Forumul Hunedoara

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Romanian ironshops of the 16 to 18th centuries

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Producing and processing iron represent a trade in Hunedoara, Romania which has persisted for over 1000 years and is still active today. Of special impor- tance in this history was the reign of the Transylvanian voivode of Wallachian, lancu Corvin of Hunedoara, governor of Hungary and father-in-law of the Wallachian voivode Vlad Tepes (Dracula).
In 1409, king Sigismund of Hungary gave the Hunedoara estate, with its castle, to the Corvin family as a reward for their bravery when fighting against the Ottoman expan-sion. lancu Corvin evidently exempted the forges on his estate from taxes as they produced weapons. His role as a protector of the Catholic church against Islamic domination in the Balkan Peninsula is well record-ed and includes his victory in 1456 at Belgrad, his campaigns against the Turkish Empire and his crusade to protect Christian principles. He was also responsible for recapturing Constantinople.
In a document dated 1493 -immediately following the death of Matias Corvin (a son of lancu) - the mining of iron ore in the region is recorded .... 'oppidum Hunyad, ville volachales et montane ferri de Hunyad' (the town of Hunedoara as well as the Wallachian villages and the iron mines).
In 1509, count George of Brandenburg became the owner of the estate by marrying Beatrix Frangepan, the widow of king Matias. Count Brandenburg donated a site, called Tulea, situated on the banks of the Govajdie river (Fejerviz), to one Torok Gaspar and to his two brothers, to open a new ironshop ('Novam ferri fodinam') for the smelting and processing of iron. He also granted them the right to extract iron ore from the nearby mountain. In a document dated 1526, in which King Ludwig II con- firmed the gift of the site, it is mentioned that, in Tulea, a mine and a shop for iron extracting and processing (quondam fodi-nam ferri desertam et locum mineralem Thulya vocatum) already existed. In the few documents remaining from count Brandenburg, there is a mention in 1517 of a number of smelting operations (ferrifodi-nae) belonging to the Hunedoara estate: Nadrab (Nadbor), Cerna (Charna), Henez and Berez. They were situated on the river banks and used water wheels for power. Count George Brandenburg carried the archives of the castle and the estate to Anspade, thus their remains very few writ-ten sources from that time.
During the years that followed the castle and the Hunedoara estate, with its mines and iron shops, had several owners.
Between 1605-1619 the Transylvanian voivode Bethlem Gabor declared the Hunedoara estate public property; after that period the estate was given to Bethlem Istvan. In 1725, the whole estate became the property of the Austrian treasury. Written documents presenting the activi- ty of the mines, the smelting shops and the forges survive only from the 17th century. Those documents were inventories of the shops, letters, annual reports and various instructions given by the owner for operating the works. According to the urbarial documents, the inventories of the Hunedoara estate, dated 1674 and 1681,show there were five large iron shops in operation: Plosca, New Cerna, Toplita, Nadrab and Simpert. All these processed iron ore from the mines in the Ghelari and Poiana Ruscai mountains. Besides these shops there were three more owned by the Barcsay family and another at Baia Cerna, owned by the prince of Transylvania.
The iron works had at least two blast furnaces operating alternately (while one was smelting ore, the other was being repaired). The furnaces were placed in a building made of stone and wood. Each furnace was equipped with bellows driven by a water wheel of wood but with iron axles and fittings. The furnaces had two stores, one for charcoal, the other for ore. There were two iron bars at the tapping hole for consolidating the tap hole. The works also had a single hearth for reheating iron to be forged.
From the positioning of the equipment, there were two types of shops:• the 'German' shop consisting of two buildings: the first containing the blast furnaces and the second the forging furnace and hammer (sometimes the two buildings were situated on opposite banks of the river, facing one another); the equipment in bothbuildings being driven by a single water wheel.
• The Romanian shop (olah) consisted of a single building in which both the blast furnace and forge were situated. Two water wheels provided separate power for the blast furnace and the forges and the hammer.
Equipment in the works required continuous maintenance and the documents often mentioned the inadequate condition of the shops and the need for repair.
The bellows were made of calfs skin or horse's skin and each furnace had two of these. Under the tuyere was a slat tapping hole provided with an iron runner
The documents also mention the equipment and tools used for making refined iron, pulling iron out of the furnace, piercing the plug to tap hot slag, charging the iron ore, brick lining the furnace, repairing the forges, etc.
There were two foremen in each shop:
one in the furnace section in charge the blast furnace and its equipment, and one in the forge section who was in charge of the fining forge, reheating forge and forging hammer with its associated tools and annexes.
Larger shops also had a building for housing the foremen and the workers and one for storing the pig iron, forged bars, flat iron and the spare parts and tools.
The buildings were made of wooden beams and covered with shingles.
The inventories also mentioned 12-14 horses used for transporting the raw materials (iron ores, charcoal) to the shop and taking the iron products to the market or to the store room at Corvinesti castle, headquarters of the estate.
The people who worked in a shop consisted of:
- one furnace foreman and one hammer foreman;
- four hammer men;
- three workers at the blast furnaces, one to charge the iron ore and two to charge the
- one worker who crushed the iron ore;
- five miners and 15 workers who prepared the ore and charcoal.
The shops were working 25 weeks in a year, from the 20th of March until the 23rd November with an interruption between July 13th to September 8th, during which time the workmen did agricultural work in the fields.
Iron production on the entire estate of Hunedoara from all the iron shops that existed in the 18th C was about 21.500- 22.500 ‘majas’ per year (about 1200- 1260t/y).
Exhibits of ironmaking developments of that period are displayed in the Iron Museum within the modern day steelworks of Siderurgica SA. •

18th century Romanian ironworks with blast furnace and twin hearth forge in one building.

1 Water wheel for forging hammer;

2 Water wheel for bellows;

3 Blastfurnace;

4 Forge hearth;

5, 6, 7 Forging hammers

*Associated teacher at the Engineering Faculty
Hunedoara SC and member of the cultural foundation,
lancu of Hunedoara. Siderurgica SA, Piata lancu deHunedoara, NR 1, 2750, Hunedoara, Romania

By loan Romulus*


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