Friday, July 21, 2006

Archaeology Day!

We will be hosting our annual Archaeology Day this weekend in Coalbrookdale. Come to the Museum of Iron on Saturday 22nd July between 10.00am and 4.0pm. There we will be excavating part of the original Coalbrookdale Company Upper Works, near to the Darby Furnace. We will also be sorting through finds from recent excavations. You are very welcome to come along and help!

Finds from recent excavations in the Ironbridge Gorge.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Restoration at the Upper Forge

Some further photographs of the Upper Forge Sluices, and of the interpretation being installed at the Upper Forge picnic site.

Firstly the Upper Forge Sluices - compare these views to the photographs in this post and you can see how much progress has been made in just three weeks. All credit to the contractors on this Phase of the works.

The reconstructed overspill, based on archaeological evidence. From here the water goes into the new culvert (entry to which is just out of sight below the blue brick wall).

The bottom end of the culvert, running to the east of the main sluices.

Another view showing the location the outfall from the culvert and the reconst- ructed wall.

Meanwhile, over the road the restoration of the Upper Forge Picnic Site (Boring Mill Pool) is also taking shape.

View from the new parking area showing the path towards the pool.

Archaeological features represented by the stone wall showing the line of the tenement back wall, and the circles showing the bases of the steel furnaces.

View from the pool looking back towards the parking area.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Upper Forge Interpretation

Here are a couple of photos of the 'interpretation' being installed on the Upper Forge (Boring Mill) picnic site. These features have been located over the remains of the steel furnaces, malthouse and tenements that we excavated last summer.

The back wall of the malthouse and tenements (re-using original stone from the building).

Circles showing the outline of the steel furnaces are picked out in modern bricks.

Many thanks to Chris Butler (Borough of Telford and Wrekin) for these photographs.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Coalbrookdale Watercourses

The restoration of the Upper Forge sluices are proceeding very quickly now. Scaffolding has been erected within the sluice outfall - partly to provide a working platform, and partly to ensure the integrity of the structure. The present stage involves digging out the debris to the east of the sluices to install a new culvert along the line of the old one.

With the full force of the water now diverted through the sluices, the term 'water power' has certainly become meaningful again!

The sluice outflows into the culvert which takes the water down to Rose Cottage.

Building up the levelling layer to support the culvert pipe.

The new culvert outflow will be at about the level of the scaffolding on the left.

Outflow of a drain which probably pre-dated the culvert.

This work co-incides with our current excavations at Wednesbury. Please have a look at our main blog site to see the evidence for eighteenth century water power which we have revealed there.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Upper Forge Sluices

Engineering work has finally commenced on the final phase of the Coalbrookdale Watercourses Project. Previous work on the New Pool and Upper Furnace Pool will be followed this summer by the restoration of the Upper Forge Sluices and the final renovation of the Upper Forge Picnic Site (Boring Mill), also the scene of the excavations last summer.

View from the road. The large tube is for temporary diversion of the flow during the work.

At the moment the main task is simply getting into the sluices site. Although all the trees were cut down last year (and you can now see the railway retaining wall very clearly [above]), there is a lot of earth and other material to move out of the way before consolidation work can start.

This photo was taken last year and shows the present condition of the sluices.

In summer 2005 we undertook an evaluation on behalf of the Borough of Telford and Wrekin to find out what remained of the original overflow structure at the sluices. We discovered a long-forgotten stretch of specially-designed overflow weir, with an arched spillway leading into a former culvert. The results of our archaeological work have been used to help design the final engineering solution.

Artists impression of the final result - reconstruction of the overflow weir and reinstatement of the culvert. Lots of work to do before we get to this stage!

We will be closely monitoring this project over the next couple of months, as it will provide us with an important understanding of the development and phasing of the Upper Forge Pool and associated sluices. More information will be uploaded here shortly.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Visit of the Royal Archaeological Institute

We were very pleased to recieve a visit from the Royal Archaeological Institute on Friday and Saturday. After a lecture on recent archaeological work in Ironbridge on the Friday night, the 40-strong party ventured up Coalbrookdale on a damp Saturday morning and visited the scene of the Upper Forge excavations. We also visited Blists Hill and Coalport.

For the lecture I produced an interpretive overlay of one of the 'aerial' photos. The original is shown here...

...and the interpretive one here. Red shows the surviving elements of the steel furnace phase, blue shows those elements of the malthouse, and yellow shows the remains of the tenements (or at least those that were left after we had finished!).

Friday, March 24, 2006

Former residents of the tenements

Many thanks to Andrew Massey of Cumbria, who visited the site last summer, for sending photographs of his grandparents standing outside the tenement buildings. These photos were taken in the 1930s.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Old slags from Coalbrookdale

Analysis of slags and furnace lining discovered during the 2005 excavations at the Upper Forge are now being analysed by the English Heritage Centre for Archaeology at Fort Cumberland.

The work is being undertaken by David Dungworth. Five samples from the site have been taken for preliminary analysis - the one shown above is part of the lining of the first steel furnace in England. Other samples included reside from the furnace, later iron forging residues and some copper ore.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Boring Mill Pool

The relandscaping of the 'Upper Forge Picnic Site' (the location of our excavations from 2001-2005) not only includes backfilling of the archaeological excavation but also the restoration of the Boring Mill Pool.

This pool was originally the 'Middle Forge Pool', supplying water to the second of four forges in use in Coalbrookdale by the mid-seventeenth century. It possibly has its origins in the mid-1500s - during the 2004 season of excavations we found some sixteenth century pottery here.

During the eighteenth century the pool was enlarged. This enlargement was partly to increase the supply reservoir for the newly created Boring Mill - a conversion of the Middle Forge for precision turning of cast-iron cylinders. It also pooled water for recycling back up the 'Dale (pumped by the 'Resolution' steam engine).

This photo shows the pool earlier this week after being cleaned and desilted to a maximum depth of 2 metres. This work was archaeologically monitored but no artefacts were found during the desilting operations. Previous work (in 2004 and 2005) had recovered a fragment of timber and a wide range of pottery. However we did discover the top of the western wall of the pond, which was rebuilt in the early nineteenth century.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Finally, after several months of sorting out the details, backfilling of the archaeological excavations at the Upper Forge is now taking place.

Backfilling in progress on Tuesday

A layer of sand is being used to cover the steel furnaces and associated features, as well as the malthouse kiln floor and other sensitive areas.

The main fill is of course the spoil removed during excavations, which is being screened for building materials to be used in the interpretation. Although this is a sad moment for us as archaeologists, at least we know that the remains are still there, and are preserved for future generations. Their discovery has added tremendously to our knowledge and understanding of seventeenth century Coalbrookdale.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Upper Forge Post-Excavation

Post-excavation work on the Upper Forge is proceeding apace. This has involved collation of data and map work as well as potwashing and finds analysis.

This photo was kindly supplied by the engineers' office of the Borough of Telford and Wrekin, who took it in August at the conclusion of our excavation. The second (earlier) steel furnace is clearly visible as the circular stucture with the diagonal flue within the later malthouse / tenement walls.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Upper Coalbrookdale Landscape

This project is the latest part of the CHART programme of research into the landscape of Coalbrookdale. Earlier in the autumn we began archaeological investigation of an area above the Darby Houses. This area is now known as the 'Arboretum', and this was laid out and planted in 1805. However it partly overlies an older formal walled garden which is depicted in engravings of the mid-eighteenth century and has disappeared from present-day interpretations or understanding of the landscape.

Detail of a 1759 engraving of the garden by Francois Vivares (IGMT Collections)

Our work involved walkover survey, geophysical survey and excavation. Not only were we trying to establish the survival of remains associated with the eighteenth century garden, but we were also asking questions about its origin.

Resistivity survey in progress - attempting to locate the southern wall.

The excavation work looked at various components of the garden, and discovered previously unidentified elements of the walls and original paths. However the main focus was on the Summer House shown at the top of the garden in the engraving (above). We located the original eighteenth century building, and also discovered evidence for its modification in the nineteenth century.

One of three trenches on the summer house site; original walls appear as infilled foundation trenches.

Further work on this site will be undertaken next year, and we will be seeking volunteers to work on the project. Please email us for further information.

Monday, December 19, 2005

First Steel Furnace in England

After five seasons of hard work at Coalbrookdale we have discovered the first cementation steel furnace in England. The furnace dates from c.1619, and was built by Sir Basil Brooke - an eminent industrialist and ironmaster who operated several iron furnaces and forges.

The 2005 season was the third involving collaboration between the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and Wilfred Laurier University. With students from the UK, Canada and the US under the expert - if sometimes slightly frazzled - guidance of directors Paul Belford and Ron Ross, we opened an enormous hole and discovered that there were three main phases of site occupation. Phase 1 - The steel furnace. This was built in 1619, subsequently modified and extended and then later (probably c.1630) joined by another furnace of the same sort of size and dimensions. The furnace was circular in form, approximately 6m in diameter, with two separate flues on which a coal fire was lit to heat the cementation chest. The wrought iron in the chest would have been packed with charcoal and the carbon from the charcoal was absorbed into the iron... thus making steel! The furnaces went out of use in the 1680s.

Phase 2 - The malthouse. From the late 17th century the site underwent a few changes in ownership and design. By the 1730s the steel furnace had been demolished and the buildings surrounding it adapted for use as a malthouse. Here barley was soaked, sprouted and dried as preparation for use in brewing. We found settling tanks, the base of the kiln, and several varieties of drying floor tiles.
Phase 3 - Tenement housing. By the later 18th century a rather ramshackle range of tenements had been added to the western side of the malthouse. In the 1840s the malthouse itself was converted into a row of 12 back-to-back houses. These survived in use until the 1960s. We found an old domestic cooking range... one of the kitchens and a number of fireplaces still in situ. We were pleased to have visits from people who had lived (or whose ancestors had lived) in the houses - a nice link with oral history and historical archaeology.

Now the only problem is to get the post excavation work done!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Historical Archaeology in Coalbrookdale

This blog replaces an earlier effort which showcased work at the Upper Forge site.

This site is bringing together the results of all of the work since 2001 on a wide range of sites all over Coalbrookdale. Although currently under construction we hope to have a more exciting range of stories to tell early in the New Year.