The Sussex Wildlifer
John Perigo: Sussex Wealden Iron-Maker and Cannonier


This describes part of my wife's family history. It is the story of a French immigrant specialist iron-worker, who arrived in the Ashdown Forest in 1513 to set up one of the first ever blast furnaces in England and produce high-quality iron. It was a period of immense change in England and has been described as being the start of the Industrial Revolution. These specialist Frenchmen who came to live in the depths of the Sussex forests were at the cutting-edge of the 'new' technolgy of the time.

Completed in 2002, copies of my book are available to read at the Society of Genealogists in London and Worthing Library Local Studies Section. The book gives some details of early iron-working in Sussex and Yorkshire and contains many family trees and references to the early Perigo family members.

The story of John Perigo, or Perago as his name first appeared in the earliest records, starts in 1513 when, at the age of twenty three, he left Picardy in northern France and came to work in England. He was a specialist ironworker and appears to have been head-hunted to work at one of the earliest blast furnaces to be built in England, located in the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Some thirty years later it is thought that he may have been involved with the casting in a single piece of the first muzzle-loading cannon.This proved such a success that within a year the King was pointing these new cannons at the French and was demanding oaths of allegiance from the many French iron-workers in the Sussex Weald.

Tantalising snippets of information are known about the early Perigos, from Denization records, Maresfield parish records, the will of John Pirgo in 1584 to the hanging of Robert Perigo in Hastings in 1617.

I was on the point of instructing my printers when exciting new information was published. I was double-checking my sources and was amazed to be told that recent research was about to be published by the Wealden Iron Research Group. This added considerably to the knowledge about the ironworks in Buxted and where it is believed that first muzzle-loading cannon was cast in a single piece.

Previously going under the name of Iron Plat, this location had been dated as early as the 1490s and there was good evidence to suppose that it was still in operation in 1537. The latest research revealed that a hammer pond existed at a location known as Queenstock in 1537, which was immediately adjacent to the Buxted Iron Plat ironworks.

What interested me is the fact that Green Hurst is only about half a mile along the river valley from Queenstock. It was there in Green Hurst that John Perigo and a few other French ironworkers paid tax in 1543, and where a year later, at the time he took out his Denization papers, he was described as being one of Parson Levitt's men (the parson generally being accepted as having been responsible for that first important cannon, being the King's comptroller in that part of Sussex).

I would stress that this is foremost a genealogical study and not a history of iron-working in Sussex.