23 November 2012

Stirchley Furnaces revisited (IV)

Another exciting day of continuing unexpected and - for the time being at least - mysterious discoveries! Today the whole team mostly worked on Trench 5, further investigating what is clearly a very substantial structure.

As you can see, in contrast to yesterday's very windy and sometimes drizzly conditions, today we has blue skies and sunshine. This rather frenetic scene was captured the the beginning of the day, as the realisation dawned that Brian's multi-flued structure was actually part of a much larger entity. In fact there are four sets of identical flue arrangements (although we are only excavating three of them). Here is another view towards the end of the day, with the easternmost structure in the foreground.

It is difficult to work out what this is - at the moment I am inclined to suspect it is the refinery. The purpose of the refinery was to remelt the cast iron from the furnaces before it went up the road to the puddling furnaces. Certainly it contains a series of flues (perhaps refinery hearths?) each served by two sets of three downward-pointing flues on each side; at the end each 'hearth' is a cast-iron plate, beyond which the level drops into what could be be the running-out bed. However these structures do not correspond in detail either with the description of the refinery here in 1856 or other published contemporary accounts.

The alternative is that these are the four hot blast stoves, also described in 1856. However, again, they are different from published plans of hot blast stoves; also it is not clear how they would have worked. What's more they are about 30 metres away from the nearest furnace - surely too far?

So the mystery continues for now.

Other work today included drawing the wall in Trench 7 that we uncovered yesterday. I also discovered what seems to be a calcining furnace at the far northern end of the site - this was for roasting the ore before smelting. Malcolm also discovered a wall made of slag blocks.

So we have quite a lot to do tomorrow - including, of course, the all-important recording - before this year's work at Stirchley comes to an end.

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