KENT IRON INDUSTRY
'The Kentish Iron Industry' by Katherine Hardy and Denise Baldwin,
from the Lamorbey and Sidcup Historical Society, was the subject
for 19 February.
A tangible local reminder of the industry is to be found in
an iron grave slab of 1656 in All Saints churchyard, Foots Cray.
Centuries earlier, however, the Romans and early Britons were
already producing wrought iron weapons and covering for wooden
The Weald had everything needed for wrought iron: deposits of
ore from Horsham to Tunbridge Wells, woods to be coppiced for
charcoal for smelting, and rivers for water power for the hammers
By 1597 there were eight furnaces and four forges in Kent.
The Wealden Iron Research Group has now identified the remains
of more than 800 sites.
The invention of blast furnaces introduced new technology,
producing superior cast not wrought iron. At Horsmonden John
Brown cast cannons in the seventeenth century.
His forge is commemorated in a local pub, 'The Gun', and his
furnace pond is now a lake.
The iron foundry at Lamberhurst made railings for St Paul's
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, wood was
becoming scarce, and this, along with competition from the Midlands,
was to put an end to the industry in the Weald.
Coke not wood was the new fuel for smelting cast iron.
At Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, where Abraham Darby (1672-1717),
a Quaker manufacturer of pots and pans, converted a charcoal
furnace to coke, materials had to be ferried back and forth
across the Severn because the mines were on one side, furnaces
on the other.
To overcome this problem Abraham Darby III (1750-1791), one
of the heroes of the industrial revolution, constructed the
famous Iron Bridge, built from cast iron arches but using the
techniques of carpentry.
The technology looked dangerous, but the bridge was completed
in 1781 without the loss of a single life.
Later Coalbrookdale produced the plates for Brunel's SS Great
Britain. These still had to be ferried down the Severn to Bristol,
but from the 1890s railways took over transport.
Today Ironbridge Gorge is a World Heritage site.