Collier huts

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While producing charcoal, colliers stayed in temporary huts they constructed located near their hearths[1]. Colliers tended to multiple charcoal hearths while they lived on the mountain[2]. Each hearth took approximately two weeks to complete. A collier would mind a hearth closely for the first couple of days; after that, he would spend time starting a new hearth. Colliers could typically tend up to eight hearths at a time[3].Collier huts were conical[4], with a base eight feet across and ten feet high[5]. And while the the conically shaped hut was the standard for colliers, regional variations in style existed[6]. Similarly constructed huts can be identified throughout European as they were built for various purposes, however in more recent times these structures have been primarily used by charcoal burners and shepherds[7]. The area where a collier decided to construct his hut was cleared of anything that would make the ground uneven, such as brush, stones, or stumps[8]. A master collier and one or two helpers "coaled" together, working as many as eight or nine pits at a time. [9]. Three inch poles that sloped inward, crossed at the apex[10], and were bound at the top were used as the basic structure for the huts and the spaces between the poles were filled in with smaller pieces of wood. Leaves and soil were packed in to act as insulation by filling in the gaps between posts[11]. Additionally, collier huts consisted of: a hearth; a small door which hung on framework[12] and was approximately four to six feet in height[13], and cots constructed out of logs[14]. When identifying the remains of a collier hut, important features to look for are: a trench; a berm, which may have an opening where the door would have been; and a circular depression in the center[15]. Another means of identifying collier huts in the archaeological record would be to look for a raised ring of turf around the central depression. This ring of turf is the product of insulation sliding off the roof of a dilapidated collier hut[16].

Although the conical style hut probably originated in a number of different places, the particular variety used by the charcoal burners may have spread from a single source [17]. Colliers huts have been found around the world [18]. "In Britain, this dwelling type has survived until quite recently in the huts of the charcoal burners" [19]. The forest charcoal burners have preserved the pre-historic hut, in its simplest and most primitive form, from the days of the Stone Age. [20] in addition to rough log bunks, a Collier's hut contained a wood stove [21].


A collier would construct his hut in a location as central to the charcoal pits he was burning as possible, and would have laid out the hut so that the wooden door, which was large enough for one man to fit through[22], faced the pits[23]. Throughout the charcoal production process, the charcoal hearths required constant tending to throughout the day and night. If a collier let the fire consume his wood completely, he would be charged for its loss; so proximity to one's hearths was very important[24]. The indication of a good collier was one who obtained a high-yield of quality charcoal from the wood he used[25].

The collier was a very important workman, controlling to some degree the quality and quantity of the furnace product[26].

Collier Homes and Villages

When speaking about the Hopewell Village in Pennsylvania the charcoal furnace workers typically lived in special villages that were designed to accommodate both single and married workers and that were located far from surrounding towns, so as to be closer to their work. While these villages provided many workers with the necessary resources to survive, they were too remote for other workers to live in. Some single men rented houses or boarded in mansions in which they hired a woman to take care of them. For example, furnace employees were needed near the furnace while others were needed at the coaling pits that were located far away from the villages: Meaning that instead of living in the villages, many colliers worked closer to their specific area of work. The house nearest the furnace is called for identification purposes by the National Park Service Tenant House Number 1.[27]

Each apartment has a front and a rear door, two rooms on the first floor, two on the second and one on the third. Each side also has its stairway near the center of the house from the cellar to the third floor and a chimney serving a first floor fireplace. It is believed that some of the tenants' houses had yards surrounded by picket fences that served as an area to grow vegetables and keep pigs and cows.

It was recorded that the small stores in the villages only sold melons, potatoes, turnips, turkeys, much pork, veal and beef and a little mutton; shad, herring and mackerel; pickles, peaches, sweet potatoes, beans, cherries and cabbage, meaning that the families probably raised the rest of what they ate. Additionally, the rent for houses was between $12 to $25 per year while others were as high as $45 per year. Housing at the Hopewell furnace varied widely from the “luxury of the iron master's mansion” to the “makeshift accommodations of John Roberts in the brick kiln.” All in all there has been no evidence of terribly poor conditions despite the variety.[28]


  1. Walker 1966, 242
  2. Kemper 1941, 8
  3. Kemper 1941, 8
  4. Peate and Walton 1958, 58
  5. Kemper 1941, 8
  6. Peate and Walton 1958, 63
  7. Peate and Walton 1958, 63
  8. Kemper 1941, 8
  9. National Park Service 1941, 13
  10. Peate and Walton 1958, 58
  11. Kemper 1941, 8
  12. Peate and Walton 1958, 60
  13. Peate and Walton 1958, 62
  14. Kemper 1941, 8
  15. Carter et al. 2019, 43-44
  16. Peate and Walton 1958, 65
  17. Walton 1958, 64
  18. Peate and Walton 1958, 58
  19. Peate and Walton 1958, 58
  20. Warren 1941, 68
  21. Kemper 1941, 8
  22. Kemper 1941, 8
  23. Walker 1966, 242
  24. Walker 1966, 247
  25. Walker 1966, 245
  26. Kemper 1941
  27. Walker 1966, 99-272
  28. Walker 1966, 99-272


  • Carter, Benjamin, Michaela Feinberg, Deborah Grieder, and Stuart Hanford. 2019. Charcoal Lands: A report on archaeological investigations in State Games Lands #217, Fall 2018.
  • Hazzledine Warren S.: Charcoal Burners in Epping Forest; their Primitive Hut and the Formation of Hut-Circles, Essex Naturalist, Vol. XVI, 1910.
  • Kemper, Jackson. 1941. American Charcoal Making in the Era of the Cold-Blast Furnace. History 14. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior; National Park Service.
  • Peate, Iorwerth C. and James Walton. 1958. Charcoal Burners Huts. Gerwin, Vol. 2 (2), 58-67.
  • Walker, Joseph E. 1966. Hopewell Village; a Social and Economic History of an Iron-Making Community. Philadelphia,: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.