Furnaces, foundries and forges:
ironmaking heritage revisited
HMS AGM Meeting

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25th-27th May 2012
Birmingham
Organiser Paul Belford

 

Part of the series of event organised for the 50th Anniversary of the Society. The ferrous industries were central to the origins of HMS in 1962-3, and fifty years later we returned to the historical heart of the English iron industry to review progress in research, conservation and interpretation since then. This residential meeting echoed the focus of early HMS gatherings.

There were site visits and behind the scenes tours to:

  • Archaeological excavations and standing remains of blast furnaces, forges and other sites in Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire.
  • Churchill Forge: rarely-open operational 18th and 19th century water-powered forge
  • Excavation of early 19th century hot blast furnace and refinery at Stirchley
  • Black Country Living Museum: with guided tour of the Keith Gale archive
  • Ironbridge Gorge Museum: with guided tour of HMS archives and the Slag Collections

Along with a range of lectures on medieval and later ironworking practice; origins and conservation of blast furnaces; new research into forges and puddling technology; hot blast and the cupola, and more.

The accommodation and lectures were provided at Woodbrooke Hall a Quaker Study Centre, with splendid facilities including a boating lake for evening entertainment.

 

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Review

The first of the three HMS 50th anniversary conferences was held over a weekend in Birmingham at the beautifullly landscaped grounds of the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in the historic heart of the British iron industry.

Peter Crew began Friday’s talks with a paper discussing the development of iron production seen through bloom sizes, production estimates, and raw material costs. Kate Biggs’ paper ‘Overlooking the Wye Project’ discussed the importance of a holistic approach to heritage management, dealing with both the built and natural environments. Recent projects dealt with Abbey Furnace, Tintern, and Mushet’s Whitecliffe furnace, Coleford, the latter of which is now being conserved. Ian Standing, who took an active part in Whitecliffe’s preservation, was on hand to answer questions. Highlights from Saturday included Don Wagner’s paper on ‘Cast Iron in China’. He discussed such objects as 2nd century BC cast iron tomb doors and the Cangzhou lion (cast 953AD). The lion, which was largest cast iron object in the world until 1910, is now corroding badly due to mismanaged conservation. David Cranstone discussed the problems researching puddling caused by conflicting contemporary literature.

The fieldtrips were a high point of this conference, made all the better by the fantastic weather. At the Black Country Museum we witnessed chain making, brass casting, and wandered through industrial relics such as steam-hammers, a re-heating furnace and rolling mill. This was followed by a fascinating tour of the water-powered Churchhill Forge, active for over 500 years, complete with an operational waterwheel. Sunday’s tours were to Cinder Mill, a partially excavated water-bloomery site, and to the Stirchley Furnaces, Telford; an extremely impressive site built in the 1820s with a monumental chimney and the remnants of four blast furnaces. A knowledgeable tour of the site was provided by Paul Belford.

 

 Written by Matt Phelps for the Crucible 81

 

Not so much gold, silver,bronze –
more copper, zinc and brass
HMS Annual Conference

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6th-7th October 2012
SS Great Britain, Bristol, UK
Organiser Eleanor Blakelock

 

The Historical Metallurgy Society was celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a series of conferences. In this Olympic year the Historical Metallurgy Society invited its members to join it for a one day conference on the real stories behind non-ferrous metals - not just gold, silver, and bronze, but copper, zinc and brass.

This conference offered an opportunity to explore themes relating to the history and archaeology of all non-ferrous metals. With the SS Great Britain as a backdrop there will be a focus on the broad theme of communication; communication of ideas, metals as communication tools and the role of non-ferrous metallurgy in the slave trade.

The conference was hosted in the stunning Victorian surrounds of the SS Great Britain, the world’s first great ocean liner. The Bristol area is rich with non-ferrous archaeological sites, and on Sunday 7th October there was an opportunity to explore many different post-medieval metalworking sites with expert guides.

 Link to programme here and the abstract book is here

 

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Review

In a break from the Society’s recent iron-centered themes, this year’s annual HMS conference, entitled “Not so much Gold, Silver, Bronze – More Copper, Zinc and Brass”, focused on non-ferrous alloys, with brass taking centre stage.

This meeting was a tremendous success with over forty delegates from across the UK and Europe and clearly demonstrated that there is wide interest in non-ferrous metallurgy among the Society’s membership. The conference was held in Bristol’s city centre in view of the scenic SS Great Britain, which gave the proceedings an appropriately, although slightly anachronistic, historical backdrop. The event was excellently organized by Eleanor Blakelock and Matt Phelps and chaired by Paul Belford.

The conference was held over two days, with the Saturday dedicated to eight related papers presented by researchers and professionals from a broad range of backgrounds, while the Sunday was reserved for tours of the Warmley Brass and Zinc Works and the Saltford Brass Mill.

Saturday’s program included eight talks, roughly divided by theme. The conference included generous tea breaks and an excellent lunch that offered the perfect venues for discussion. After a brief introduction to the proceedings from Paul Belford, the first of two technical papers was presented by Jocelyn Baker from Durham University on quantifying colours using spectrophotometry and ED-XRF. This was combined with a study of historical records in order to understand how British Anglo-Saxons would have perceived the relationship between copper alloy and precious metal colour space. The Society then welcomed our German colleague Gerald Eisenblätter from Leipzig University who gave a talk on the use of X-ray computed tomography and its use in the investigation of the Roman copper coins. This paper, co-authored by Alexandra Franz and Gert Kloess, combined various imaging and archaeometric approaches to offer a versatile non-destructive method to characterize the composition of copper alloys.

After a short but well deserved coffee break the lectures continued on a decidedly more international outlook. Cambridge Archaeological Unit’s Simon Timberlake presented an overview of experimental mining and archaeometallurgical investigations at Sakdrissi in Georgia, in the Mitterberg region of Austria, and Rosia Montana in the Apuseni Mountains of Romania. This broad sweeping overview was followed by Wenli Zhou from UCL who gave a paper on China’s zinc distillation process from the 14th to 20th centuries. This paper outlined the clear technological head start that Asia enjoyed over Europe in regards to zinc production and neatly led to the next series of paper which covered the more traditional brass cementation and later zinc distillation processes in Europe and Britain.

The next four papers had a more local flavour, outlining the rise and fall of the British brass industry. A fascinating paper by one of the premier scholars on the Bristol brass industry, Joan Day, was read by Tony Coverdale of the Saltford Brass Mill Project on the historical and archaeological story of the Avon Valley copper and brass industry between 1700 and 1740. A paper covering the development of the rise of South Wales as the world’s dominant copper smelting area in the 19th century and its impact on shipping technology and the copper industry was given by Keith E. Morgan, curator of the Trose Works Cottage & Industrial Museum. Keith also kindly shared some surprising insight into the family origins of Swansea Valley’s famous actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. This was then followed by a review of recent salvage excavations at William Champion’s pioneering but ultimately failed 18th century venture at the Warmley Brass and Zinc Works by David Etheridge of the Avon Archaeological Unit.

However my personal highlight was the last paper of the day, given by historian Chris Evans of the University of Glamorgan, who broadened the topic substantially by exploring the role of copper and brass objects in the transatlantic slave trade. This excellent exposé was the source of lively discussion and elegantly tied together the various strands of research of the day into the broader global context which illuminated much of the developments we saw on more local scales.

The Sunday programme of field tours proved to be equally captivating. The first visit was of the Warmley Brass and Zinc Works discussed the previous day by David Etheridge. This complex was the first to produce zinc metal through the distillation process to make high zinc brass in Britain starting in the 1740s. The walk through the patchy remains of William Champion’s estate was very interesting although at times puzzling and mystifying. The slag-block summer house, and slag-clad concrete statue of Neptune, and slag-lined grotto complete with industrially warmed waterfall, were particularly inspiring! Following a delicious Sunday carvery lunch at the Riverside Inn, we continued the day’s activities at the Saltford Brass Mill where Tony Coverdale and Joan Day gave a riveting tour. This mill is a prime example of what would have been a complex of mills scattered throughout the region working brass ingots into sheets and then into the various hollow-ware vessels destined for export. The grounds are dominated by several watermills that were used to roll the ingots into sheets and to power large “battery” hammers.

The positive response we have received to this entirely non-ferrous meeting (with only the occasional reference to iron manhole covers) clearly shows that there is much appeal for alloy-specific themes amongst the Society’s members. It has been particularly pleasing to attend this well-organised and cohesively themed conference. This gave the chance for all the delegates to engage in meaningful discussion, crossing both geographic and methodological barriers. Attendance to the conference by all sectors of archaeometallurgy, including academics, enthusiasts, historians, museum curators, metallurgical engineers, and commercial archaeologists, continues to highlight the strength of the Historical Metallurgy Society in bridging customarily segregated fields. I look forward to seeing the Society expand on these strengths and feel confident that our next meeting, the 50th Anniversary Conference and AGM in London will be just as engaging and successful as this one has been.

Written by Loic Boscher for The Crucible 81

 

Research in Progress Meeting

 

 

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Wednesday 10th November 2010

Institute of Archaeology,
University College of London.

Organised by Ruth Fillery-Travis and Miljana Radivojevic

 

The Research in Progress meetings are aimed at a wide variety of contributors, from historical and archaeological metallurgists to excavators, historians and economists. Presentations were given on a range of topics, from a variety of speakers in a friendly environment.

The HMS prize is awarded for the best presentation by a student at the meeting was awarded to Loic Boscher for his presentation 'Speiss and arsenical copper production in Early Bronze Age Iran'.

Research in Progress Meeting

 

 

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Wednesday 9th November 2011

Department of Archaeology,
University of Sheffield.

Organised by Derek Pitman and Jessie Slater

 

The Research in Progress meetings are aimed at a wide variety of contributors, from historical and archaeological metallurgists to excavators, historians and economists. Presentations were given on a range of topics, from a variety of speakers in a friendly environment.

The HMS prize is awarded for the best presentation by a student at the meeting was awarded to Sian James for her presentation 'Faunal Remains from the Great Orme Copper Mines'.

 A link to the programme is here

 

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2011 Sheffield  

 

Research in Progress Meeting

 

 

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Tuesday 6th November 2012

Department of Archaeology,
University of Newcastle.

Organised by Andrea Dolfini and Michael Smith

 

The Research in Progress meetings are aimed at a wide variety of contributors, from historical and archaeological metallurgists to excavators, historians and economists. Presentations were given on a range of topics, from a variety of speakers in a friendly environment.

The HMS prize is awarded for the best presentation by a student at the meeting was awarded to Yvette Marks for her presentation 'Any way the wind blows: a re-assessment of the working parameters of the Bronze Age Aegean perforated furnace'.

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Review

Andrea Dolfini and Michael Smith organised and hosted an excellent Research in Progress meeting. It was held, and generously funded, by Newcastle University. As noted in the closing remarks, the research presented was ‘truly research in progress’, and the talks offered a fantastic overview of various research projects taking place within historical and archaeological metallurgy across the globe.

The range of approaches taken was particularly interesting, with presentations of experimental studies, instrumental analyses and academic research in different combinations. Below are some of my personal highlights of the day. Yvette Marks presented an excellent paper on Bronze Age perforated furnaces, discussing her field, laboratory and experimental work that has led to a re-assessment of the working parameters of these furnaces. Yvette proved that these perforated furnaces, originally thought to have been used in conjunction with ceramic pot bellows, were in fact powered naturally by the high winds that she recorded on site. Experiments proved that these winds would heat the furnaces to the required temperatures to smelt copper ore and that the heat was even across the furnace instead of being localised (which is common with bellows-driven furnaces). She developed her re-assessment in a very logical way and linked her findings back to key archaeological and social questions. Her paper, deservedly, won the HMS student prize.

Evidence of metal production in Scotland, specifically casting activity, was discussed by Daniel Sahlén. Daniel presented material (predominantly ceramic moulds and crucible fragments) found during recent excavations and compared it to assemblages found in a wider context. He developed his arguments by identifying a number of trends; for example material distribution on the excavated sites. Daniel also noticed that the ceramic fabrics of the moulds and crucibles were remarkably similar to each other; suggesting the raw materials used for both crucibles and moulds were from the same source. He concluded that evidence for non-ferrous metal production is in-fact traceable in the archaeological record of Scotland from the late Bronze Age to early Historic Period. It is therefore important to record and analyse these production materials and not just rely on the finished products as tools for assessing non-ferrous production.

The final paper of the day, presented by Andrea Dolfini, presented an exciting interdisciplinary project that seeks to produce an online metadata archive documenting usewear patterns on artefacts with cutting edges. This paper developed themes presented earlier in the day by Rachel Crellin, regarding the development of use-wear analysis for the study of Bronze Age axes. Andrea explained the key principles of the online archive and its intended purpose as a resource to assist and encourage future research. These types of interactive, online resources are current in many fields and are providing academics and students with valuable resources for research and a forum for specialist discussion. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the development of one of these online spaces and the ideas behind it.

These three papers are just some of the exciting research projects presented; the nine other papers by Laura Perucchetti (on Bronze Age transalpine relationships), Siran Liu (on gold and silver production in China), Heather Hopkins (on lead dying kettles from Pompeii) Carlotta Gardner (on a late-medieval foundry in Croatia), Abdullah Alzahrani (on a mining settlement in south-west Saudi-Arabia), Michael Smith (on the role of copper and brass in the Transatlantic Slave Trade), Peter Claughton (on ore processing in Queensland), Tim Young (on the old term ‘Wolf’s Spit’), and David Cranstone (on the development of the cementation process in Britain) were equally as interesting and thought provoking. Siran Liu and Laura Perucchetti were runners up in the student prize. The audience, of around 25 people, were welcoming and contributed to the discussion by asking interesting questions and providing useful feedback.

During the lunch break there was an opportunity to visit the Great North Museum. The exhibitions reminded me of how rich the archaeology of the North East is. There were some beautiful examples of Roman metalworking and explanations of how some of the artefacts were made; crucibles and moulds were displayed in some of the cabinets.

The 2012 RIP was a superb opportunity to discuss research as it happens in a friendly environment with both early career and more established scholars. I would certainly recommend future RIPs to anyone interested in current developments in the field.

 

  Review written by Carlotta Gardner for The Crucible 81

Research in Progress Meeting

 

 

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Friday 14th November 2014

School of Archaeology,
University of Oxford.

Organised by Mark Pollard and his students

 

The Research in Progress meetings are aimed at a wide variety of contributors, from historical and archaeological metallurgists to excavators, historians and economists. Presentations were given on a range of topics, from a variety of speakers in a friendly environment.

The HMS prize is awarded for the best presentation by a student at the meeting was awarded to Ragnar Saage for his presentation 'The evolution of smithies from 11th to 19th c. in Estonia'.

Link to programme is available here.

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