Woodcolliers - Makers of Charcoal
Join Ian Baldwin of Sylvan Charcoal in the Elstead area of the Wye Valley demonstrates the art of making charcoal from local sustainable woodland sources using steel kilns. Supporting your local charcoal maker will provide you with top quality lumpwood charcoal
After cleaning, the air vents are replaced and bedded in to ensure an air-tight seal.
The next step is to lay a base of fines in the centre of the empty kiln. These will help the burning cinders to take hold for the burn when they're added later.
Preparations for charcoal burning were made with great care, the stack built up in layers and always on level ground. The single wheeled barrow known as a 'mare' would be used for carrying logs to the burning area, and the large pronged rake for uncovering the charcoal when burning was complete.
Over half the woods in the Chilterns
are ancient and have remained wooded for at least the last 400 years. These
woods also contain many historic features of earlier land use as reminders of
the way our forebears used them.
the Chilterns, a heavily wooded Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the north west of London, have been found to contain iron waste from small scale smelting or iron working activities. Most of these finds are just lying on the woodland floor in amongst the leaf litter. Some are thought to date back to the Iron Age and Roman period. The reason they are in woods is that perhaps as much as 60 tonnes of wood was needed to smelt a tonne of iron ore. The wood had to be converted to charcoal first so that it would burn hot enough to produce bloomery iron.
So why was iron produced in the Chilterns? It was much easier to bring the iron ore to the wood for it to be worked than to carry bulky and friable charcoal to the iron. Clay for the furnaces was also readily available in the Chilterns. The iron slag discovered so far seems to date from the Iron Age and Romano-British periods, although it is probable that some is early medieval.
Some of the iron slag found in Pigotts Wood, north of High Wycombe, Bucks, for example, still has the baked red clay lining from the bloomery attached to it; while other pieces are heavy fragments of the once molten slag. Another site nearby is in the woods owned by the National Trust at Bradenham. Some of this slag seems to be associated with medieval pottery but other finds here may be Romano-British.
A site with iron slag found within an old enclosure in Common Wood near Penn, Bucks, has had the enclosure ditch excavated by the Chess Valley Archaeological Society. They found Roman pottery fragments in the fill of the ditch and a bronze age spear was found nearby. So this is likely to be an early site for iron working.
Recent information from the records of the county archaeologists of Bucks, Herts, Beds and Oxon on the known distribution of iron slag sites in the Chilterns indicates that there are 9 sites in Bulbourne/Ashridge area of Hertfordshire (of 12 sites known in the county), 35 sites in Bucks, mainly north and east of High Wycombe. These sites are often in woodlands and some are linked to enclosures in the Wye and Misbourne valleys. A few sites are known in Bedfordshire near Dunstable (a Roman town), but there are no known sites (yet) in the Oxfordshire Chilterns.
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