As a student of Hereford and Ludlow College studying blacksmithing, I was invited to go along to the NHIG’s Pigs, Puddlers and Patterns seminar at the wonderful location of Coalbrookdale. I am still unsure of the path I wish to take and I knew this seminar might give me an insight into the world of conservation and restoration.
So on Friday the 21st a group of us from the college along went along to the Museum of Iron, an ideal setting for the topic of the day. First, Jackie Heath and Russ Turner talked about conservation work on the world-renowned Iron Bridge, the first bridge made of iron. The talk looked at modern methods that were used to prevent more damage to the bridge due to the movement of the gorge it was built in, for example the use of laser scanners to calculate the loads it can withstand. It was very interesting to learn that the bridge has had continual maintenance throughout its life, with parts added and removed and when they came to restore the bridge, they decided to keep them as they form part of its history.
Next on was Paul Ashmore, a lecturer at my college, explaining the history of iron making. It was very interesting to learn that ironmaking in this country escalated very quickly during the 18-19th century when beforehand methods had not changed much since the Roman period. He discussed the process of making wrought iron and how that changed into making cast iron allowing foundry men the ability to pour the iron into whichever shape they choose but also how the carbon can be burnt away to make wrought iron on a larger scale.
After a decent brew we then sat back down for a lecture on repair techniques to cast iron by Geoff Wallis. There certainly was a lot learnt in his short talk, about prevention of corrosion and cast iron repairs, with examples of work he has repaired throughout the UK and beyond. I won’t give too much away but let’s say some of the simplest ideas work the best.
Diana Heath then spoke about the conservation of the Eagle Slayer statue which was originally created on the site of the talk, amazing to find the piece had had over 20 layers of paint over its life, with parts missing and moved to various sites. She explained the process of the restoration and its relocation to its home in Coalbrookdale where its stands in pride of place by the gift-shop.
We now came to the patterns part of the talk where John Reynolds described the reproduction of original castings to aid the restoration of old railings, how he goes about replicating original pieces and considering certain tolerances in the casting environment.
After a good lunch which was included in the cost of the event, the senior curator of the museum Georgina Grant told us all about the vast history of the site that was around us. I could not believe the amount that was created and shipped around the world, really making Ironbridge the home of casting for a small time. It was great to learn that they are still finding new pieces that were made all the time even pieces in Australia. She then proceeded to give us a tour of the Museum of Iron which includes parts off the very first railway locomotive designed by Richard Trevithick of Cornwall, showing the massive influence of cast iron in the industrial revolution. There are also many examples of the many things created in the casting foundries of Coalbrookdale, the detail of which are exquisite.
Sadly the final speaker could not make it but the day was topped off by Geoff Wallis giving an extra talk about load testing and modern ways of recreating casting, like three dimensional printing, asking whether we all agree that we should evolve and use more modern methods or if traditional is the best way to keep it.
Overall, I found the day very interesting all the speakers spoke well and some coming from a working background I can imagine it was difficult to talk in front of all of us. There was definitely enough tea and coffee to go around. It was a great setting to hold the talks, very relevant and I would certainly try to attend other talks if I can. Even if you aren’t in the restoration game there is a lot to be learnt, and from a student’s perspective it is a great way to meet other blacksmiths to improve you skill and knowledge base.
Alex Rowe, Level 3 Student at Hereford and Ludlow College