The Robertsbridge and Panningridge ironworks were built by Sir William Sidney, who had acquired the lands of Robertsbridge Abbey in 1539 following the Dissolution of the monasteries. Sidney may have been aware of the area’s potential for ironworking as there were already six blast furnaces in the area, and by 1541 construction of the Robertsbridge forge was underway on a tributary of the River Rother, possibly reusing stone from the abbey. A second furnace was built at Panningridge, between Brightling and Ashburnham, in 1542. Both furnaces drew iron ore and wood for charcoal from the surrounding area, although neither the quality nor quantity of the ore was as great as Sidney may have originally hoped.
While blast furnaces were still a relatively new technology, the Wealden furnaces welcomed French workers with the necessary skills to make them work. Such workers appear in denization records held at The National Archives, but these ironwork accounts also provide evidence of their presence. The right hand page begins with an entry for money paid by Frenchmen for pasturing cows (“kyne”) and for milk. Names include Guill[i]am, Old Bistoye, Amyas Bistoye and Nicholas Bistoye.