Seasonal Archaeology: the Old Lodge Ironworks in the Snow

Snow is often the archaeologist’s friend, a light dusting emphasising hardly visible earthworks or accenting the sharp lines of a ruinous structure. This is especially true for sites which from spring to autumn are overgrown by scrub or hidden by woodland. The autumnal fall of leaves reveals much of the outline of such monuments but it takes the sharp clear light of winter and a dusting of ice and snow to bring these sites to life. Thus, a cold and crisp morning during the early to mid-December cold spell of 2022 found me wandering around (very carefully) the ice-entombed remains of a large ruinous site, which loomed out of skeletal woods.

The large stone and brick ruins, in place 10m high, were the remains of the Old Lodge Furnaces on the north-eastern outskirts of modern Telford in Shropshire. These furnaces were built by the Lilleshall Company in 1825-8 and form part of a wider 18th and 19th century industrial landscape encompassing two collieries and accessed via a late 18th century canal. The complex now sits within Granville Country Park and is managed by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. The park itself was designed as one of the green open spaces for the new town of Telford in the mid- to late 20th century. Now, this industrial landscape has reverted to semi-natural woodland and parkland, the industrial archaeology of the area appearing suddenly out of the overgrowth.

The Lilleshall Company, founded in 1802, had many businesses including mechanical engineering, coal mining, iron and steel making, and brick making, and operated a private railway network. It also constructed railway locomotives from 1862 to 1888. The company was especially noted for its winding, pumping, and blast engines. In the period 1825-8 the company built two new furnaces named after their proximity to an old hunting lodge. In March 1825 the Lilleshall Company paid the Coalbrookdale Company £2392 for a Blast Engine. George Roden, a stonemason from the Nabb, was paid £425 in 1825 and £777 and 5 shillings in 1826 for erecting the loading ramps and the retaining walls. The furnaces were probably first fired in 1827 or 1828, and in 1830 the Old Lodge furnaces together with the nearby Donnington Wood furnace, also owned by the company, produced 15,110 tons of pig iron. A third furnace was added in 1846 and two more in 1859, the five Old Lodge Furnaces being worked until 1888.

In the 21st century, the circular brick bases of three of the five furnaces run in front of the high stone walls, this stone terracing, which formed the furnace loading ramps, framing these features. Standing within the ruins of a once hot and noisy furnace complex on one of the coldest mornings of the year had a certain irony. Instead of the sound of men working the furnaces and tapping the pig iron, sweating in the heat, there was only the cherp of robins defending their woodland territory and the crunch of frozen snow under foot.

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