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British Industrial History

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Flaxley Ironworks

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Flaxley, Forest of Dean, Glos

A blast furnace and two forges for producing iron were established close to Flaxley Abbey. The site was located approximately 1 mile south east of Gunn's Mill. Little has survived in the way of identifiable remains, and those are on private land.

Dr Cyril Hart noted that the furnace and forges were powered by the same watercourse as Gunn's Mill. The furnace and forges were held by the Foley Partnership in the late 17th century, then by Richard Knight. By 1712 they were owned by Mrs Catherine Boevey of Flaxley Abbey. By 1802 Flaxley's iron was 'esteemed peculiarly good'. At that time, the main supply of ore came by sea from Lancashire. The furnace closed in 1802, but the forges continued for a while longer.[1]

Writing in 1971, Cyril Hart recorded that 'the site of the furnace and one of the forges cannot be found with certainty.' Of the Lower Forge, he wrote: 'The one certain forge site is adjacent to the above farmhouse [then called Waldron Cottage, now Waldron Farm], and was noted by Bryant in 1824 as Lower Forge. The narrow road crosses the stream, and passes over the dam of a former pool - now a large field. The arched culvert passing beneath the dam is well preserved, and the tapering channel (to increase the velocity of water), and the large chamber, are noteworthy. Remains of buildings (the end wall of the present dairy is dated 1693) to the south of the road, now farm buildings, were part of the lower forge, and the channel leading from the former wheel pit can be distinguished.

It is now difficult, at first sight, to reconcile the current topography with Dr Hart's 1971 description. The house now known as Waldron Farm remains, but the stone-built farm buildings have been converted into dwellings. A stream is present, but with no obvious arrangements to provide water power. It passes under a bridge or dam, but the brick-built arch does not look particularly old. The balustrade of the bridge has been rebuilt in whole or part. Upstream of the bridge, the area shown on Hart's sketch map as a pond, and described as being a large field in 1971, is a shallow wooded valley rather than a field. Dr Hart's sketch map suggests that the lower forge was immediately adjacent to the stream, and that the stream came off the SE corner of the pond. The Waldron Farm outbuildings have recently been rebuilt as holiday cottages. One is named 'The Old Dairy', while the other is called 'The Old Mill'. Both incorporate some original stone walls. The mill would logically be expected to be adjacent to the stream. However, it is not. The apparent anomaly is probably explained by another sketch map drawn in 1974 [2]. This shows two streams, one passing through the mill buildings, the other being a short distance south, and this is probably the stream we see surviving today (and which was presumably the bypass for the mill leat). The reference document refers to there having been two adjacent mills here, one a forge, the other for corn. It follows that the pond was immediately north of the small wooded valley, the area now being fairly flat and overgrown.

Dr Hart wrote that 'the furnace probably stood at the right angle bend near the pound, on the NW of the narrow road almost opposite Waldron Cottage.' This is reasonably consistent with the findings of a survey reported in 1991 [3]. The narrow road is a track serving several houses, and the area immediately NW of this track is a densely-wooded hillside.

The artist Johannes Kip produced a bird's eye view of Flaxley Abbey in 1712. Close to the S.E. corner of the ornamental garden he shows a mill with a water wheel (presumably the upper forge), and beyond that, the smoking blast furnace.[4]

The site of the furnace and the Upper Forge are on private land. The residents of one of the houses have cleared vegetation from an area of the stream (Westbury Brook), revealing dressed masonry through and over which the stream tumbles. This is suggestive of the presence of a waterwheel. Location: approx 60 yds south of the SE corner of the 'canal' in the garden of Flaxley Abbey. Was this the location of the Upper Forge?

1796 Advertisement

'GLOCESTERSHIRE. WANTED immediately, A FOUNDER and KEEPER, Who have been used to work a BLAST FURNACE with CHARCOALS — Such as are good Workmen, and can bring undeniable characters from their last place of work, will meet with encouragement, applying Mr. JOHN SOULE, at Flaxley Furnace.'[5]. Note: John Soule was (in 1809) steward to Sir Thomas Crawley Boevey[6]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'The Industrial History of Dean by Cyril Hart': David & Charles, 1971
  2. [1] 'Mill Sites on the Longhope - Flaxley - Westbury Streams' by B V Cave, Gloucester Society for Industrial Archaeology 1974, pp.8-32
  3. [2] 'Iron Working at Flaxley Abbey' by H J Ellis, Gloucester Society for Industrial Archaeology, 1991 pp.34-44. Note: Caution is needed when interpreting the orientation of the sketch map showing the probable location of the furnace relative to Flaxley Abbey - the top of the page appears to represent west, not north as might be expected.
  4. [3]Image of engraving from Kip's 1712 drawing of Flaxley Abbey
  5. Gloucester Journal, 5 December 1796
  6. Advertisement for sale by auction of a large number of Naval Oak and other trees at Flaxley Abbey in the Hampshire Telegraph, 30 January 1809