Art & Design Tuesday, January 5th

Making sparks fly: Adrian Legge on the art of blacksmithing

Blacksmithing is a hot topic for Adrian Legge.

Adrian has been teaching the subject in Holme Lacy for nearly 30 years and feels strongly about its importance to modern society.

Speaking at the rural arts campus of Hereford and Ludlow College he said he gets annoyed when people consider the craft to be part of the past.

“People think blacksmiths are quaint and an anachronism or that we don’t exist any more,” said Adrian, who lives in Bredenbury.

“But if you take the industrial blacksmithing out of modern society it would collapse. There would be no cars and buildings would collapse.”

Adrian’s love of blacksmithing goes back to his family.

“My old man trained as a village smithy – if something broke he would fix it, if a horse needed shoeing he would fix it,” he said.

“In the olden days the village blacksmith would be the only person with kit that could take out a tooth and if you had wound that needed cauterising you would go to a blacksmith.

“But that all changed after the Second World War.

“The craft has changed from largely utilitarian and repair work to decorative and functional - with lots of gates, railways, candlesticks, and light fittings being made.

“Lots of guys are doing more stuff like furniture; some have an interest in heritage conservation, and bladesmithing which is making knives and swords.

“There is a growing demand for handmade tools – woodworkers want handmade tools again.

“And we do everything here from fine art sculpture to fixing farm implements.”

Although Adrian did a combined apprenticeship in blacksmithing and farriery, the two subjects have moved apart. At the college there are separate blacksmithing and farriery workshops.

The separation of the two fields followed the Registration Act which required more intense training for farriers and there followed a focus on specialising.

“I often get farriers who wish they had done a bit more blacksmithing as they are fed up of the physicality of farriering,” said Adrian.

We asked Adrian if a blacksmith would struggle to get enough work if they were working independently.

“It’s like with a bespoke cabinet maker,” said Adrian, “there are customers there but you have to find them.

“We teach our students marketing skills and business management.

“In my day we used to teach people how to work metal. Now it is a whole package so it is a lot more holistic than it used to be.”

Among the most notable projects Adrian has worked on are the canopy overthrows he made for the Prince’s Square Shopping Centre in Glasgow.

He is involved with organisations such as BABA (British Artists Blacksmiths Association) and is a fellow of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths, acting as a judge and an assessor for them.

He has also been involved in writing a new apprenticeship scheme for blacksmithing and has demonstrated his art in the USA, France, and Canada.

So what keeps Adrian actively working as a blacksmith?

“I get a real buzz from seeing a group of people prepared to help each other with no benefit for themselves,” said Adrian.

“If you go to a blacksmith and ask how they did something they will tell you with no agenda.

“Almost without exception I have been amazed about how giving people are.

“I do get a bit tired of people looking at me and thinking ‘strong in the arm and thick in the head’.

“Blacksmiths used to sit at the right hand side of the king because they were the most important craftsmen.

“Most other crafts could not survive without a blacksmith because they could not make their own tools whereas a blacksmith can make all of theirs.”

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