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MUSEUMS WITH WEALDEN IRON COLLECTIONS

Anne of Cleves House Museum http://www.sussexpast.co.uk/

This Lewes museum, owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society, houses the best and most informative exhibition of Wealden iron. It includes a number of iron firebacks, wooden stamps, cannon and smaller items such as fire-dogs, and large pieces of machinery including part of Chingley Forge waterwheel, a helve from Cansiron Forge, and a boring bar.

Ashdown Forest Centre http://www.ashdownforest.org/about/forest_centre.php

This visitor centre, not far from the sites of the first blast furnaces in the Weald,  includes displays about the local iron industry and a model of a bloomery furnace. 

Battle Museum of Local History http://battlemuseum.org.uk

Exhibitions are varied here but there are always a few items from the blast furnace period including cannon balls from Brede and Robertsbridge Furnaces, part of a shattered Brede cannon, and some early bloomery items. Some articles from the Wealden iron collection formerly at Hastings Museum (see below) are gradually being put on display here.

Eden Valley Museum http://www.evmt.org.uk/

There are a few artefacts here in Edenbridge including cannonballs from Cowden and part of the penstock found at Scarlets Furnace site. Best ring for details.

Firepower! The Museum of the Royal Regiment of Artillery http://www.firepower.org.uk

Here at Woolwich Arsenal one of Henry VIII’s Wealden cannon is on display together with an older ‘stave and hoop’ cannon, plus the Bodiam mortar. The Sussex iron industry gets a small mention within a comprehensive exhibition of artillery and its history.

Haslemere Educational Museum http://www.haslemeremuseum.co.uk/

The history gallery has a section on Wealden iron, illustrating the town’s past associations with nearby ironworks. A small model of a working furnace clearly shows the bellows driven by a waterwheel, and the gun casting house. Alongside samples of slag and bar iron, artefacts include a ‘date plate’ of 1564 featuring Elizabeth I, and an iron statuette of a priest discovered at Passfield Mill - a relic of Bramshott Hammer. One iron fireback, dated 1659, is embossed with the arms of the Clothmakers’ Company and the initials WV, presumably manufactured for William Varges, a fellow of the Company. It is thought to have been cast at Imbhams Furnace, west of Haslemere.

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery http://www.hmag.org.uk/

This museum’s impressive collection of firebacks is now in storage with no plans to place it back on public display. Contact for details in case this situation changes.

Horsham Museum http://www.horshammuseum.org/

There is a small display of iron artefacts here, including firebacks, cannon balls and domestic utensils, in a case on the ground floor.

The Priest House http://www.sussexpast.co.uk/

Owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society, this beautiful fifteenth century timber-framed farmhouse in West Hoathly has a small exhibition on Wealden iron, locally produced cannon balls, and innumerable domestic items. These include rushlight holders, a salamander, firedogs, and three seventeenth century firebacks. An iron slab is inlaid at the entrance - folklore alleged these could repel witches. 

Royal Armouries Artillery Museum http://www.royalarmouries.org/extsite/view.jsp?sectionId=2201

This Portsmouth museum has several examples of Wealden ordnance.

Royal Armouries Museum http://www.royalarmouries.org/leeds

Some Wealden cannon are displayed in the Hall of Steel staircase here.

Rural Life Centre http://www.rural-life.org.uk

This open air museum in TIlford, Surrey has built a half-scale replica blast furnace, with bellows and waterwheel. For demonstration purposes a half-scale helve hammer has also been attached to the wheel. Experiments are planned to see whether a project on this scale can successfully produce cast iron. Volunteers are needed and are welcome to join this fascinating project, including the preparation of charcoal and roasting of ore, before smelting is attempted. Contact Gerald Baker at 01252 795571 for details and get fired up! The Centre has kindly produced a video showing the furnace bellows and trip-hammer in operation, which can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQVgTi__y40  

Open March to the end of October, ring for winter opening times.

Tunbridge Wells Museum http://www.tunbridgewellsmuseum.org/

This small exhibition includes a model of a water-driven hammer forge and the usual iron artefacts. There is also a small cannon, or falconet, cast by John Fuller at Heathfield, some shot dug up at Yalding, and a couple of railings from St Paul’s Cathedral.

Text © Helen Pearce 2014