Case Studies

Site Seen recent work in focus

Forging ahead

Chiddingfold Forge, Surrey, owned by the SPABOne of the last intact and working traditional village green smithies –  this one owned by the SPAB – has a new lease of life, thanks to the  enthusiasm of local people and grant aid, including Society funding 

In the south-west corner of Surrey, on the  A283 London to Petworth Road, is the  village of Chiddingfold. The forge, at the  southern tip of The Green, is a familiar and  cherished landmark; in England, it is  probably one of the few traditional forges  remaining in use for the purpose for which it was  built. The blacksmith and forge, with the village  pond across the road, represent a way of life that  needs customers who appreciate hand forged iron  artefacts, and the support of local people, to be  viable in the 21st century. 

The forge was built around 1812 on the site of  the former village Market House, possibly  re-using some of the building materials.  However, it is thought that a building may have  been on this site since before 1300, when  Edward I granted to the Bishop of Salisbury the  right to hold a weekly market and an annual fair.  Also on The Green are the nearby 14th-century,  timber-framed Crown Inn, a well-known public  house, several other houses ranging from the  15th to the early 19th centuries and, to the  west, the Parish Church of St Mary, the present  building dating from the 13th century. 

The forge is grade II listed, and has been  classed by Surrey County and Waverley Borough  Councils as being “at serious risk”. The building  comprises three main parts. The main space  containing the two forges has timber-framed and  brickwork walls, with a peg-tiled, double-hipped  roof. The shoeing shop and garage to the east are  divided by a timber plank wall and have  brickwork walls and peg-tiled, double-pitched  gabled roofs. The brick lean-to space to the south  is now a WC, but was once the village lock-up. 

The SPAB, curiously, owns the forge (but not  any land). This is because, in 1938, the forge was  bequeathed by Mrs Isabella Sadler of Pockford,  Chiddingfold, to the “Ancient Buildings Trust”,  formerly run by the SPAB. A repairing lease was  granted in 1988 to David Wright, the current  blacksmith, who works at the forge on a  part-time basis. The Green is owned by Waverley  Borough Council and designated common land  under the Commons Registration Act 1899.  In 1997, concerned villagers started a project  to safeguard the future of the forge by retaining it  as the place of work for one or two blacksmiths,  with the present village blacksmith in occupation  for as long as practical. The condition of the  fabric of the building was declining, particularly  the roofs, and as time passed, the need for repairs  was becoming steadily more urgent. 

Eventually, in 2007, the Chiddingfold  Conservation Trust (CCT) was established as a  vehicle through which a programme of repairs  could be commissioned. The CCT is incorporated  as a company limited by guarantee to “raise  funds and accept applications for financial  support from within the parish to repair and  maintain the village’s cultural heritage”. 

The repair of the forge is its first project with  director Niki Harridge as project leader,  supported by the other directors Jan Fellingham  and Susie and Tim Forrest. 

Fundraising started in earnest at Chiddingfold  Festival in June 2009 with the sale of roof tiles  where each purchaser signed their name on the back of a tile. The CCT directors were amazed  and encouraged by the crowds of enthusiastic  local residents who literally queued to contribute  towards saving part of their local heritage.  Further funding came from charitable grants,  including the SPAB’s Baber Fund and the Surrey  Historic Buildings Trust, and from generous  donations from local residents. It was soon  recognised, however, that the poor economic  climate was affecting fund raising adversely and  that the repairs would have to be phased.

Chiddingfold Forge, Surrey, with its working interior, nowadays a great rarityIN April this year David Lodge and David  Alexander, representing the SPAB, drew up a  schedule of repairs for the forge. The CCT then  sought in the summer tenders from several  building contractors for three phases of work  based on the urgency of repair. The three phases  are the roof timber repairs and renewal of the  coverings; the renewal of electrical services; and  the repairs to walls, doors and windows. 

The building contract for the first phase of  repairs was let to RT Overton & Sons Ltd, Surrey  based builders with considerable experience  working with historic buildings. The contract was  led by Tony Overton, the carpenters were Simon  Smith and David Bull and the roofer was Martyn  Adams. Nicola Westbury, architect, was the  contract administrator having been appointed by  the CCT in early September. Russell Morris, the  Waverley Borough Council historic buildings  officer, gave his advice in support of the repairs,  though listed building consent was not required. 

Chiddingfold Forge, Surrey decayed roof timbers, exposed during initial repairsWorks started with the removal of existing  peg tiles to reveal roofing battens that were  poorly fixed and decayed. Also revealed were  roof timbers whose condition was much worse  than had been foreseen when the schedule was  drawn up. The roof timbers were repaired by  refixing rafters where possible and by providing  new feet alongside the existing where they were  decayed. Some members were renewed, such as  one wall plate and the hip rafters, in order to  re-establish the integrity of the roofs. Trimmers  were introduced around the chimneys to help  keep timbers away from the heat. 

Despite taking reasonable precautions, during  the works one of the main roof slopes started  moving downwards from the ridge. Quick action  on the part of the people working on site arrested  the movement with temporary props under the  purlin and with a spreader board and props under  the decayed coupled rafter tops. Fortunately,  Clive Dawson of Hockley & Dawson Consulting  Engineers had agreed kindly to become involved  at short notice, and quickly provided structural  repair proposals. 

Chiddingfold Forge, Surrey, the repaired roofAfter careful discussion of the options, a new  ridge board was provided along the full length of  the main roof and the rafters fixed to this where  possible. Every pair of rafters was supported  further by new short collar boards fixed just  under the ridge board. Metal straps being made  by David Wright were fixed to the wall plate,  collar and purlin joints to limit possible future  movement and to re-establish the structural  integrity of the roofs. These were fixed before the  worst of the winter weather set in. 

Chiddingfold Forge, Surrey, seen across the village green pondRepairs to the roofs began at the end of  September and finished a month later. There was  a palpable sense of relief within the village that  the Forge roofs were repaired in time for Bonfire  Night, attended by around 8,000 people.  With David Wright now working again at his  forge, everyone involved with the repairs is  delighted with the results achieved so far under  difficult circumstances. 

Chiddingfold Conservation Trust continues to  raise funds for the remaining phases of work.  The electrical services are due to be renewed  early in 2010 and, subject to funding, the  remaining external repairs will be carried out  later in the year. The goodwill engendered by the  project has also led to the setting up of the Chiddingfold Community Fund, which will  support local needs. This project demonstrates  that it is now possible for local communities,  helped by the Community Foundation Network,  to support historic buildings by putting them into  a good state of repair and keeping them in use for  the whole community to enjoy. 
Nicola Westbury 

Additional information was provided by Niki  Harridge and Jan Fellingham of Chiddingfold  Conservation Trust and the Chiddingfold  Community Fund. Nicola Westbury is a 1990  SPAB Scholar who works with historic buildings.  She is based in Chiddingfold.