The Hall of Waltheof/Chapter XXX

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MOST of my local readers will have noticed one place at least in the neighbourhood of Sheffield called Bole Hill, and those who have studied or attended to the place-names of the district will be familiar with many places bearing this name. Each of these names implies that a furnace for smelting lead or iron formerly stood upon a hill top, so that the tewell or hole admitting air at the base of the furnace might, like a wind-mill, catch the prevailing breeze. The name Bole Hill itself has given rise to some doubt, but it seems to be derived from the Old Norse bál, a flame, applied in a secondary sense to a furnace. If that is so Bole Hill means no more than Furnace Hill.[1] Writing of Worsborough near Barnsley a local historian says:

"There is no doubt that at an early period, bloomeries or furnaces for smelting iron, existed here, as is evidenced by the many mounds of scoriæ which have been found in different parts of the township. These original bloomeries, or air furnaces, were of a primitive character. They were simply contrived, and comprised a low cupola of clay filled with alternate layers of charcoal and ore, fanned by the wind through apertures left for that purpose; they could only be worked when there was a strong breeze, and the fire was regulated by opening or shutting these apertures."[2]

The writer gives no authority for this statement, and I presume that he is relying either on personal knowledge or tradition. I see no reason, however, for doubting his accuracy. Now a contrivance of this kind was the very oldest way of smelting metals in this country. Dr. Bruce, in his account of the "Roman Wall," has shown from investigations in the neighbourhood of Epiacum (Lanchester) how the Romans produced the blast necessary to smelt iron. "Two tunnels," he said, "had been formed in the side of a hill; they were wide at one extremity, but tapered off to a narrow bore at the other, where they met in a point. The mouths of the channels opened towards the west, from which quarter a prevalent wind blows in this valley, and sometimes with great violence. The blast received by them would, when the wind was high, be poured with considerable force and effect upon the smelting furnace at the extremity of the tunnels."[3] The Romans are known to have had iron works in Sussex and elsewhere. The material used for these Sussex furnaces was the clay ironstone, for which they sank pits, and followed the vein of ironstone underground. "In the neighbourhood of Coleford," says Wright, "these ancient excavations are called Scowles—a term of which the derivation is not very evident."[4] Now the soil at Scholes (pronounced skoles) near Rotherham is covered with ancient cinder heaps and holes from which iron has been dug, and we shall see that Scholes means pits. In the Beauchief charter-book this place is called "le Scoles," and also Schales.[5] The word is therefore the Old Norse skál, Danish and Swedish skäl, German schale, meaning first a bowl, and then a hollow or pit.

Coal and ironstone appear to have been worked in early times at the foot of Wincobank wood, where there are pits known as "bell pits." At this place, and also at Scholes, the coal measures basset, or come to the surface. Here, as in Sussex, the ironstone is clay ironstone.


  1. We have a Furnace Hill in Sheffield.
  2. Wilkinson's History of Worsborough, 1872, p. 256.
  3. In Wright's The Celt, the Roman, and Saxon, 4th Edit. p. 293. Mr. Wright also shows that this primitive mode of smelting was common to the old Peruvians and others svho used the wind for a blast.
  4. Wright, ut supra, p. 292.
  5. Pegge's Beauchief Abbey, p. 178.