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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Iron-working Site at Withyham, Sussex.
by J H Money.
(Tonbridge Historical Society Archaeological Group.)

Accounts of this early iron-working site are given in Newsletter/Review KARNumber 4 (pages 12-14), KARNumber 6 (page 6) and KARNumber 8 (page 6).

KARNumber 4 included a detailed description of a well-preserved furnace, which has been dated by Carbon 14 determination to 340 AD ± 150 years. The photograph is of the excavated furnace lying at the back of the oblong pit which accompanied it. The sides of the front part of the pit are each supported by three large slabs of masonry. Smaller pieces of masonry, which line the back of the pit in the area of the furnace itself, acted as a solid support for the temporary clay linings. The small stake-holes, which are arranged in a horseshoe at the base of the furnace, held an expendable light timber frame, which would have been assembled as often as necessary, to support a new clay lining until it had been hardened by the fire and was able to stand on its own. The cut in the back was done during excavation in order to provide a section through the various linings. Immediately above this cut can be seen the hole of one of the four tuyeres (clay pipes into which the bellows were inserted). The furnace, which was egg-shaped, originally stood about two feet higher and was, of course, closed in at the front during firing. Most of the front part of the furnace lining had disintegrated before excavation. The remainder was removed after it had been photographed, in order to allow access to the interior of the furnace.

PHOTO: Excavated furnace.

A well preserved furnace from the iron-working site at Withyham, Sussex

The excavations at Withyham have now been brought to an end. During the spring and summer of 1967 a new area, where stone work is visible above the present land surface, was partly excavated. It proved to be the remains of a small stone and timber shelter (presumably a workman's hut), which contained mediaeval pottery, a few (so far unidentified) iron implements, iron nails, and dumps of charcoal and shelly limestone. This last acted as a flux in the smelting furnace; some of the shelly limestone, being ferruginous, also provided a small amount of iron.

Work on the smelting and roasting furnaces and the heaps of slag and other refuse from them was continued; sections cut through the furnaces themselves revealed details of their make-up which were not otherwise visible.

The British Museum has agreed to test a number of other charcoal samples taken from key points, and these, it is hoped, will at least enable Roman work to be distinguished from Mediaeval. Owing to the inherent margins of error, however, these tests are not expected to provide anything in the way of narrow dating for the furnaces and other structures.

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