When we coined the phrase Be the spark that lights the fire! as the inspiration behind our first major event BathIRON, we didn’t realise quite how apt it would prove to be. This vibrant 4-day festival, held in Parade Gardens at the heart of the city, was a glorious celebration of ironwork enjoyed by thousands of people, from school children to Master Craftspeople, and characterised throughout by warmth and energy.
BathIRON was a triumphant collaborative effort that was only made possible because of the strong community of craftspeople who are willing to pool resources and share skills for the common good. Of particular note was the involvement of young people, including 20 student volunteers from Hereford College who worked solidly for 6 days and gave glowing reports of their experience, which included the opportunity to forge with Masters, some calling it a ‘life-changing experience’.
The forging area set up around the bandstand in Parade Gardens was the hub of BathIRON. A hive of purposeful activity and happy camaraderie, it reached peaks of excitement towards the end of each two-day stint, as the teams raced to the finish line to complete their unique bandstand panels in time. To watch these fantastic works of art gradually brought to life under the hammer, to see each completely unique design emerge from the flames was a thrilling experience for everyone who passed through BathIRON. You can read more about the bandstand balustrade project HERE, view all the individual panels HERE, and donate to the project HERE. We plan to install the new balustrade and have a bandstand opening party in September. Watch this space!
In the wider festival, an exhibition of contemporary artist blacksmithing showcased some of the best and most innovative work in recent years, while the Heritage Exhibition looked at the history of ironwork and explored conservation and restoration issues. Meanwhile in the Guildhall, there were four days of talks illuminating ironwork from various different perspectives. The NHIG seminar Heritage Ironwork: an Endangered Species attracted 65 delegates from a wide range of backgrounds who found that the diverse presentations – from Knobs, Knockers and other Overlooked Ironwork to Gates into Rifles and Iron and the Coast – provided a fascinating overview of an unfamiliar subject. The Icon Metals Group also held their annual conference during BathIRON and took the opportunity to focus on the use of traditional craft skills in conservation, with their delegates enjoying subjects as wide ranging as the lost art of Indian swordsmithing and the conservation of tanks, via 18th century turret clocks and Byzantine rings. Another ‘first’ that emerged out of BathIRON was a specially commissioned walking tour of Bath’s Heritage Ironwork exploring some hidden gems led by Alex Coode and Stacey Hibberd of the the Heritage Blacksmith Partnership. This is now available to download HERE
Forging sessions for the general public booked up very quickly and were a huge success. Children’s forging was run with admirable efficiency and good cheer by the Robert and Carol Smith, who after almost 20 years of running forging sessions for children at BABA events are bowing out, so it was fitting that their swansong should be in their home town of Bath. Robert and Carol and team welcomed almost 200 school children from 12 schools on the weekdays and Robert has transformed the school children’s treble clefs into a stunning decorative sphere to go on top of the bandstand. One of their volunteers wrote: “I’m so glad that I took part in this event and got to see how hard-working and committed you, Robert and the others are to helping the children have a brilliant day. You can see from the children’s faces and the sheer enjoyment of having made something by their own hands that they will never forget this experience. As a showcase for blacksmithing and encouraging a new generation to keep faith with the old artisan skills, there can be no peer.” And one teacher commented: “The children we brought with us absolutely loved their forging experience and all used words such as: ‘awesome’ and ‘fantastic’. The adults involved in the session were wonderful with our group of students, showing expertise, skill and great patience in dealing with them. Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to be part of this wonderful event.”
A festival highlight was the appearance of Austrian Master blacksmith and sculptor Walfrid Huber, who has dedicated several decades of skill and ambition to preserving and promoting the art of hand-forging iron. His curiosity piqued by the wrought-iron hinges on the portals of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris – one of the true masterpieces of the blacksmithing tradition – he has after many years succeeded in solving the riddle of their making and faithfully reconstructed these ironwork intricacies. His journey is documented in the film The Devil’s Blacksmith and BathIRON was honoured to screen the world premiere to an enraptured audience. The special screening was attended by over 100 blacksmiths who were thrilled to be able to watch and learn from the processes revealed in the film, and loved the opportunity to ask Master Huber questions about his techniques. The respect and admiration at this event was palpable and the fact that Gold Medal holders and renowned arrowsmith Hector Cole MBE were equally enthralled made the event even more special. Blacksmiths took great pleasure in examining the masterpiece itself which Majister Huber had brought over from Austria. We were delighted to welcome Master Huber and his translator Adrienn Helyes to BathIRON. They helped to create a very special moment at the heart of the festival.
Many inspirations will be taken away from this eclectic event which aimed to reach several different types of people in many different ways, but they are perhaps best summed up in the words of a student volunteer from the American College of Building Arts who was travelling in Europe and diverted to Bath as soon as he heard about BathIRON: “The idea of the whole event was wonderful. It was great to see a compact cluster of different teams making pieces that were functional as well as being different interpretations of a theme, not to mention students and intermediates working alongside legendary masters of the craft. The opportunity to make items that may be used in the overall work was also a highlight, and just a great concept. I could go on and on. I cannot thank you all enough for a fantastic event, and a damn good time. I’ll never forget it, and I’ll be back for another event some day.”
Please browse the pictures below which hopefully give a good flavour of the event.