The Name and Family of Barham

by Sydney Pay Barham

Chapter Eighteen


I now return to Wadhurst to pick up the trail of the second of the three sons of the first Nicholas Barham of that place. This was John Barham, of ‘Wood­land' and 'Butts', ironmaker, as he is described in his will. He was born towards the close of the 15th century, and his principal place of residence was the house or mansion of 'Great Butts'. This house, or its successor is still to be seen near the hamlet of Cowsly Wood, about a mile north-east of Wadhurst, on the road to Lamberhurst. I have been unable to identify Woodland on the modern map. Presumably it also was in the neighbourhood of Cowsly Wood. It had a house, for John Barham refers to it in his will as "a mansion". He had purchased the estates of Woodland and Butts, comprising 280 acres, from William Waller, of Groombridge. In 1543, Parliament granted a subsidy to Henry VIII, who was threatened with war by France and Scotland, and the assessment made on John Barham for the purpose of the subsidy showed that at the time, he was by far the wealthiest inhabitant of Wadhurst. Five years later he added to his estate by purchasing 'Browns' from his nephew Nicholas, afterwards the Queen's Sergeant, of Chillington Manor.

John Barham was known as The Iron Man', and iron was the main source of his wealth. Mr. FitzGerald-Uniacke says that he was the first and most successful of the Sussex ironmasters. Opportunity had offered itself, and he seized upon it. John was born at a time when the ancient iron producing industry of the Weald was undergoing a revolution which made it a great industry, bringing wealth to some, and employment to many. To provide a background to the story of John Barham, 'The Iron Man', and his successors, I will give a brief account of this revolution, the material for which on the most part being drawn from Mr. E. Straker's valuable monograph, 'Wealden Iron'.

From Roman times, and indeed still earlier ages, iron had been extracted from the ore, ore carbonate, to be found in the clays and sands of the Weald, in Sussex, Kent and Surrey by the comparatively simple, but laborious and inefficient process known as 'blooming', a process similar in some respects to charcoal burning, which is still practised by some African tribesmen. The ore, which was called 'mye', was dug from shallow pits generally in the formation known as the Wadhurst Clay. A pile of mye and charcoal was built upon a hearth, and covered with a layer of clay, provided with vent-holes. The pile was set on fire, and heat was maintained by means of bellows operated by hand or some simple form of water power, until the ore, or some of it had been reduced to metallic iron. When the operation was complete the pile was broken up, the product, ­a spongy lump or 'bloom' of iron mixed with cinder, was extracted. The bloom had then to be beaten upon an anvil until the cinder had been removed, leaving a mass of malleable iron, which was in fact wrought iron.

Towards the close of the fifteenth century a more efficient method of iron smelting, which had been invented on the continent, was introduced from France to England. The new method required the erection of a tall chimney ­like furnace, a blast furnace, which was charged with a mixture of mye and charcoal, and fired. A strong blast of air was maintained by a pair of huge bellows generated by water-power, and the temperature so obtained would melt the iron completely from the ore. The molten iron, and the lighter slag which floated on the surface of the iron, were drawn off at separate openings. The 'metal so produced was cast iron which could be run into moulds to form a variety of articles, 'such as, fire backs, which are to be found on the open hearths of old houses and in antique dealers shops; and especially cannon and cannon-balls. This iron however was too brittle to be worked until it had undergone a further process which converted it into wrought iron. For this, the 'bars', or ingots of cast iron known as 'sows' were reheated in a forge and beaten on an anvil by heavy hammers, which like the bellows were operated by water-power. Sometimes the furnace and forge were worked together, but often they were separate undertakings. The new blast furnaces were much more efficient than 'the old style bloomery, in extracting the maximum amount of metal from the ore, but far more capital was required for the building and maintenance of the furnaces, and for the damming of streams to make 'hammer-ponds' needed for the supply of water-power. The Weald was well suited to the development of the new industry for besides possessing ore in abundance; it had a wealth of timber for conversion to charcoal, and innumerable streamlets and gills to feed the hammer-ponds.

Mr. FitzGerald-Uniacke quotes Mark Anthony Lower 'The Ironworks of County Sussex', in Sussex Archaeological Collections, Vol. II, for the tradition that John Barham, the ironmaster, built the celebrated furnace between Lamberhurst and Bayham Abbey, which is said to have provided the railings around St. Paul's Cathedral, and which later received the title of 'Gloucester Furnace', but Mr. Straker was unable to find any evidence to support this tradition. He says that the first owners of the Gloucester Furnace were a family of the name of Collin, and that the connection with the Barhams was indirect only, a sister-in-law of one of them being married to William Benge, who rebuilt the furnace in 1695. I shall deal with this matter in its appropriate place. It appears that the original John Barham operated forges, and not furnaces, and that his activities began about 1521, in which year he purchased from Humphrey Lukenall the two forges of 'Rooklands' and 'Verage' with the neighbouring 'Bartley Mill', a corn-grinding water-mill.

The two forges which remained Barham property for the rest of their active life were situated between the parishes of Wadhurst and Frant, and about two miles east of Frant Village in a deep and romantic valley, through which flows one of the headwaters of the river Teise. The woods of Bayham Abbey rise steeply above the valley, and the names of the forges are perpetuated in the names of ‘Brookland Wood’ and 'Verage Wood " but no traces of them or their hammer-ponds remain. The pond bay of the Brookland forge is believed to have been destroyed when the Tonbridge to Hastings Railway was constructed. Bartley Mill is still in existence, but today it is only a farmhouse.

John Barham, the owner of Brookland and Verage forges, died sometime before 19th June 1555, the date on which his will was proved. In his will, he left his wife an annuity upon lands in Lamberhurst, and some rights of residence in the Woodlands House. He had five sons; Nicholas, John of Faircrouch, Thomas of Boughton Monchelsea, Richard of Lamberhurst Mill and Wateringbury, and Robert of Lamberhurst. There was also a daughter Alice

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