even older technology by smelting copper in a small charcoal furnace. On Sunday Fergus had the opportunity to use the Alder charcoal made on site by Chris. Butser is a fascinating experimental ancient farm on the South Downs which you can visit online here – Butser.

Robert the blacksmith from the Weald and Downland Museum was forging all weekend with his portable forge, assisted on Sunday by fellow blacksmiths Nick and John from the Tilford Rural Life Museum near Farnham.

Stephen Allberry showed us how to adze the seats for his wonderful chairs. Stephen’s workshop in Fyning, near Rogate on the A272, is not too hard to find as his pole-lathe is set up in his front garden and clearly visible from the main road. It’s amazing how many people have mentioned Stephen and his pole-lathe to me when I am demonstrating at the Weald and Downland museum. Maybe we should all be out in our front gardens?

Resisting the temptation to write on all of the fascinating demonstrations over the weekend, last but certainly not least I have to include the Sealed Knot. Out on the field above the furnace the Civil War reenactors turned out in force to show us how the cannon made at the Furnace would have been used. The black powder charge uses charcoal, traditionally made with Alder as a key constituent, and it certainly certainly kept us awake all weekend as we were treated to cannon and musket fire together with the spectacle of skirmishing with pikes and muskets.

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