Della's Drift

The treacle veins at Jarvis Brook are in two distinct groups - the first around Windsor Road, in the old part of the Brook, and the other on the Palesgate side of the village. Most of the treacle rock in Jarvis Brook came from siliceous rocks of Brook True Grit. This rested uncomfortably on the Lower Oolitic Sucrite Slice and is parted by a bed a shale, into two (or more) sandwiches of variable thickness. The Middle or Bearing Treacle which, as its name implies, produced the bulk of the treacle rock, averaged about 2 yards in thickness, whilst that of the less important Top Slice was only 1 yard. Exploration of the two sites proved that there had been treacle mines in both areas with treacleshoots extending as far as Steel Cross and Boar's Head.

In 1604 the Earl of Bergavenny built a smelt mill near Farringdon Fall when Della's Drift Treacle Mine began production. Tradition has it that miners were brought from Buxted, Rotherfield and Crowborough, but the mine was in the ownership of a group of families in the Brook. The mines made a profit of £6.50 in 1604, but were losing money by 1615 on account of an explosion at the mill, when it rained treacle for several hours over the Brook.

The treacle rain entered the stream and it slowly solidified before reaching Eridge. At least two travellers, crossing the ford in Palesgate Lane, became stuck!

Work at Della's Drift continues for a few more years. Della managed without the Smelt Mill. The methods used were simple; a wood bonfire, called a 'bale' was built on a prominence in Jarvis Brook at Mount Pleasant. This elevated site gave a better chance for the bale to catch the wind. The pile was about six feet across, built up in layers of wood and treacle rocks. Then the whole was covered by a layer of brushwood, to help the 'burn'. From the hot bale molten treacle ran from it along a channel and was directed into moulds, where the treacle set into bars. When the area was taken over for making bricks, the only sign of treacle could be seen in the completed bricks, each coming out of the kilns with tell-tale flecks of black blotches.

After 1618, before the brick-yard was established, the treacle mines in Jarvis Brook were let to groups of miners who often took local capitalists as partners. This was under a system of Customary Mining Law. The miners undertook to smelt their treacle at the newly built Earl's smelt mill and to give him one third part (later one-fifth) of their treacle in return for the mines and fuel for smelting. These miners were called 'Free Miners', but they were not free to mine where they chose, but were granted meers of ground on the line of a vein. A Miners' Court, or Barmoot, of 1642 agreed that the discoverer of a vein was to get two meers on it. A meer was 21 yards long by 5 yards on either side (the quarter cord) to give working space. From time to time the Barmoot increased the size of a 'meer'. The Barmoot also settled any mining problems or disputes, but on one famous occasion, Treacle Miner Wickens could not accept the decision of the 'Court' and he successfully blew-up a 'lake' of treacle he had discovered whilst exploring an area which stretched out far beyond Jarvis Brook towards Hadlow Down near Hastingford. The sticky footpaths in this area remain to this day.

In a final bid to extract as much treacle as possible from the area, the Earl of Abergavenny, who inherited the mines from his family, replaced the Customary Laws with leases and increased the area which lessees could mine. The corners of these grants were marked by stones called 'Queerstones', on which were carved the owner's initials. Over the years these stones have been removed, but can be found in garden walls in many parts of the 'Brook', of note the one at Walsh Manor and the unmarked stone on Tollwood Road.

A Treacle Agent was appointed and Robert Malone built dams across Crowborough Ghyll and brought water to a 50 foot diameter waterwheel, which he used to drive pumps in the 72 fathom deep at Maynard's Gate Pumping Station. Here, Malone (known as 'Molly' to his friends) found fossils of two clawed foot prints covering a space of some seventy inches in their stride; the print of each foot was three times the size of the foot of an ostrich. He has discovered the origins of treacle veins formed over 130 million years ago, when Jarvis Brook was part of the central Weald when large herds of herbivorous treacle sucking iguanadons roamed through the area.

Now the only sign of the of the huge flood plain, criss-crossed by rivers flowing into the Wealden lake - are several 'treacle-dips' in the fields along side the stream. Here foxes, dragon flies and the notorious treaclejars, call in the evenings, throughout the year, to taste the sweet treacle dip from spring water.

There has been no serious attempt to reopen the treacle mines of Jarvis Brook. But, the Treacle Miners are remembered each year at the 'Yon Fool Fred Festival' held on the weekend nearest to St.James' Day, July 25th.

 

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