Proximity to London, the channel ports and the naval dockyards it furnished with armaments ensured the Weald’s position as epicentre of the British blast furnace industry into the 17th century. But other areas of the country matched the Weald for the availability of the necessary raw materials: ore, coal/wood, running water and clay. The environs of Birmingham and Sheffield were both propitious, bedevilled only by atrocious transport links. This gave rise to a specialization in the production of smaller items of metalware: cutlery, agricultural implements, hooks and nails, which were readily portable and served local markets. By the 1620s, ‘within 10 miles (16 km) of Dudley Castle, there were 20,000 smiths of all sorts.’ In Birmingham, local dynasties like the Jennens owned furnaces, smithies and acted as ironmongers. In 1612, James I legalized wildcat forgers in the royal demesne of the Forest of Dean, assigning them annual allowances of ‘coppice and offal’ wood for charcoal.
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