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Wealden Iron Masters and Cannons

(1543AD - 1813AD )

32 pounder cannon from 1800's Iron Ore is found at the base of the Wadhurst clay deposits in the Weald. It was mined by digging a pit 10 to 30 ft deep, extracting the ore, then digging a second pit next to the first, and back filling the first pit with the spoil.

To heat the iron Ore to a high enough temperature to melt the iron, involves the use of charcoal, which burns at a higher and more constant temperature than wood, and the use of bellows to increase the charcoal temperature.

The charcoal was readily available within this area due to the number of woods and forests. The bellows were usually water powered, hence most production was near the rivers. There were problems encountered with the water power, due to drought, so pen-ponds were built upstream to provide a continuous source of power while the furnaces were running. However even those furnaces near major rivers had to stop production during June 1742( Robertsbridge , Ashburnham and Brede ) and December 1743( Beckley , Robertsbridge and Waldron ) when droughts affected the area.

The 1743 winter drought coined the phrase "treadmill" when the workers from the 3 furnaces affected had to tread the water mill to keep the bellows in action.

The manufacture of iron was seasonal, with most of the smelting and casting of the iron occuring during the winter months. With delivery being carried out, especially cannon, during the early summer, this was because the clay based roads in winter were nearly impassable especially when transporting a 2 ton cannon on an ox drawn wagon.

The legend has it that the first cannon cast in east sussex was in 1543 at a furnace in Buxted by Ralf Hogge(Huggett), and is immortalised by a small rhyme.

Master Huggett and his man John
they did cast the first cannon.

When a furnace was fired up, it took some time to produce acceptable quality iron for the production of cannon. The first iron from the furnace was used for pig iron castings, to supply a number of forges in the area ( Burwash , Lewes and Crawley ). The next iron was used to make forge equipment, iron backs ("fire backs"), water pipes, rollers(agricultural and garden). The finally the remaining iron was felt to be of sufficient quality to produce the valuable cannons, even this started with the small cannons progressing on to the larger models.

The Fuller family from Brightling were a major cannon manufacturer in the local area, and produced a wide range of models from 32 pdr 10ft long to a 6 pdr 6ft long. 48 pdr guns could be manufactured, but it was felt that about 1 ton in 4 of iron was vapourised and lost in the process.

The Brede furnace was built in 1578 to produce cannons for the Royal navy. In 1754 the Churchills at Robertsbridge installed a furnace that re-melted pig iron and old rejected cannons, to produce new ones.

(Recently discovered correspondence has revealed that John Churchill asked for such a furnace to be reinstated as a finery forge, and suggested that it may have been built by his predecessors, the Jukes brothers.)
 - The above information was kindly provided by the Wealden Iron Trust

All the cannons produced in the area were proved at Woolwich Arsenal in London, by double charging the cannon with powder, and testing twice in this manor. This was felt to reveal any manufacturing flaws especially in the area of the muzzle.

For 270 years cannons were produced in the area, with the last furnace at Ashburnham being shut in 1813.

Details of some of the Furnaces in the Area

Location Name Controlled by Produced
Ashburnham Ashburnham Furnace Crowley Family Cannons
Brightling Darwell Furnace
Beckley Beckley Furnace Harrison Family Cannons
Brede Bread Furnace Harrison Family Cannons
Buxted Huggets Furnace Hogge Family Cannons
Heathfield Heathfield Furnace Fuller Family Cannons
Lamberhurst Lambehurst Furnace Harrison Family Cannons
Netherfield Beech Furnace
Robertsbridge Robertsbridge Furnace Churchill Family Cannons
Waldron Waldron Furnace Legas Family Shot
Warbleton Cralle Furnace  

Details of some of the Forges in the Area

Location Name Controlled by Produced
Ashburnham Ashburnham Forge
Brightling Glaziers Forge
Burwash Willingford Forge
Etchingham Bugsell Forge
Heathfield Heathfield Forge
Mayfield Hawksden Forge
Robertsbridge Robertsbridge Forge    
Stonegate Bivelham Forge

Cannon Markings and their Manufacturers
Most cannon manufactured in this area have a makers mark on the trunnion

AAshburnham Ashburnham Crowley1827
BBrede Brede
CConster Beckley
CMPippingfordPippingfordCharles Manning
DDarwell Mountfield
GGloucester Lamberhurst
HHamsell Rotherfield
IBRobertsbridge Robertsbridge
IFHeathfield Heathfield John Fuller1693-17221745-1755
JFHeathfield Heathfield John Fuller1722-1745
RFRose Fuller Heathfield Rose Fuller1755-1789
JCDDarwell Mountfield John Churchill1768
JCRRobertsbridge Robertsbridge John Churchill1768
MRWarrenWorthMaster & Rabey1764
RRobertsbridge Robertsbridge
WBWilliam Bowen Barden
WBWilliam Bowen Cowden
WWaldron Waldron

Villages Referenced

Ashburnham  -   (Last iron furnace in Sussex)
Beckley  -   (Alfred the Great and Guns !)
Bells Yew Green  -   (The ruins of Bayham Abbey)
Blackboys  -   (Charcoal and Soot)
Bodiam  -   (The finest ruined castle in the Country)
Bodle Street  -   (White Horse on the roof)
Boreham Street  -   (Picturesque village on top of the Ridge)
Brede  -   (Edward I inspects the Channel Fleet)
Brenchley  -   (A beautiful Kent village)
Brightling  -   (famous for Mad Jack Fuller)
Broad Oak Brede  -   (On the Crossroads)
Burwash  -   (The home of Rudyard Kipling)
Burwash Common  -   (Roughest pub in the South East)
Burwash Weald  -   (Roughest pub in the South East)
Buxted  -   (The first Iron Cannon in England)
Chiddingly  -   (Walking on Cheese ??)
Chiddingstone  -   (A perfect Tudor village)
Dallington  -   (Custers Last Stand!)
East Hoathly  -   (Another Sussex Cannibal?)
Edenbridge  -   (Roman Crossing to Victorian Bridge)
Eridge Green  -   (The home of the Neville Family)
Fairwarp  -   (Charcoal and the Army)
Frant  -   (King Johns hunting lodge)
Goudhurst  -   (Smugglers, Iron and Forests)
Hadlow Down  -   (Wealden cannons and Charcoal)
Halland  -   (Ancient Slaughter)
Hartfield  -   (A.A.Milne and Winnie-the-Pooh)
hastings Bulverhythe  -   (Landing place of the citizens)
Heathfield  -   (19th Century Natural Gas)
Hooe  -   (The Haunt of Smugglers)
Horam  -   (Which Station do we get off at ?)
Horsmonden  -   (The largest Wealden Iron Works)
Hurst Green  -   (The Youngest Highwayman on record)
Kilndown  -   (Charcoal for the Furnace)
Lamberhurst  -   (Scotney Castle and Gardens)
Maresfield  -   (Soldiers and Iron)
Mayfield  -   (Saint Dunstan and the Devil)
Newenden  -   (Alfred the Great's Fort)
Ninfield  -   (Last of the Iron Stocks)
Penhurst  -   (Beautiful yet Remote)
Ringmer  -   (Poor Roads and riots)
Robertsbridge  -   (The Home of Modern Cricket)
Rotherfield  -   (Source of the rivers Rother and Uck)
Sedlescombe  -   (Best gunpowder in Europe)
Tudeley & Capel  -   (Iron Industry and Hop Pickers)
Vines Cross  -   (Cannons and Doodlebugs)
Wadhurst  -   (Last bare fisted Prize-Fight in England)
Waldron  -   (Fullers Earth)
Warbleton  -   (The Iron Man)
Wartling  -   (World War II defence centre)
Yalding  -   (longest medieval bridge in Kent)

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