forge was the central focal point of village life for centuries. It was a meeting
place for men and boys, almost like a 'Men's Club', where news was exchanged
and the politics of the day discussed.
The blacksmith was a mine of information on local family history, and news from around the country as travellers often called to his door.
The forge was a dimly-lit, usually medium-sized house. There was no machinery - the blacksmith made his own tools, consisting of an anvil, which in the early days may have been a rough piece of iron ore, a vice, bellows turned by a hand crank, tongs, rake and poker for the fire and an assortment of welding and shoeing tools.
The fire was set on a raised hearth made from five or six flagstones. Charcoal, turf, coke and coal were all used, depending upon local availability. The forge was always situated by the roadside, and usually by a river or stream for cooling.
'Shoeing' wheels was one of the blacksmith's important jobs. A strip of iron was cut, shaped and welded together, just a little smaller than the wheel. A circular fire was made, of peat, on the ground outside the forge, and the iron band was placed in it. When red hot, it was taken up with tongs and placed upon the wooden wheel, where it was quickly hammered into place whilst buckets of water were poured over to prevent the wheel from catching fire.
The blacksmith produced all the tools needed to farm and all the tools needed in the community, such as needles for the tailor, pots and pans, knives and forks. A smith 100 years ago could make 100 different items, and his grandfather could have made 200, including weapons for hunting and warfare. The blacksmith's trade was usually hereditary, often tracing back five or six generations.
The blacksmith 'knew' horses, and could cure ailments such as glanders, pharsey and strangles. He flushed out a horse's nose and mouth with a syringe made from a pig's bladder and a short length of hollow elder twig. He treated sores, sprains and spavins with washes made from water from the cooling trough. He pulled horses' teeth with specially made forceps, and 'bled' horses with an instrument called a fleam which was like a pocket knife with a small triangular projection on the blade, which was tapped with a stick to pierce the vein and draw blood.
The blacksmith also acted as dentist to the human population. He tied a piece of string to the afflicted tooth and attached the other end to the anvil. With the sudden presentation of a hot iron to the sufferer's face, the tooth was pulled.
Trough water was said to cure many ailments, especially skin disorders such as warts, boils and eruptions. Cuts and sprains were dipped into the trough, and the water could be bottled and taken to the patient. It was said that a squint could be cured by applying trough water to the eyes for three days running.
To help the smith to remain in his forge working, the community formed working parties to help on his land. They cut hay and turf. Many small mending jobs were done in exchange for produce from local farms. The head of any animal killed was brought to the smith.
In some cases, the smith was believed to be in touch with powers outside nature. He worked all day with iron, said to be a protection against evil. He was believed to be able to lay good charms and spells, and a liberal sprinkling of forge water was said to undo any evil set against land, milk, hens or pigs. It was well known that a smith's curse, said solemnly by one, three or even better seven smiths while the anvil was turned, was more than enough to avenge a wrong......