22 November 2012

Stirchley Furnaces revisited (III)

The final stage of the 2012 volunteer excavations at Stirchley Furnaces began today, very much picking up where our work in August had left off.

We split into two groups to tackle two key research questions. The first was to understand more about the very complex series of buildings which lay between the chimney and the furnaces, and which must have included the boilers, steam engine, blowing apparatus, hot air ovens and refinery. To investigate, we effectively continued Trench 5 to the south - beyond the walls we uncovered last time and towards the very curious-looking 'humps and bumps' beyond. The team needed to remove a few saplings which had rooted themselves into the structure - here Sohail and Brian are seen winning the battle with an ash tree!

Meanwhile, a smaller group were trying to find out about the buildings at the edge of the site. We had noticed brick and stone walls here before, and I have always assumed that they were 'ore bins' and suchlike to store raw materials as they were tipped from the mineral railway. (The line of this railway is now a path running along the east side of the site). So we decided to excavate Trench 7 across this feature. In the tradition of this project, here is a photograph taken at the beginning of the day...

... and here is one at the end.

Quite a lot of earth was moved, and some very intriguing structures were revealed as a result. The jury is still out on the interpretation, and we shall learn a great deal more tomorrow, no doubt - once the team have rested overnight!

Meanwhile, in Trench 5, a very curious structure was emerging. This has multiple flues running in various directions; there is a lot of heat damage to parts of it as well. Some of the flues appear to have been deliberately filled with greensand.

There are also at least two phases of construction and redevelopment, as revealed by today's exciting brick finds! The first definitely belongs to the 1820s Botfield ironworks, as the principal parts of the structure - including the flues - were built using 'Lightmoor' bricks made by the Coalbrookdale Company.

The Botfield accounts show that the Coalbrookdale Company supplied these bricks in the 1820s and 1830s. At some stage the structure (whatever it was, and we will learn more tomorrow) was rebuilt, or perhaps repaired, during the occupation of the Wellington Coal and Iron Company. The evidence for this comes in the form of firebricks supplied by Harris and Pearson of Stourbridge, who also provided the furnace bricks for the furnace linings which we discovered last year.

The weather was better today than we had hoped, although it was sufficiently windy to blow a tree over and across Trench 5 during the course of the afternoon. Many thanks to the Friends of Telford Town Park for the loan of their gazebo! More news tomorrow (hopefully)...

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