This is the best known of Cuckfield’s ironwork sites and, because of its remote location, it still exists - although little survives other than traces of earthworks. It’s located south of Mackrell’s Farm [TQ 3037 2300] between Highbridge Mill and Copyhold Lane (see map below).
In 1566 the Duke of Norfolk leased the land to Henry Bowyer and granted permission to build the furnace and the forge. The next we know is that in 1577 Walter Covert and Roger Gratwick were in dispute over Gratwick’s half tenancy of the works.
In 1583 Simon Bowyer sent ‘sows’ (ingots of raw iron, also called pig iron) to Burningfold forge (near Dunsfold) from Cuckfield, which most likely, came from this furnace.
These ironworks were believed to be in use between 1583 and 1613. Since this time the course of the River Adur has shifted. The deviation of the river can be seen from the 1874 (6 inch) Ordnance map - and the ironworks was going full bore a good 200 years before this map. A depression in the site suggests the river originally travelled on a more easterly route, and it was probably re-routed to allow for more working space for the site.
There is clear evidence that site preparations entailed the damming and sluicing of the flow and that water management was in place.
A team from Wealden Iron Research Group noted that the site was typical of many Wealden furnace sites, and pinpointed the position of the furnace by the need for access by wagons, and its location relative to the water ‘bay’.
The access to the site was along, what we today call, Copyhold Lane, and raw iron and charcoal would have been loaded into the furnace - and charcoal evidence has been found in the bank. Waste material and final product would have been removed from the site along the same route.
The location of the wheel pit was identified, that's where the waterwheel was turned by the waterflow to power the bellows, and also where the tail race rejoined the river.
Slag would have been removed at the southern side of the furnace, and a heap was found to confirm this.
The Cuckfield Forge is 200m north of Cuckfield Furnace on a part of the Ouse [TQ 3025 2354] near where the Cuckfield Swimming ‘Baths’ was opened in 1905. Some 70 metres to the south of the Forge location is Mackrell’s Farm. For the history background see the Furnace details above.
There are place and property names nearby that confirm the presence iron-workings: Cinderbank Shaw, Furnace Wood, Furnace Cottage and Old Furnace.
Cuckfield’s involvement in the supply of ammunition during wartime is demonstrated by this extract from the book ‘Sussex in the Great Civil War and the interregnum 1642-1660’ [pub 1910]:
‘Walter Burrell had set his furnace at work casting shot, and demanded £14 per ton, to be delivered in the Tower. Mr Stendwick’s men were casting shot, and he had 15 tons ready; he would cast five tons weekly, and provide 100 tons by the end of November, and he was about supplying another furnace.
‘Mr Yalden of Blackdown had a stock of metal and water, and might send a quantity of shot to Portsmouth, only he was straitened for workmen at the time. As the previous week had been wet, it was probable that some of the works would be furnished with water soon. “I offered Mr Burrell £12 per ton,” concluded Mr Newberry, “but conceive he will not like less than £13.”’
Murder at the forge
Cuckfield parish registers mention a tragedy either here or at Holmsted (more of this location in the next article). ‘On May 28th, 1613, was buried Joan, the wyfe of old Richard Norman, being Kild by a forgeman.’and a few months earlier on 31 January 1613 ‘Ann, daughter of William Frenche, filler at the furnis, was baptised.’
If you want to read a first hand account on how they made iron in Cuckfield then check out our other article: 1674 - how we make iron in Cuckfield
About the research
The first scholarly survey of the Cuckfield Furnace site was carried out in 1985 by Professor Henry Cleere, an archaeologist, and David Crossley, who was an editor. They jointly wrote ‘The Iron Industry of the Weald’ which was first published in 1985 (and also 1991). In this they describe many of the ironworks in Sussex including Cuckfield.
In 1991 John Berners-Price, Reg Houghton and Jeremy Hodgkinson made another visit and revised these observations. With the wealth of experience they had built up with the Wealden Iron Research Group - they were able to add further observations based on their work elsewhere.
That's about as much as we know of this site - it raises perhaps more questions than it answers. Because it is associated with two main ironmaster families the Bowyers and Burrells it would appear to be the main iron production location. It is also close to the village centre. But how it fits in with the other ironwork locations, and what it primarily made in peacetime remains a mystery.
In the final article of this series Cuckfield Connections looks at each of the other sites around the village, it identifies nine iron production locations around the village including three potential new locations found by Cuckfield Connections.
Sources of forge, furnace illustrations, site plan and map
Material kindly supplied by 'WIRG'- the Wealden Iron Research Group www.wealdeniron.org.uk
Forge illustration was adapted from one by Roger Adams.
Furnace illustration, RG Houghton, 1999.
Location map by Malcolm Davison.
The site plan by Malcolm Davison is based on a drawing by Wealden Iron Research Group following their site survey in WIRG Wealden Iron, 2nd series, 11 (1991) following its site survey in 1989:
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.