Village walks
Mayfield and Five Ashes
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Village walks

Booklet of walks There are numerous excellent walks around the village which encompass all aspects of our unique countryside, whatever the season. The booklet below is available from Libra Books and the Post Office. It is an excellent source for local walks ranging in distance from 3km to 10.5km, so there should be something for everyone.

Mayfield Circular WalkCircular walk Cover

The Parish Council has funded the production of a new Mayfield Circular Walk leaflet. This free leaflet replaces an earlier one which has been out of print for several years. The walk is about 3 miles long and passes through beautiful woods and meadows close to the village.

Starting at the South Street car park, the route crosses Court Meadow from the Memorial Hall, then passes Glebe Farm and follows the footpath down to the Old Iron Works. Having followed the stream past the Waterworks to Coggins Mill Lane, the circuit continues across fields via East Street to Piccadilly Lane, then returns through the woods to Fletching Street and the car park.

This attractive leaflet, illustrated by F.A.Instone, is available from the pubs in the village and shops which distribute the Yellow Pages.

MAYFIELD FURNACE

An interpretation board has been erected at this site, produced by Angel Design Partnership for Wadhurst Park Estate. This deals with the history of the Tudor Furnace and explains how Wadhurst Park is managing the land.

The site is about half a mile north of the village, east of Little Trodgers Lane, marked on the Explorer Map as “pond bays”, reference TQ 593282.

The text below is reproduced from “A Guide to Walks around Mayfield and Five Ashes” published by Mayfield Parish Council. Also appended is a copy of the information on the interpretation board.

THE FURNACE - In the late 1560s Thomas Gresham moved from Antwerp, where he had been the Royal Agent, raising money and buying arms for the Crown. The revolt of the Dutch Calvinists against their Spanish masters destroyed the international arms market and gave Gresham the opportunity to become an arms producer when he took possession of the Old Palace estate in Mayfield. Using local iron ore, charcoal and water power, he established a blast furnace in Vicarage Wood in Mayfield. Gangs of labourers with shovels built massive dams, cut channels to manage the water and built the furnace, water wheel, bellows and pits for casting the guns.

At the same time, gun foundries were set up in Wadhurst, Jarvis Brook, Eridge and Cowden, (possibly at Gresham’s instigation) all making cast iron cannon for the international market. One hundred whole culverins (huge naval cannons  about 10 foot long, weighing two tons and firing an 18lb shot) were made for the King of Denmark and the Dutch bought many to use against the Spanish.  Cast iron guns were twelve times cheaper than their bronze equivalents. Gresham’s guns had a reputation: fitter to kill the user than the enemy was one verdict.

On Gresham’s death in 1579, control of the foundry passed to the Neville family. In 1584, on his marriage, Henry Neville moved to Mayfield to continue the business. By 1592, working in a syndicate with one of the Sackville family and with two foreign partners (from Germany and Holland) he gained the Royal Patent or monopoly for the export of cast iron guns from Queen Elizabeth. So, for a period of thirty years, the Mayfield  Furnace was one of the main gun producing centres in Europe. Mayfield guns have been found in Nevis in the West Indies, in Zwolle in Holland and in a wreck in the mud of the Thames Estuary (the latter now in Fort Nelson in Portsmouth). The gun in the High Street is a small version of what Mayfield once produced. By 1610, gun production was phased out and cast iron was produced for the forge. The whole operation closed down early in the eighteenth century.

If you stand on the bridge over the Little Rother stream, upstream you will see the earthworks of the dam or pond bay. This structure was repeated in two more dams further up stream and one in a side stream. Substantial amounts of water were necessary to drive the bellows for months on end. The Furnace was built over the stream (the structure destroyed by the building of the bridge) perhaps four metres square, and four metres high. The Furnace (stone-built and lined with brick and clay) was fed with locally-dug iron ore and locally-made charcoal, tipped down the chimney from a ramp leading off the top of the dam. The wooden water wheel, perhaps four metres high, was fed by an oak trough, part of which, remarkably, still exists in the pond below you (downstream) which is at least three hundred years old. The Furnace was probably blasted  by a pair of bellows, each revolution of the wheel delivering three blasts from each pair. Once sufficient molten iron was contained in the furnace bottom, the iron was tapped out into gun pits, dug up to 4 metres vertically into the ground below and lined with a clay mould.

The Furnace would operate continuously, day and night for months, until the water supply ran dry or the Furnace lining collapsed. Other products included fire-backs, made in sand moulds with a pattern pressed from a wooden design or cast iron pigs or sows for later use in a forge where the brittle cast iron was  hammered into a workable form. Once the Furnace went out, the residue left in the Furnace bottom, comprising half burnt iron ore, charcoal and clay was called a “bear”. The rectangular slab below you on the far edge of the pond (downstream) is the remains of one such “bear”. The surrounding area is marked by extensive quantities of glassy black slag, for every ton of iron produced three tons of this waste material which was used in road-building. The woods on your right-hand side, looking downstream, contain evidence of the storage of considerable quantities of charcoal, which blackened the earth. The site is designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument under the protection of English Heritage.

For further information, Wealden Iron Research Group publishes an annual Bulletin. For membership details and full details see www.wealdeniron.org.uk

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