Prior to Abraham Darby's successful experiments in smelting with coke, iron production and related processes were entirely dependent upon charcoal, created by the destructive distillation of wood. Charcoal burning always took place in the forest and the kiln site, or 'pitstead' was carefully chosen with a view to long-term use. The hearth had to be level, and a slope would have to be terraced, preferably on a light and loamy soil which would absorb the moisture and tars given off during the burn. Wood was stacked in 3'-4' lengths and left to dry for six months before building into a uniformly circular kiln for firing during summer and autumn.
It should be noted that traditional methods of producing charcoal reduced the volume of timber by 25% and its weight by 85%. By the beginning of the seventeenth century shortage of charcoal had become a major problem.


Iron smelting in bloomeries was obsolete by the seventeenth century, but the raw material of the Hints forge (See Information Requested) was originally produced in this way. A small hollow constructed or iron plates lay at the centre of an open hearth. The hollow was filled with charcoal, the fire bellows blown, and the ground ore laid around it on the hearth and thrust in little by little. The iron collected at the bottom of the hearth, as a large lump or bloom, which was taken out and beaten under massive hammers. Water power drove the hammers, and later the bellows, to get a much more powerful blast, and by the eighteenth century many of Staffordshire forges were using imported pig iron produced in charcoal fired blast furnaces in the Forest of Dean.At the forge the brittle pig iron was reheated, using more charcoal, and softened before being carried to the hammer to be beaten out into bars of usable, malleable iron; 2.5 tons of charcoal produced 1 tone of bar iron.The bar iron could be further refined and cut into rod iron at a slitting mill; slitting mills had been introduced from Germany in 1565 (VCH 1, 288). The bars were cut into short lengths, reheated, rolled into thin flat strips and finally cut into rods by circular knives in the slitting machine. Rod iron retailed at a slightly higher price, and was produced largely for use in the nail making industry.
A plan view can be seen of the layout and activities that took place at Wortley Top Forge, near Sheffield. The site was in use as a forge at least as early as 1600 and it gives an indication of the archaeological possibilities at the location of Hints forge.

Archaeological Evidence of Iron Manufacturing and Refining

Charcoal Production

Long term re-use of kiln sites can be seen in the survival of level platforms cut into the hillside. Surviving woods are often remnants of ancient coppice woodlands, and charcoal burners' pitsteads may be numerous in areas with a history of iron working.

Iron Smelting and Refining

The reliance on water power for bellows and trip hammers dictated the siting of furnaces, forges and slitting mills in river valleys where leats and pond embankments may be traced from documentary sources and by fieldwork. The presence of quantities of slag and clinker in close proximity should indicate industrial rather than agricultural use of the head of water created.

At Bourne Pool, Aldridge, south Staffordshire, the site of an iron mill owned by Simon Montford, and in production in the closing years of the fifteenth century, has been archaeologically sampled.

Evidence of charcoal burning was noted upstream of the site, and slag, charcoal and iron ore found at the pool, which had been created behind an earthen dam c.4' high, 15' in depth, thrown across the shallow valley. The iron mill would appear to have had a short history, as documented use of the pool in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was for fishing, with no mention of an ironworks.

The dam has now been lowered, infilled and seeded, which may be relevant to the recent use and present condition of the pool at Hints forge, shown on two eighteenth century maps and vanished by 1847.

For some indication of the extent and nature of the buildings and machinery which may have existed at Hints forge a brief synopsis of the archaeology and production history of Wortley Top forge, which lay by the River Don nine miles north-west of Sheffield, may be consulted.


Hints Ford Area

The fish pond (site 1) is revetted against the dam in brick, the dam itself (site 2) being brick-faced with sandstone capstones, now decayed. The revetment wall of the south bank is especially poor and has been breached to allow access by stock to the water.

The weir was fed by three channels but it is now dry, this is due in part to the dredging of the brook upstream, which has lowered the bed of the stream, and to the loss of machinery in the adjacent sluice gates (site 3).

The brick sides of the plunge pool are in need of repair.

Below the first sluice the brickwork is now ruinous and the ornamental stonework badly eroded.

The hydraulic rams (sites 4 and 5) are virtually buried. The first, western structure (4), is wrecked and buried in soil whilst the valve chamber (5) to the east is partly infilled, but still hazardous, being uncapped. The access stairs to the south are buried. East of this is another disused sluice, possibly for overflow control. The outlet for this may be seen in woodland to the south, flooded with standing water.

The north bank of the pond from this point is revetted in decaying brickwork of late nineteenth century date. This is pierced by a large bore pipe which carries away flood water drained from the A5 trunk road to the north. This apparently utilises the redundant village septic tank (site 15), the brick structure in Mill Meadow.

Fluid from the septic tank was previously carried below the pond in a pipe, now very probably damaged, to drain into the brook via the unlined channel visible in the woodland below the dam.

The final exist from the pond is through the brick-lined channel, once grilled over, and the culverted tail race at the eastern extremity of the dam. This now carries a great deal of the flow and issues below the ford. The sides of the culvert are badly eroded, the brickwork undercut by the force of the water, and continuing collapse inevitable.

The course of the ford is buried in large banks of sand and silt. The pleasant ornamental iron railings, evident through much of the Hints Hall estates, are bent and broken, and in places cut into scrap. The ford is irregular, deep pools and shoals obscuring the road surface. A flood drain has been cut for some distance where the road eventually emerges, but with no success or apparent purpose.

A modern pond has been excavated in the adjacent corner of Pool Meadow, utilising the springs that were formerly the village water supply and which possibly fed the hydraulic rams by pipes.

Upstream of Botley House Bridge (SK 1605 0260)

Immediately upstream of Botley House Bridge (SK 1605 0260) the remains of a weir (site 9), shown on the first edition OS map, run a short distance into the brook from the south bank. Below the remains is a badly eroded plunge pool and the brickwork supports of a demolished footbridge (site 10). The weir has served no apparent purpose, but in the adjoining field, overgrown and following the west-east line of the field boundary shown also on the tithe map of 1847, is a ditch (site 11) or drain which may have formed a leat taken off the brook at this point. the riverside pasture has been levelled, destroying the link, and the present track from the bridge into fields to the south has obliterated surface traces further east. The southern boundary of a semi-derelict plot of land, containing outbuildings and redundant glass houses, is formed, however, by a substantial ditch, up to 2m wide and 1m deep, silted and overgrown but still containing water. This can be followed for approximately 200m before it curves to the north through increasingly rough scrubland.

The location of the weir, the eastern intermittent portion of ditch and such evidence as the portrayal of a watercourse leaving the brook, passing under a roadway and supplying a large pond immediately above the forge on Yates' map, imply the distinct possibility that these remains may comprise the beginning of the new channel for which Thomas Lawley of Cannel paid an annual rent of 11 from 11th January 1694.

Although no trace of such a watercourse appears on the 1847 tithe map, it should be noted that field 69, bounded to the south by the putative leat, is listed as Oven Meadow, field 73 is known as Pool Meadow and plot 70 forms a plantation of over 4 acres; these fields are owned by Sir Francis Lawley, Baronet, as are two fields outside the present area of study, Little and Great Brick Kiln Piece, rated as arable.

The land south of the brook downstream from Hints Hall is now extremely wet and used as cover for rough shooting. The easiest way to reach the site of Hints Forge is from the north bank, crossing east of a modern irrigation pond by a rough footbridge.

The rough woodland, once Thomas Lawley's plantation (site 12), is now exceedingly damp and, being enclosed by a bank now c.1m in height, would appear to have been seeded in the bed of a pond. The woodland is decaying but the soil around the plantation is black, fine and extremely rich, with a high gravel content. The embankment shown on the 25" OS map is quite noticeable and bounds this swamp woodland to the south-east.

The vestigial remains of Forge (site 13) comprising one or two patches of brick flooring of nineteenth century date and a scatter of brickwork and tiles, are covered in scrub woodland, with alder and willow being noted. North of Forge the ground is a virtual moss cut by silted drainage ditches and hedge banks, whilst fields to the east were flooded when visited.