Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian Guide to Blacksmithing

Right…it’s time for another article based on a display at the Fylde Country Life Museum (which, effectively, means tarting up one of the old information boards and saving ourselves a great deal of bother in pulling together a brand new posting.)
So, where to begin? Well, up until recently every rural community (from Rawcliffe to Thornton…from Bodkin Hall to…well…some other village that we know once had a blacksmith’s in it…and possibly even one or two places outside the Wyre as well) required a blacksmith’s for the production of metalwork.
Against most people’s preconceptions, however, it wasn’t necessarily the blacksmith’s job to shoe horses. This task was actually down to the ‘Farrier’. (Next time you’re in the cinema and this mistake crops up in the film you’re watching, you have my full permission to shout out the error of the cinematographer’s ways at the top of your voice.)

Both farriers and blacksmiths, of course, needed a ‘Forge’ to conduct their trade. The one in our illustration below (and, not wanting to endless repeat myself throughout this article, let’s just say at the beginning that all of the items contained herein can be found, in their original state, at the Fylde Country Life Museum…probably) dates from around the 1940s/50s.

It was constructed from iron casting and lined with firebricks to withstand the immense heat generated inside it…apparently.

The forge was fuelled by oxygen pumped along the ‘Tuein Funnel’ (Don’t ask…I just write down what the curators tell me. I seldom ask questions) from the hand-operated ‘Bellows’ (illustrated below) and across the hot coals.

Because the bellows were so close to the heat the ‘Tueiron’ (again, there’s no point in asking…I’ve told you before, I haven’t got a clue) leading into the forge was surrounded by a water jacket. The bellows were only used when the iron was ready to be placed in the fire.

A skilled metal worker could recognise the temperature of the metal by its colour. Black heat, although by no means safe to touch with naked hands, was the coolest, red the intermediate stage and white the hottest.

I think.

I seem to remember Tony Bloomer (curator and old friend of mine) telling me I’d got the colours mixed up on several occasions. Unfortunately Tony’s no longer with us, and I can’t remember now whether I ever sorted them out or not. All matters considered, if you’re concerned about it, it might be best if you looked up the subject somewhere else.

Right…once the metal was hot enough to be worked it was lifted from the forge using ‘Tongs’ (because picking it up with your fingers would be a bit stupid really) and carried across to the ‘Anvil’.

Here it was hammered into shape (no I’m not going to draw up a picture of a hammer…there are limits, you know) before losing its pliability.

The rounded point on the anvil (as demonstrated in the drawing below…which contains a hammer after all…so you can stop penning those letters of complaint) came in handy for bending horseshoes into shape. Incidentally, the nail-holes in horseshoes were actually punched whilst the metal was still hot, rather than being drilled as most people wrongly believe.


On reflection, most people have probably never thought about it…but what the heck?

Is it my imagination or do those arms look a bit on the thin side for a blacksmith? Is there anybody still actually reading this? Would you admit it if you were?

Whatever the case, let’s move swiftly on.

The square indentation on the top of the anvil (as beautifully illustrated using a 4b pencil on a bit of scrap paper courtesy of George above) was designed to accommodate other tools, such as the ‘Swage’.

Swages were used to shape items such as gate catches and chains. They came in two sections; a bottom piece that fitted into the anvil as mentioned above, and a top piece that was held by tongs.

Other tools designed to fit into the anvil were ‘Hardies’. (Not to be confused with the lazy blacksmith who sat on his laurels and got the sack.) Hardies were upside-down chisels that allowed the metal to be struck from above.

In fact the number of tools found in the average forge was large enough to warrant their own specially constructed ‘Tool Rack’ (as seen below. Special discount this week only £10.99 including Tueiron attachment. Contact B&Q Homecare.)

Because the farrier’s job was ever so slightly different from a blacksmith’s, they had their own toolboxes, which looked a bit like this, or so I’ve been told:

These contained everything the farrier needed to shoe horses, such as knives, rasps, shoe nails, hammers and pincers. The kits were easy to carry although some farriers refused to take them near the horses for fear of spooking them.

And that’s enough education for one life I reckon. It’s time to stop this article immediately before everybody dies of boredom.


John said...

Actually, the article was quite interesting, from a historical perspective, and enlightening in a way of life seldom seen these days.

However, not only were those arms very skinny, but they lacked the dark red color that would be applied from hours and hours of exposure to intense heat.

On the subject, did they not have gloves or other means of protection? I mean, hide gloves would protect skin from that intense heat, would it not?

Maybe you need to go deeper into the subject of Smithing Safety?

More, please, and maybe you could show us some scenes from modern cinema portraying wrongly the Smith's craft? Could lighten things up a bit?

Cheers for the education,
JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


You might well have a point. The drawing's are based on what Old Tony was showing us at the time, hence the lack of gloves and thin arms etc. Unfortunately Tony's shuffled off this mortal coil now, so I've no-one left to ask about these matters. One day perhaps...when I can be bothered doing some research...

Jayne said...

Ditto what John said.
Quite enjoyed it :)

Brian Hughes said...


Go and check out the new aerial photographs of Bourne Hill that Frank's just put up on the forum. Now they're a lot more interesting that this.

Anonymous said...

Those tools look like they could be used for torture...or perhaps to mend some of the brains of the Xtians recently discussed over at NLthinking.

Brian Hughes said...


Now there's a thought. Perhaps they should hire the museum out in the evening to specialist adult groups.

F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

A smithy would definitely have arms more brawny than the illustration.

... and 'swages' what a great scrabble word.
and red black or white, that hot is hot.

thanks Bri

Brian Hughes said...


'Xi' that's a good Scrabble word. It's the fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. No, it is...honest. Just don't ask me to name the thirteenth or fifteenth.

Jayne said...

Had a squiz and put in our tuppence worth, those aerial photos are very clear!

Brian Hughes said...


Frank managed to get exactly the right angle of light to show up the mediaeval aspects of the hill there. Cracking photos I reckon!

Jayne said...

They are!
He's a talented young lad, is Frank!

Brian Hughes said...

Especially when you realise that he accomlishes all that with a rotating blade attached to his hat by a wound rubber band (Inspector Gadget style) and a pin hole camera.