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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Excavations at Chingley Kent 1968.
by D W Crossley.

In our February issue we greeted the Wealden Iron Research Group with a statement of their aims and objectives. It is pleasant to have this opportunity of publishing their first report as a Constitutent Group.

The Bill to dam the River Bewl, near Old Forge Farm, Lamberhurst, in order to create a reservoir for the provision of water for the Medway towns has now become law. Two iron-working sites are threatened, the late 16th-century blast-furnace at TQ 684 327, and the 17th-century finery forge at 682 335. Excavations began in August 1968 with the aid of a grant from the Ministry of Public Building and Works made through the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology to locate these sites as a preliminary to full-scale excavation.

The Furnace.

Only brief testing of the site was possible, but he dam crossing the Bewl Valley at 684327 may now be accepted as belonging to the furnace. A limited area downstream from the surviving bank is covered with blast-furnace slag, and tests disclosed building debris in a small part of the south-cast corner.

The Forge

Test-trenching confirmed that the site lies at the south end of a marshy strip running parallel to the Bewl between 682335 and 683337. The main test-trench across the marsh disclosed a deep channel running beneath an accumulation of silt and humus. This cutting was extended southwards and a partially culverted stone-lined channel, part of a building containing a hearth, and a complex of post-holes were stripped. The site had been damaged by stone field drains, one built on the capping-stones of the culvert, another cutting through the furnace.

The finery hearth lay against the north wall of a stone building which had been rebuilt on at least two occasions; it had been lined with iron plates in the way men- tioned in contemporary descriptions of forges and fragments of two of these survived; the position of the tuyére could be estimated, half-way along the back wall of of the furnace. A group of post-holes lay outside the north wall of the hearth build-ing, in significant relationship both to this and to an unculverted portion of the main water-course. It appears that upright timbers had supported the bellows, for which an undershot wheel in the adjacent channel provided power.

Future work on the site will be devoted to establishing the scale on which operations took place, to be judged from the number of finery and chafery hearths, the type of hammer and the character of the water-supply. This latter is a particular problem, for a machine-dug section of a slight bank across the valley failed to reveal clear indications of a dam, making the use of a leet from higher up the Bewl seem more likely.

Another excavation is planned for Summer, 1969, the dates being July 18th until August 11th. Volunteers will be most welcome, and full details of access, accommodation and subsistence allowances may be obtained from:

D W Crossley,
Department of Economic History,
The University,
Sheffield, S10 ITN.
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