Many of us have heard of the ‘hammer ponds' of Sussex. Intrigued by the term, I investigated and found innumerable references to hammer ponds and hammer woods all over the south-east. Most of these lakes are at least partially accessible, and blessed with an abundance of waterfowl and other wildlife: charming places to stop during a tour of the area. However, the historical origins of these waters were grimily practical rather than scenic or tranquil.
‘Hammer’ ponds are not natural lakes but dammed streams and rivers, crucial to the Tudor and Stuart iron industry that was established within the High Weald of Kent and Sussex, and adjacent parts of Surrey and Hampshire. The Weald was a major iron-producing region long before the Romans arrived, due to its abundant clay ironstone deposits. Smelting sites were determined by the quality of local ore, and the convenient location of other raw materials. These included naturally heat-resistant clay, or later sandstone, to construct furnace hearths, and ample supplies of wood to make charcoal for fuel. Water was essential for cooling the iron and the High Weald enjoys many swift streams in deep, densely wooded valleys, known locally as ‘ghylls’, which eventually played a pivotal role. From the end of the 15th century new developments in the industry required many of these to be impounded, and the heads of water that built up used to turn waterwheels. The wheels powered furnace bellows more effectively, and also drove huge forge hammers which pounded pig iron into refined bars. Hence Furnace and Hammer/Forge Ponds.
This site aims to provide a gazetteer of surviving ponds, and is a much shortened version of my book, Hammer and Furnace Ponds (see Sources), reissued with updates in the 2018 reprint, available from most independent bookshops in the High Weald, and Pomegranate Press in Lewes: http://www.pomegranate-press.co.uk/sussex/index.html.
This website is periodically updated so please return from time to time.
PLEASE NOTE: most of the ponds are on private land. Most can be viewed from an adjacent footpath or bridleway. A few cannot. Do not trespass. Do not disturb the wildlife. Remember the Country Code.