Hogges, Pig Iron and Pygmies
“Master Hogge and his son John.
They did cast the first can-non.”
This (dreadful) couplet commemorates the technological breakthrough made by Ralph Hogg in 1543 when he cast the first one-piece iron cannons to be produced in this country. This walk passes as close as the footpath network allows to the site of the iron foundry where this momentous event occurred.
LENGTH – 5 miles
TIME – 3 hours
START – Buxted Church, Buxted Park, off A272, Buxted, TN22 4AY, NGR
PARKING – Adjacent to church off drive to Buxted Park.
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS – Pubs at Buxted and High Hurstwood. Village shop at Buxted.
CAUTION – This walk includes two crossings of the A272 road.
This walk contains stiles.
The church of St Margaret the Queen is of obvious antiquity dating from the 13th century with two phases of building representing the increasing importance of the Weald in the early medieval period and the coalescing of small, dispersed settlements into villages and towns. As late as 1802, a surviving drawing shows the church surrounded by cottages, the parsonage, an inn, a shop, a forge and even the stocks and whipping post, yet today the church stands in isolation.
In 1828 the manor of Buxted passed to a new owner – Lord Liverpool. Offended by the sight of villagers so close to his new property, he begun to move the village. At first, householders were bribed with offers of new houses, then repairs to existing property ceased and finally strong-arm tactics succeeded in moving the whole village to its present location a mile away. The properties were torn down and only a few faint earthworks in the fields either side of the driveway remain from this original village today.
Just past the new Buxted Church is a fine medieval house with a pond immediately opposite. This is Great Totease Farm, a medieval survival. Initially this was an isolated holding surrounded by fields. About 1300 the Archbishop’s steward was able to record “Roger de Totehease holds 28 acres and renders 28d yearly namely at Easter 14d and at Michaelmas 14d”. It was this small estate that was appropriated by Lord Liverpool to site the new village within.
Slightly downstream of the footpath crossing, on a piece of land purchased from the Totease estate, was Iron Plat Furnace. Prior to 1543, cannon had been made like iron barrels with a series of metal staves held together with rings. This method of construction was as much of a hazard to those firing the cannon as the enemy they were shooting at. Indeed King Kames II of Scotland was killed when his own cannon exploded. In the 1540s the vicar of Buxted, Parson William Levett, himself a skilled ironmaster and producer of arms and ammunition, decided to employ one Ralph Hogge as his works manager at Iron Plat. He was rewarded by posterity as Hogge went on to produce the first cannon to be cast in one piece by pouring iron into a vertical sand mould and the boring the hole in the cannon after it had cooled. Both men prospered greatly from this work.
The route comes quite unexpectedly upon a large outcrop of sandstone exposed by a geological fault. Like many such outcrops in the Weald it was used as temporary shelter in the summer by groups of Mesolithic period (10,000 to 5,000 BC) hunters. Since the beautifully knapped flint tools used in this period were smaller than the following Neolithic and the caves had low roofs, Victorian antiquaries jumped to the conclusion that the makers must therefore have been pygmies and their tools became known as “pygmy flints”. Today evidence from burials and skeletons has wholly disproved this theory.
To the west at the end of the sandstone outcrop is a house called The Hermitage. By the 18th century, the outcrop had become a minor tourist attraction and the story had grown up that the caves were the home of a medieval hermit. However, another source states in 1859 that “within the memory of persons now living there is said to have been a cross about the centre of this cave, carved by a (clearly long-lived) hermit”.
The Saxon word “Hurst” describes a wood on a high hill. This had clearly been forgotten as the village of High Hurstwood developed much later in history, with the later name being an unnecessary duplicate of the original.
As the iron Industry suddenly sprouted amongst the farms of the High Weald between 1490 and 1550, the locals must have been amazed at this frightening new technology in their midst. This mix of farming and iron making is nicely summarised in the term “pig iron”. As the molten iron was let out of the furnace for general production, it was run into rows of bar moulds leading off a single channel. These were thought to resemble piglets suckling from their mother and so the term “pig-iron” became accepted for a basic cast iron bar.
From the north side of the A272, a large house can be seen on the opposite side of the road to the left of the Buxted Park drive. This was the house built by Ralph Hogge from the profits of his iron making activities. The house is marked with a rebus – a picture of a hog in iron thus providing a pun on the owner’s name. The date 1581 is the date the house was built, but Hogge only enjoyed it for four years until his death in 1585.
Whilst we have taken reasonable endeavours to ensure the information is up to date and correct, you will be using the information strictly at your own risk. If you come across any inaccuracies whilst you are on your walk, please contact Wealden District Council’s Community and Regeneration team.
The self-guided walk descriptions are provided to help you navigate your way, however we recommend that you plan your route prior to walking the route and that you carry an Ordnance Survey map of the area being walked and follow your position on the map as you proceed.
Please note, we cannot be responsible for the conditions of the footpaths and land and you are responsible for your own safety.