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.
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
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
- 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
Details of some of the
Forges in the Area
Cannon Markings and their Manufacturers
Most cannon manufactured in this area have a makers mark on the trunnion