An Exercise in Observation and Replication

Imagine that during a restoration project a section was found missing and a replica was required which resembled the original as closely as possible in every way. This was the brief given to trainees on the National Heritage Ironwork Group (NHIG) Blacksmith Bursary as in order to complete the task their observation skills would be tested to the full. They not only needed to understand the aesthetics, in design and style, but also to work out from the evidence available how the original was made and what was it made from. What were the materials, tools, jigs and techniques used by the original craftsman? A case of playing detective, as only by making a replica in the same way as the original will the finished piece be accurate.

Trainees selected the design they wanted to work on although the NHIG Training Steering Group were consulted to ensure that the piece would include enough historic techniques to be sufficiently taxing to the maker! Materials were donated by Chris Topp & Co Ltd and the trainees, made the pieces using the facilities offered by the workshops that were hosting them as part of their bursary training.

This project was part of a specialist training course set up by the NHIG as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) Skills for the future programme*. At the end of the project the work was assessed and an award was given for Best Blacksmith which was shared between MATTHEW BOULTWOOD and SIMON DOYLE.

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MATTHEW BOULTWOOD’S design came from a book called “Gitter Aus Schmeideeisen”, and he said “When I first saw the design I was struck by the intricacy of the 3D form. The design uses traditional motifs in a way that I hadn’t seen before, developing depth from details which are often quite flat. As I started to look closer I realised the design was entirely fire-welded and used stacks of many components, something I had not even thought to try before. The real challenge was in the design development and planning the assembly so that everything could be fire-welded cleanly without losing detail. I thoroughly enjoyed the leaf making and seeing the piece come together, although nerve racking on the final weld, it was really rewarding and a huge learning experience.”

web-Simon-DoyleSIMON DOYLE’S concept piece came from A Portfolio of English Wrought Ironwork of the late 17th and early 18th centuries by Tunstall Small & Christopher Woodbridge, (date unknown). Simon was immediately drawn to the combination of leaf forms and formalised scrolls in the piece, and particularly enjoyed making the leaves and buds in the top section of the design. The piece had a formal element as well, and Simon felt the strict scrolls that form the baluster frame were something that would stretch him. Simon said “The main challenge was in the nature of its making. With no single block of time given over to this project, the work was somewhat disjointed with days and sometimes weeks passing between phases. However, the overall result was very pleasing and I would like to thank my placement providers for their time and use of their facilities.”

Mathew and Simon’s pieces are available, along with pieces by Joanne Adkins, Alex Coode and Joanna Williams, from the NHIG secretary for exhibition and training purposes.

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ALEX COODE said of his project piece, “While on placement at Hampton Court I fell in love with Tijou’s work, not a style that had appealed to me before. Up close I was able to appreciate that the sheer accomplishment of both craftsmanship and integrated design was in a different class to anything I had ever studied. The project is a copy detail of a panel from the East Gates (as far as I can see the best preserved of his gates there and my favorite), not full size but replicating as closely as possible every element in relation to every other. This was made in Iron, the frame and sub end scrolls from Chris and the water leaves from some salvaged old railings at Steve Rook’s.”

web-Jo-WilliamsThis project by JOANNA WILLIAMS is based on a section of the Golden Gates at Chatsworth House by Jean Tijou. Adhering to the project brief, she has created a piece similar to Tijou’s piece that contained a multitude of traditional forging techniques including shadow rails.

The original version of this 18th century bracket chosen by Jo Adkins hangs in the Victoria and Albert museum. The design is a fine example of architectural ironwork of the period. It combines even scroll work leading to a right angle corner, flowing water leaves and dramatic twists.

Jo commented “Using the same forging methods used to make the original, my piece is made up of twelve separate pieces of wrought iron fired welded together in ten places. This welding technique is done in the forge; two sections of metal are heated in the fire until the surfaces are molten and are then beaten together on the anvil. The biggest challenge in replicating an existing object is getting the measurements right as every action changes the size and length of the material’s section. I’m pleased with how this has turned out and think the overall shape is well balanced.
In deciding to paint my piece blue, I wanted to choose a finish that would challenge existing views. Painting ironwork black is a relatively recent trend and doesn’t portray the artistry of forged ironwork in its best light. It would be good to see traditional colour and considered paint finishes come back into English ironwork.”

web-Jo-AdkinsThe original version of this 18th century bracket chosen by JOANNE ADKINS hangs in the Victoria and Albert museum. The design is a fine example of architectural ironwork of the period. It combines even scroll work leading to a right angle corner, flowing water leaves and dramatic twists.

Joanne commented “Using the same forging methods used to make the original, my piece is made up of twelve separate pieces of wrought iron fired welded together in ten places. This welding technique is done in the forge; two sections of metal are heated in the fire until the surfaces are molten and are then beaten together on the anvil.

The biggest challenge in replicating an existing object is getting the measurements right as every action changes the size and length of the material’s section. I’m pleased with how this has turned out and think the overall shape is well balanced.

In deciding to paint my piece blue, I wanted to choose a finish that would challenge existing views. Painting ironwork black is a relatively recent trend and doesn’t portray the artistry of forged ironwork in its best light. It would be good to see traditional colour and considered paint finishes come back into English ironwork.”

The NHIG is extremely grateful to all the workshops and museums which provided placements for the trainees during the twelve month bursary period. The trainees were able to use the workshop facilities to create these pieces and draw on the extensive knowledge and experience of the placement providers throughout the process.

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