Hammer Ponds: Driving our Industry
It would be a very unwise to suggest ‘The Old Furnace Pond’ as a group meeting place…
You may find yourself sat alone on the banks of a gentle pond in Slaugham, watching a heron glide across the water, whilst other members of the party are similarly clock-watching at an angling club in Slinfold, at a nature reserve in Warnham, or in an English country garden in Lower Beeding.
Horsham is fortunate in that it boasts a number of beautiful, tranquil ponds, which are located across the High Weald. These days, they are often havens for waterfowl and other wildlife. But once upon a time these ponds were bustling sites of an extensive, environmentally destructive iron industry.
The industry here died in the early to mid 18th Century and nature has reclaimed what man destroyed. This area’s high yield of iron deposits ensured this was a major iron-producing region long before the Romans arrived. But whilst pre-Roman people used iron (hence the name Iron Age) it was the Romans, with their need for iron nails and fittings, that truly expanded the industry.
Locally, this occurred particularly in the Broadfield area of Crawley with the products being shipped out of Sussex on a maritime fleet known as the Classis Britannica, which seems to have managed the Roman Wealden Iron
industry. It has been suggested that the fleet dealt with transportation and support services whilst the iron works were managed by civilians.
Research into the ponds and lakes has often had to be based on documentation rather than the existence of any physical remains, because the iron works were continually updated. This is why the discovery of the small furnace at Roffey is so important. In the 1930’s iron slag had been found in the area, but it wasn’t until 1985 that the Horsham Museum Society archaeology group, working with the Wealden Iron Research Group, excavated the site revealing a phased development.
Documented evidence suggests that around Horsham, iron was being produced as bar and finished products. It is possible that there may have been some regionalisation of manufacture based on local ores. Southern weald ores have a higher sulphur content which is more suitable for making nails, whilst those in the Horsham area are more suitable for arrows.
Around the 12th Century, the European iron industry saw major changes with the introduction of water powered
hammers and bellows. This continental improvement did not occur in England until the 14th century. A manually blown hearth produced 30 lbs of bloom and a water powered hearth 200lbs, so it was a major step. With the shortage of labour (due to the plague) it is likely that water-powered bloomery forges were built for better
From 1490 – 1540, there were significant changes to technology and management of the bloomer, blast furnaces and the finery forges, as French ironmasters and craftsmen introduced new advancements. This created such a boom in the local iron industry, that by 1574 there were 52 furnaces and 58 forges working in the Weald.
The basis of this expansion was the ability of the Weald to produce competitively priced bar iron in the medium to lower quality range along with small quantities of cast iron. It was during this period that the iron workings in St Leonard’s Forest developed. The most recognisable remain of the industry are the hammer ponds that can be found throughout St Leonard’s Forest.
Unlike the north or midland valleys where water is plentiful, here they had to dam the stream to produce enough water, and hence power, to turn the wheel. One of the later iron-working sites is Warnham mill. Built by the Caryll family around 1609, it worked on a yearly cycle. The iron ore was excavated from the bottom before the pond was allowed to fill up again with water supplying power for the forge, thus draining the pond ready for further
The English Civil War saw the forge destroyed, a common occurrence across the Weald, which signalled the start of the decline. Much of the decline was blamed on Swedish bar iron, which was cheaper and better quality.
There were changes in the market away from making armaments to making every day products; pans, cauldrons, fire backs and hammerheads. At its peak, about 180 furnaces and associated forges operated over Sussex, Kent and Surrey. The decline was not dramatic, but by 1800 there was no Wealden iron industry left.
It was the end of a fascinating chapter in Horsham’s history. A chapter full of colourful characters and controversy. Roger Gratwick the younger, did not get on with his neighbouring iron master Edward Caryll of Shipley, who owned Gosden Forge, and whose pond was later incorporated in to the gardens of Leonardslee.
The dispute ended up in the courts with an attempt by Caryll to dispossess Gratwick. This ill feeling either spread to the workers for it is recorded: ‘Giles Moore and others, 20 or more, a company of most dissolute, disordered, quarrelsome and riotous persons, his (Caryll’s) servants and hangers on, have committed a great riot.
‘Armed and apparelled in warlike manner with swords, daggers, staves and other weapons, they did forcibly wound and beat (Gratwick’s) servants labouring about the iron works and have violently taken great quantities of ore and carried it to the works of Caryll.’
There are plenty of outlets for those wanting to know more about the iron industry in the High Weald. Along with a detailed exhibition, regarding Wealden forge and furnace operation, Anne of Cleves’s House Museum in Lewes has a superb collection including the famous Lenard fireback of 1636. Horsham Museum also has a display devoted to various Wealden iron articles including cannon balls and domestic utensils.
You can also visit the some of the sites. Occasionally pen ponds survive where the original waters have not, but at least 40 lakes remain over the three counties. Most are in Mid Sussex, but we have several around
Most are likely to be familiar to anglers, since many have been converted to private fishing lakes. Some others were converted to serve corn mills or drained and the land reclaimed for agricultural use, while a few were swallowed up by reservoirs such as Ardingly and Bewl. The nearest to Horsham town is the hammer pond for Birchenbridge Forge, which you pass as you near Mannings Heath whilst heading south on the A281.
It was owned by John Caryll in 1598, and later became much enlarged.
Nearby Roosthole Pond, which is now used by an angling club, was probably a pen pond for the forge, fed by Sheepwash Ghyll in the ancient St Leonard’s Forest. This can be viewed from the footpath along Alders Copse, running from Goldings Bridge at Goldings Lane, off Hammerpond Road (less than half a mile from Horsham Rugby Club). You can also look through the fencing erected as part of a deer management programme from the side of Hammerpond Road.
There are two more ponds further along the Hammerpond Road. Hawkins Pond is where the road narrows after you pass the entrance to Mannings Heath Golf Club on your right, and then Hammer Pond, which you can
conceivably ‘find’ if you slice your ball horribly right on the par 3, 10th hole on the ‘Waterfall’ Course.
Carterslodge Pond, a short distance north east on Cartersledge Lane, was a pen pond for Hammer Pond, which served St Leonard’s Upper Forge. Hawkins Pond was a pen pond for the original Lower Forge and Furnace Pond, which is now dry. These forges were built around 1561 and associated with both the Gratwick and then Caryll families, but both sites were ruined by 1664.
Just a couple of miles away along Hampshire Hill you’ll find Slaugham Furnace Pond. This lovely site is easily accessible as there are parking bays on Coos Lane directly facing the water. A dry ditch among hummocks in trees, on the west bay, is thought to be the wheel pit. Ashfold Lake, just north of here, may have been a pen pond for this furnace.
Gosden Furnace Pond at Crabtree, Lower Beeding, lies within Leonardslee Woods but the gardens are currently closed to the public. It is the lowest in a chain of ponds that served the furnace, believed to be built by Roger Gratwick in 1580. The six pen ponds upstream were later converted into ornamental lakes within Leonardslee Gardens and one of these, New Pond, can be reached via a footpath from the end of Mill Lane, although the path is not easy walking.
Moving further south of Horsham, many will be familiar with Knepp Mill Pond, near the ruined castle (feature in the August 2012 edition of AAH). This pond was dug out to power the Caryll family’s Knepp Furnace in the 16th Century. This fine sheet of water lies on a footpath running along Castle Lane, a private track forming a bay at the pond. A sluice gate controls the spillway, which falls beneath the road to a stream back to the Adur.
However, the original furnace and bay are thought to have been to the east by Floodgate Farm. At Slinfold, Dedisham Furnace was working by 1614 but there are no more references to the ironworks after 1650. The pond has been restored and converted into two private fishing lakes at the scenic Furnace Lakes Fishery.
The remaining ponds cannot hint at the widespread heavy industry that dominated the scene a few centuries ago. The clamour of the hammers, the smoke from the furnaces, the countless miners, finers, and hammermen, with roads blocked by oxen hauling iron and charcoal, would have presented a far busier and noisier landscape than today’s peaceful waters.
Silt has reduced some ponds in size while others have been altered for ornamental purposes. All have been reclaimed by flora and fauna, and many are now within Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Often assumed to be natural beauty spots these delightful artificial lakes remind us of the post-industrial nature of so much of our countryside.
‘Hammer and Furnace Ponds, Relics of the Wealden Iron Industry’ by Helen Pearce, has been published by
Pomegranate Press, 2012 (ISBN 978-1907242151). For more details visit www.hammerpond.org.uk or the Wealden Iron Research Group website at www.wealdeniron.org.uk