Our history : The Smithy at Middleton Hall
One of the favourite attractions at Middleton Hall is the blacksmith hard at work in our smithy in the Small Walled Garden. The smithy has also proved to be a great asset to Middleton Hall Trust during the restoration of the Hall.
We do not know precisely when our smithy was constructed. It is definitely there on a map from 1924. There is a building in the right location in 1886 and 1834. However, before 1820 there was a very different building on the same location. We do not know whether that building, which is present on a map from 1762, was also a smithy. However, it cannot have been the location of the historic smithy serving the Willoughby family at Middleton because it was constructed on top of a section of filled-in moat. The main smithy in Middleton parish was in the village. Today, it is aptly still called “The Old Smithy”. The current Old Smithy building was constructed in the 17th century. However, the fact that there was a smithy in the village does not exclude the possibility that there had been a second smithy nearer the Hall and that we simply haven’t found where it was …!
What is blacksmithing? A blacksmith’s workshop can also be known as a forge. The forge is the last stage of the ironworking process. In the forge, a fuel source was ignited (at Middleton the heat material was traditionally charcoal) and then intensified by bellows to a temperature at which wrought iron would become malleable. The blacksmith would then create items from the malleable metal.
When the volunteers first arrived at Middleton Hall in 1977, the condition of the smithy was diabolical. Although the basic structures of the forge remained, the entire outbuilding range had lost its roof and the brick walls were beginning to collapse. Part of this range was not salvageable. However, we are very relieved that the forge was.
It was actually one of the first buildings to be restored in 1981. About the time its restoration was completed, a recently retired blacksmith called Arthur Bastow stopped by the Hall and asked whether his tools would be of use. He was told “Yes, but you will have to come as well as we have no one who knows how to use them”. Arthur happily agreed to become a volunteer and then started making all the ironwork the Trust needed for the restoration of the remainder of the Hall. The legacy of his work can still be seen throughout the Hall and its grounds from door studs and handles to the cooking ranges and weather vane.
Since Arthur, the smithy had hosted a number of blacksmiths. Our current blacksmith, Di, can often be seen on a Wednesday during our summer open season, so next time you visit make sure you say hi. Di is combining her glass craftwork with metal to make some beautiful pieces, experimentation and creativity is always at the heart of what we enjoy the most about Middleton.
Debbie Jordan, Middleton Hall Trust Volunteer & Historian