Emma Corke, President of the Surrey Archaeological Society, presented the Conservation Award to the Rural Life Centre and Gerald Baker, the RLC volunteer who led the project, at a ceremony on July 7.
The half-scale replica is of a traditional Wealden Iron furnace, with bellows and a pair of trip-hammers, as they were commonly used in the Sussex and Surrey Weald before the industry moved north in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The last furnace in the south closed down in 1813.
Chris Shepherd of the Rural Life Centre praised the work of the many volunteers who had been instrumental in the success of the project but emphasised that it was due to Gerald Baker’s vision and hard work in securing funding that the project had got off the ground. It succeeded thanks to the support of the Surrey Hills Sustainable Development Fund. Three grants totalling £7,000 were awarded to enable the furnace to be completed, and the results are stunning.
Construction of the furnace and the trip-hammers started some three years ago, to designs based on the few archaeological remains and other evidence that have been found. A waterwheel drives a pair of bellows to provide the draught to the blast-furnace, and it also operates the pair of trip-hammers, although in practice these latter would have been on a separate site.
No water supply or mill-pond exists at the RLC, so water is re-circulated round the wheel by an electric pump. It is intended to fire the furnace using charcoal, with the hope that it will be possible to smelt iron ore if safety problems can be overcome. This will require an initial stock of four tons of charcoal, and a charcoal kiln has been operating at the museum for the last two or three years. It was the availability of coke in large quantities that led to the iron industry moving north at the end of the 18th and in the early 19th centuries.
After the presentation, members of the Surrey Industrial History Group were given a demonstration of the hammer and bellows. The final stage of the project – to put a roof over the furnace – is now well under way.
The furnace will be in operation at the Rural Life Centre’s ‘Rustic Sunday’ on 29 July. For further details please visit their website www.rurallife.plus.com.