£65,000 will save furnace from ruin
HISTORIANS have welcomed a £65,000 grant which will help the Forest’s last remaining blast furnace from ruin.
Whitecliff Furnace near Coleford was the first of its type in the Dean and is deemed a national monument.
It brings the total funding secured to renovate it to £115,000 after a £50,000 grant was awarded by the Overlooking the Wye Scheme in October last year.
Overlooking the Wye project officer Kate Biggs said: “Even in such difficult times, these grants are recognition of the importance of this historical site on a national basis.
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“It is a monument that Coleford and the Forest should be proud of and fitting news for the Mushet 200 anniversary celebrations.”
It will now form the jewel in the crown of a three day festival to celebrate the 200th anniversary of celebrated metallurgist Robert ‘Forester’ Mushet in April.
The 30m high coke-fuelled furnace dates back to 1798 when the Forest was at the cutting edge of industrial technology.
Robert’s father David bought Whitecliff Ironworks in 1810 and Robert was born in Coleford a year later.
He went on to perfect the Bessemer Process an inexpensive way to make high quality steel as well as the world’s first commercially viable steel alloy.
In recent years the furnace has fallen into a serious state of disrepair and was added to the ‘high risk’ section of the English Heritage National Buildings at Risk register last year.
Restoration was on the reserve list of the £2.8 million Overlooking the Wye project until the partnership board decided to move it up the queue. The Rural Development Programme for England grant was secured after inspections by a rope access team demonstrated the need for work.
A laser survey of the structure will now be carried out to enable engineers Opus International and English Heritage to determine the best way to conserve the structure.
The restoration project has been welcomed by historian Averil Kear from the Forest of Dean Local History Society.
She said: “Whitecliff Furnace is an important part of the national picture of the iron and steel industry in Great Britain and is a reminder that it all started here in the Forest of Dean.
“I am very pleased that they have got this grant to allow it to be maintained.”
The Dean Heritage Museum Trust is responsible for preserving the furnace. Its chairman, Tony Evans, said he was delighted that the future of the building had been secured.