Volunteers forge ahead to preserve piece of history

The Friends of Chain Bridge Forge who have all contributed in some way to the restoration project are (from left) Geoff Dodd (sitting, Robert Bester, Alec Willson, Geoff Taylor, Chris Hammond, Roy Dixon, Keith Seaton and Richard Buck. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG090812-15MD
The Friends of Chain Bridge Forge who have all contributed in some way to the restoration project are (from left) Geoff Dodd (sitting, Robert Bester, Alec Willson, Geoff Taylor, Chris Hammond, Roy Dixon, Keith Seaton and Richard Buck. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG090812-15MD
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IT’S BEEN likened to grandad’s old shed at the bottom of the garden, full of interesting old tools contained in dusty boxes or hanging on the walls.

Unlike the objects in grandad’s shed though, the hundreds of artefacts in the old Chain Bridge Forge in Spalding have all been lovingly handled by a team of enthusiasts, each one taken out of its box or removed from its hook, cleaned, photographed and put back on the walls.

Blacksmith Chris Hammond.

Blacksmith Chris Hammond.

The forge too has had a refurbishment, and now has a new roof, new floor, re-pointed walls and entrances created in readiness for the forge’s official opening to the public as a living history museum in a couple of weeks’ time.

It’s been an enormous task accomplished by a team of volunteers calling themselves the Friends of Chain Bridge Forge, each bringing his or her skills to the task to create an education resource and tourist attraction at the building in High Street that was in danger of being entirely lost to the town.

“It was about a piece of our heritage, our industrial heritage, that I thought was worth preserving,” said Geoff Taylor, chairman of the Friends and instrumental in persuading South Holland District Council to support the project.

“When you talk to Geoff Dodd, the last blacksmith, and understand his life and what he has brought to the community, not to have that as a legacy would be a great shame to the town, a great loss.”

The work has pretty much been accomplished now, the forge ready for blacksmithing demonstrations and information boards throughout the building describing parts of South Holland’s history that is probably unfamiliar to many people.

For instance, Keith Seaton’s family feature in the museum in an image of skaters on Cowbit Wash in the 1930s and Keith, whose great grandfather was a master mariner, supplied information about the port of Spalding using research material that will go into his book on shipping on the Welland.

Keith, a director of the Friends, has done far more though, cleaning artefacts, doing carpentry jobs and laying bricks outside, all because he remembers visiting the forge when he was a boy and Geoff’s dad was the blacksmith.

“It’s fantastic that it has been preserved really because it was closed down for such a long time,” he said.

Alec Willson too remembers visiting the forge as a boy and asking ‘Mr Dodd’ to repair go-carts in return for a bar of chocolate.

He said: “I used to pass the forge four times a day when I went to school so there was always something happening outside. In the early days it was shoeing horses and later it would be Geoff Dodd making floats for the flower parade. I have done everything that needed doing, but mostly I ended up with the painting because nobody likes painting. It’s brilliant to see the forge now. I couldn’t have wishes it to go any better.”

The forge itself was restored by blacksmith Chris Hammond, who undertook a seven-year apprenticeship before spending nine years blacksmithing in Holbeach and then joining the power generation industry. He hadn’t done any blacksmithing for years when he heard about the project and got involved.

Chris will be demonstrating his techniques when the museum is open and hopes to have an opportunity to share his skills with young people.

The two oldest members of the project – Ray Dixon and Geoff Dodd can fight over the couple of weeks’ difference in age – made sure the many artefacts were restored and correctly identified, Ray helping with the de-rusting and oiling, Geoff giving an explanation for each tool.

Geoff admits: “Some I can only look at them and guess what the blacksmith used them for.

“Obviously I am very pleased that it is becoming a museum because I couldn’t have done on my own what we have achieved.”

However, Geoff admitted he wouldn’t have wanted the newly restored workshop during his working days – because he doesn’t know where anything is any more.

Then there has been the work of Elizabeth Jones as finance director, Rosemary Pilgrim as secretary, Craig Thomas as builder, Robert Bester in creating a photographic record of the work to the workshop as well as all the tools, and amateur archaeologist Richard Buck, who undertook digs when the workshop’s floor was taken up and whose unearthed items will form a display in the museum.

He points out: “It’s not just a museum about blacksmithing. It’s also about the social and economic history of the town.”

n The museum officially opens to the public on the weekend of September 8 and 9 (10.30am to 4pm) and it is hoped that it will be open every weekend thereafter if more volunteers are willing to act as guides, and once a month during the winter.

The formal opening is at 10.30am both days, followed by a blacksmithing demonstration by Simon Grant-Jones, UK National Champion Blacksmith in 2010 and blacksmith/ironmonger in the BBC’s historical documentary Turn Back Time.