Monument record MDR7275 - Bell pits, South Wood and nearby fields, Smisby/Ticknall

Type and Period (4)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Full Description

The remains of a charcoal fired iron furnace were visible in South Wood in the 19th Century. (1, 2) In 1834 it was stated that 'In the north-west corner of Ashby parish, in South Wood, and at Heath End, very extensive remains of iron furnaces appear: the surface is exceedingly broken, and scoriae fill a valley of considerable size … There is no date for this, or tradition. The vicinity was probably occupied by the Romans, as various pots of Roman coins have been discovered in it'. Later authors, in 1968, noted 'Ironstone nodules were worked in South Wood from bell pits, and smelted on the spot'. It is not clear whether the 1834 reference is to one, two or three separate sites; the South Wood/Heath End area would replay detailed fieldwork. The quoted evidence suggests extensive bloomery working, of unknown date; a correlation with Sir William de Staunton's 14th century activities is possible, since the sites are very close to the Staunton boundary'. (3) A survey of the Calke Estate's industrial archaeology in 1985 described the bell pits in this area as follows: These bell pits … are probably the result of Lord Hasting's exploitation of coal resources in the 18th century … Many hundreds of bell pits are preserved as good earthworks within South Wood in a belt some 700m long by generally 300-400m wide. Degraded traces in improved pasture immediately outside the woodland to the north-east and south-west show that the workings formerly continued in both directions and the total extent is undefined. Pits varied in form and distribution from small, densely packed clusters with only a small rim of spoil (apparently commonest in the east and north-east) to wide-spaced pits with large flat-topped platforms of spoil (most evident in the south). In the latter cases, no details indicating form or location of machinery were noted. The spoil was full of coal fragments and waste wherever examined. The tramway cuts through the belt of pits in small cuttings and embankments; it is clearly later than those remains since in four or five clear instances it overlies or destroys bell pits and their spoil heaps. The woodland itself is also later since its boundaries cut through pits, and all woodland drains and divisions butt against the tramway. Some of the bell pits were briefly exposed when an area of South Wood was disafforested and some 40-50 show up clearly in an aerial photograph of 1962. The smallest pits, ie those to the north-east, had a diameter of spoil between 5m and 9m, spaced up to 14m apart. Those to the south-west had a diameter between 12m and 21m, spaced up to 53m apart. The most southerly examples comprised double pits, ie with a smaller shaft to the south, presumably used for ventilation or for bringing up excavated coal. In almost all cases the spoil was thrown in a similar, roughly northerly, direction, giving each pit a D-shaped plan appearance. Most of the pits within the woodland are waterlogged and their shafts are congested with decomposing leaf mould. Woodland contractors have also attempted to fill the pits in with cut branches and debris. (5)

Sources/Archives (5)

  • <1> Bibliographic reference: Smith, D. M.. 1965. The Industrial Archaeology of the East Midlands.
  • <2> Bibliographic reference: University of London. 1967. VCH, Leicestershire. Volume 3. p31.
  • <3> Article in serial: Cranstone, D. 1985. 'The iron industry of the Ashby coalfield', Bulletin of the Leicestershire Industrial Historic Society. Number 8, pp 23-31. p27.
  • <4> Index: RCHME. 1995. New National Forest Survey: 932477. 932477. p1341.
  • <5> Unpublished document: Marshall, G & Walker, J (The National Trust). 1988. The National Trust Archaeological Survey: Calke Abbey, Volume 2, Industrial Survey. HER Doc. No. 633, pp 183-184.



Grid reference Centred SK 3599 2079 (1278m by 720m) (Approximate)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (1)

  • EDR3714

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External Links (0)

Record last edited

Feb 23 2015 12:48PM

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