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KENT IRON INDUSTRY

February 2016


'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 chariot wheels.
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 and bellows.
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 cathedral.
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.



 

Shoreham And District
Historical Society
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The Shoreham Society
The Kent History Federation and
The Kent Archaeological Society

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