Hearths, Pits & Platforms (Archaeology)

There are many different types of hearths, pits and platforms associated with industrial treescapes, but not all relate directly to woodland activities. Some may relate to other industrial uses such as mineral extraction; others may be co-incidental, for example, military tank platforms; and others may be natural features. It will probably be difficult to distinguish between some of these without a careful survey and background historical research. The list below gives a description of a few of the most obvious pits and platforms found in East Peak woodlands, more information on these and the other types is in the survey guide.

Charcoal Hearths & Platforms

Charcoal hearth - outlined by contrasting vegetation.

Charcoal hearth – outlined by contrasting vegetation.

This is an area where wood, cut from coppice poles, was processed by being partially burnt to turn it into charcoal. Normally all that remains is a round shallow depression in the ground (around 5 metres in diameter) or a flat surface cut into a slope with a retaining wall on the down-slope. Fragments of charcoal are sometimes seen within the hearth as an additional clue. These are common archaeological features in many local industrial treescapes because of the importance of charcoal as a fuel for smelting and metalworking.

 

Q-pits (Whitecoal Kilns)

Remains of a Whitecoal kiln

Remains of a Whitecoal kiln

These pits or kilns were used to produce dried pieces of wood known as white-coal. They are more common in the south of the East Peak area and provided fuel when mixed with charcoal for the lead-smelting industry. The most distinctive remains are of a roughly circular shaped depression in the ground (between 1 and 2 metres in diameter) with a channel coming off it. The shape is described by the letter ‘Q’.  Today, few Q-pits are well preserved, however the stoke hole can often be distinguished, as can the remains of the stone lining. They are similar in form to Potash kilns, used in the manufacture of soap and wood-based chemicals, and may be confused with these. Historical research will be needed into local industries to help distinguish them.

Processing and Storage Platforms and Pits

Processing / storage platform

Processing / storage platform

These areas of levelled ground (platforms) or shallow depressions (pits), often rectangular or square in shape, can be found lying close to an old track or path inside the woodland. There uses are varied depending on the local industrial activity. Platforms may have been used as collection sites for coppice poles and tan-bark. Small pits, now filled in, may be evidence of cutting timber in ‘saw-pits’ or soaking strips of wood in water before making baskets. In some cases there may be some stone or building material associated with them. Their former use will be difficult to confirm without a detailed survey and historical research.

Mining & Quarrying Sites

Due to the geology and longevity of local industry, there are numerous small-scale mining and quarrying sites throughout the industrial treescapes of the East Peak area. Whilst not directly related to woodland management activities these are important remains. Disused mine entrances, adits and ventilation shafts can all be found. Many have been identified and mapped by the Ordnance Survey with historic maps showing more details of the mining operation. Additional survey may be unnecessary apart from confirming the locations within your overall work. Under no circumstances should you enter any mine shaft or tunnel: they can be extremely dangerous. 

site of mineral extraction

site of mineral extraction

Quarries and stone-getting pits form another set of diverse features from a few metres across to large excavations. Some may relate to the woodland itself with the stone extracted to build a wood boundary or to construct the features associated with woodland industries, for example whitecoal or potash kilns. Woodlands contain pits ranging from prehistoric and Roman (such as for quernstone [grindstone] manufacture) to twentieth century building stone. Historical research is usually needed to verify the use for the quarried material.

More information on research can be found in ‘Gathering the Evidence’ and in the ‘Recording Features’ pages.