31st March 1547. Wealden Iron.
The Sussex Wealden geology of sand and clay, iron ore, brick and timber to make charcoal for the furnaces, saw the area becoming the centre for iron making and following a tradition going back to Roman times as coins were found nearby. until the move to the coalfields in 1770.(1)
One of the founders of the industry was the Levett family with Parson William (c1495-1554) taking over after the death of his brother John.
So he was in the position of ‘praying for peace, whilst thriving and on war’, after William had been instructed to continue to operate the ‘irron mylles and furnaces’.
Levett was one of the Government’s chief agents in Sussex armament industry as a result of invasion scares from France and Spain when Henry VIII told his metal workers to focus on making cannons because he could not afford to import sufficient numbers of expensive bronze guns from Flanders.
Thus by 1543 the first muzzle-loaded cannon were being prepared cast iron cannon and mortars was centred in the Weald at Bucksfield Sussex with exports starting an arms trade.
This priest cum-cannon founder parson of Buxted, East Sussex, Parson William was the first to cast iron cannon in England, through the efforts of his employee or servant Ralph Hogge.
He went on to become the chief supplier of cannon to the Crown’s Board of Ordnance as the ‘goonstone maker’.
Later Levett’s iron interests fell to the heirs of his brother John chiefly to the Eversfield, Pope and Chaloner and it was Today in 1547 Thomas Chaloner of Lindfield, Sussex left in his will tenne shillings to ‘Rauf Hogg (Ralph Hogge), the servunte of Mr Parsone Levetes’ (sic)
‘In the begyning’, said Hogge in 1573, ‘there was none that cast any gonnes or shott of yron but only pson Levet who was my Mr. and my p’decessor who mayde none but only for the service of the kinges matie’.(sic)
Levett as a businessman, was in some way, removed from the 16thc religious strife, but didn’t stop his temporary removal from his rector’s post at Buxted by Archbishop Cranmer for refusing to embrace reform.
Originally using Bloomeries ,the arrival of the larger and more permanent blast furnaces in the Weald c 1491, increased production, but required water-pounds, more iron ore and charcoal from a depleting number of trees.(2)
The Kentish and Sussex iron industry now moved to coal reserves, with coke replacing charcoal, as at Ironbridge where Abraham Darby started production: a new era began.
(1) Later companies such as Wilkinson, Walkers and The Carron Works took over iron-making.
(2) The bloomery was a type of furnace used in smelting iron from oxides, resulting in porous mass of iron and slag.
The ‘Bloom’ then turned into wrought iron as the blast furnace turned it into pig-iron. Limestone was used as a flux to separate out the impurities.
village,net.sussex iron masters/Pic.