Monday, 9 February 2015

Archaeological finds at Woodhayes

We have uncovered some exciting finds at Woodhayes thanks to Seán Goddard, a geophysicist from the Archaeology Department at Exeter University. He visited Woodhayes to look at the topography and discover more about its history.

Smelting in the Blackdown Hills

Various surveys have found evidence of ironworking in the Blackdown Hills, where we are based. There is some evidence for prehistoric smelting, the Romans may have continued this and it carried on into the medieval period.

The industry grew here due to the geology and abundant timber - a fuel source for the furnaces. The area is dominated by an outcrop of 'Upper Greensand', which gives the characteristic long level plateaux of the hills. The iron is located in the upper levels of the Greensand. Extraction pits are still visible locally at Kentisbeare, Broadhembury and Sheldon.

Sean told us that the ore from the Greensand plateaux is Siderite- not the best ore in the world- but is self-fluxing (meaning it is free running) and easy to smelt.


The majority of evidence is based on finds of distinctive 'tap slag', which had been tapped from the furnace in a fluid state. The larger pieces have a glossy, rippled surface produced by the hardening of successive flows of molten slags from the base of the furnaces. They have been used as building materials notably in the 14 Century walls of Hemyock Castle. The largest piece recorded so far was found at Upottery and weighed 8.8kg. Below is the piece found on the Woodhayes land.

Slag found at Woodhayes


There is a C14 early Roman (AD 50-70) dated slag deposit in Upottery, we strongly suspect what we have is also Roman. The Roman military must have had the iron franchise in the area and we hope Woodhayes might have been their base.

Other finds

We also found a sherd of pottery adjacent to a pipe trench in the field. Sean's pot expert believes it is 18th Century trailed slipware from Donyatt, Somerset and related kilns (which may have included Honiton too.) It comes from the shoulder of a closed form such as a bucket-handled pot or a chamber pot.

Donyatt pottery sherd

Sean plans to return as he would also like to visit the charcoal deposit in Crownall wood. This is likely to be a charcoal burning platform and if so, would support the case for iron smelting in the immediate area.

All very interesting ! Watch this space for more details