One 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.
IN 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.
Works 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.
After 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.
Repairs 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.
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.