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March 9, 2014 / Apley Estate - Hamiltons

Archaeology walk, Apley forges

2014-03-08, Forge Industrial Archaeology walk (11)I went for my first ever archaeological walk on Saturday morning on the site of 18th century ironworks, furnaces & forges, in the heart of Apley Park, centered on our holiday cottages ( Forge & Bridge Cottages were workers’ cottages & the house pictured here, also overlooking the River Severn, was the Forge Master’s house. Local historian Stephen Dewhirst guided Gavin & I round familiar places, but helping us see them through totally different eyes & understand how the landscape was as early as 1639 (there is a map dated, but just currently I can’t yet publish it on this blog) until 1815, when peace (after the Napoleonic Wars) saw a decline in the demand for military hardware such as cast iron cannons, the cannon balls & swords etc.

Jesson & Wright ran the ‘Wren’s Nest Forges’ sourcing cast iron from their furnaces in Broseley & converting it into bars of wrought iron. Those bars were then taken on sailing boats (trows) down the River Severn to Stourbridge where they were transferred to barges (on canals) & distributed throughout the Black Country to be made into finished goods such as nails.

This is decades before the Foster family bought Apley in 1867. The Whitmores owned much of the surrounding land, but not actually the Wren’s Nest Forge site at this time.

de Loutherbourg painting of Ironbridge furnaces, BedlamThere were 3 pools – Upper, Middle & Lower (water being the most important factor in iron production), 3 water-powered mills, a steam engine pumping the water used in the mills back up-stream for re-use, several melting furnaces (making wrought iron from cast iron) & many more buildings than there are there now. These included those housing hammers driven by the water-wheels. You can begin to get the gist of how hot & busy life was there & how much industry was going on & why Ironbridge is now a world heritage site – this area was trail blazing & leading the world in iron production.

Whilst Stephen showed us the mill races (head & tail races), we talked about waulking or fulling (a wooden hammer pounded the fabric with the help of water & the mineral Fuller’s Earth), the iron production & the changes which occurred on the site over the decades. The 1862 railway line (now National Cycle Route 45) was built 50 years after the furnaces fell into disuse. The railway line was built on an embankment which cut right through the Lower Pool, so a culvert had to be built under the line to allow Linley Brook to continue to flow into the River Severn.

I even managed to find a good piece of 18th century slag ! Wren's Nest forge, Mrs Roney-DougalThis sketch comes from the collection of Mrs Roney-Dougal whose husband was the Apley Estate land agent until 1977. It’s believed to have been drawn by a prisoner of the Napoleonic wars, some of whom were billeted locally.

Apley Park is strictly private, but special permission can be obtained from the Apley Estate Office 01746 762 110.

The 1801 red, firey painting above is by Philip de Loutherbourg, of Coalbrookdale by Night.

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