Forge project helping people to learn about their past

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A GROUP working to preserve an important part of Spalding’s history is encouraging other people to learn how to explore and record their own family records.

The Friends of Chain Bridge Forge – a 19th century workshop on High Street – are working to transform the building, little changed since it was owned by Joseph Rose in 1800, into a living history museum.

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.blacksmiths forge'high st,spalding'05/04/11'geoff dodd,geoff taylor

The plan is to open the workshop to the public by June of next year, with the forge the centrepiece of a museum containing displays about the history of the workshop and of a time when everything was mended at the local forge.

Apart from the physical work of stripping out the forge and digging out anything of archaeological interest, some of the Friends have been involved in gathering historical material that will be of interest to visitors.

Ian Briggs, of Whaplode, a former history student at Oxford, volunteered to help and has become history research co-ordinator for the project. He has spent hours listening to reminiscences from Geoff Dodd, the last working blacksmith at the forge, who followed his father and grandfather into that career.

Ian listened not only to Geoff’s memories concerning the forge and his family’s connections to it, but of businesses that were once run in the area, the port and more.

“Ian has captured all of this and it’s fascinating to listen to because Geoff still has good memories,” said Geoff Taylor, the driving force behind the project.

Geoff Dodd also has many documents relating to the forge, such as Edward Fisher’s smithy records from the mid-1800s of the work he was doing, repairs he carried out to boats and captains’ names.

Geoff Taylor says: “On pages where a line has been drawn through his records it means a boat had been lost at sea and presumably he never got paid.”

All this valuable archive material, as well as photographs of the many artefacts that came out of the workshop and other historical documents, will go into a digital catalogue that people will be able to look at online in their homes or at the museum.

Geoff Taylor adds: “We have had people coming forward with their reminiscences but we are always looking for more because one of the things we recognise is that it is not just about the forge but we are trying to tell the history of that working area of the town so we would like people who lived there to tell us about their lives.”

People who have shared their memories include Val Willerton, who talked about the metalworkers from Sheffield who would come and work on the fields in this area when their own industry was going through lean times, living close to their work in sheds that still exist. The Wilson family shared their memories of the forge while Keith Seaton has talked of his grandfather’s bakery business two doors along from the forge.

Geoff understands other people may feel reticent about talking into a microphone about their memories, but urges them to come forward because, as he says: “Their life is so different to the life we have today and if we don’t collect these memories they will be lost and we won’t be able to share them with our grandchildren.”

The £50,000 Heritage Lottery funding the project received was partly intended to share skills so that people who want to get involved with the forge, but who are not cut out for metal bashing or digging up the ground, can learn how to do other things. This might be making a video that could be displayed in the forge, learning how to record oral histories or how to carry out historical research.