The Wealden Iron Research Group have recently welcomed visitors to view an experimental iron smelting facility which is located in Ashdown Forest.
The visitors to the event were parents and children and the idea was that iron working methods that were taking place in the area on a historical basis were going to be recreated.
In ancient times the process of iron smelting in the area was very profitable and it is a process that the company have been keen to understand further, and involve young people in the educational process. It is something that takes place over many stages from mining to roasting as well is putting the raw materials in an oven which reaches over 1000 degrees Celsius.
The fully working replica furnace, which the WIRG group has constructed from clay, sand and straw using ancient techniques as understood from historical local records, was shown to the SEHE group. The method of smelting was briefly outlined before the children were allowed to get hands on and have a go at using the hand bellows to pump oxygen into the furnace to keep the furnace functioning at its optimum level.
Once Dr. Tim Smith, a metallurgist who was leading the smelt declared the charcoal and iron ore had burnt down sufficiently, the front of the furnace was removed and the molten embers pulled out and carefully sifted through looking for any iron yielded by the smelt. Anything produced from the furnace still needs to be hammered into ‘billets’ while still hot before it is a saleable product.
Sonny 15, a visitor from SEHE who has an interest in history and wants to be an archaeologist in the future said: “My favourite part of the day was pumping the bellows to keep the furnace working. I found the experiment interesting as I like to find out how things were done and how people lived in the past.”
Lily 7, was “amazed” when the furnace was opened up and she saw how hot it was inside.
Genevieve 9, found the day enjoyable: “I had more fun than I was expecting to, the best part of the day was using the mirror to look inside the furnace and realising how hot it was. It kept me warm, too!”
If you are interested in joining WIRG for one of their smelts, details can be found at www.wealdeniron.org.uk