The Bespokers Forge in Grange-over-Sands is keeping the art of blacksmithing alive

PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 April 2015

Blacksmith John Law at Yew Tree Barn, Low Newton, Grange-over-Sands

Blacksmith John Law at Yew Tree Barn, Low Newton, Grange-over-Sands

Archant

If you ever wanted to forge a career in the ancient art of blacksmithing, former Royal Navy mines expert John Law is the man to see. Ann Wilson reports

The moment you step inside the Bespokers Forge, you feel a glow surrounding you. It could be the coke burning deep orange in the forge or it may be the welcome from blacksmith John Law.

John’s art is an ancient one and the intriguing array of tools along the walls do nothing to dispel the feeling you’ve stepped back in time.

Blacksmithing is thought to date back around 4,000 years but it has been undergoing a renaissance recently with many of the traditional techniques being used to craft beautiful contemporary pieces.

‘Blacksmithing is made up of a series of fairly basic techniques, and it is a proficiency in these that allow the real mastery to develop,’ explains John, who runs courses from the reclamation yard at Yew Tree Barn in Low Newton near Grange-over-Sands. ‘The art is in the interpretation. That’s where the spark and originality lie.’

Blacksmith John Law at Yew Tree Barn, Low Newton, Grange-over-SandsBlacksmith John Law at Yew Tree Barn, Low Newton, Grange-over-Sands

You get the feeling John was made to be a blacksmith - you certainly wouldn’t challenge this gentle giant to arm wrestle. However, he’s a relative newcomer.

Now in his mid 50s, John was trained at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth and spend over 25 years in service, becoming a mine clearance diving officer - bomb disposal with the added complication of being underwater. It was a role that took him around the world.

‘There are some parallels,’ he says. ‘For example, working as part of a team to design and approach something, but then at the end of the day, being at the coalface, on your own, absorbed by the task at hand.’

John retired from the Navy in 2009, and soon after settled full time in Kendal with wife, Ruth, and their two teenage children. It was a leap of faith to quit a job as sales manager for a diving equipment manufacturer and set up on his own at Yew Tree Barn, going full time in November. It is a decision he hasn’t regretted for a moment.

‘It’s honest, there’s an unpretentiousness about it,’ he says. John enjoys the process, the interaction of man and metal, the aesthetic sensitivity in which you enjoy the shape and form of the metal. ‘Sometimes you have an idea in your head and the skill lies in making the metal do just that. But sometimes the metal has ideas of its own, so you have to learn to go with the flow.’

John’s style is inventive and fresh, being predominantly self taught, save a couple of introductory sessions with blacksmith Adrian Wood at the Greystoke Cycle Café, near Penrith. This makes John’s pieces very much his own. He is clearly highly skilled with a great eye – the finished pieces are truly beautiful.

There’s a range of John’s work for sale upstairs at Yew Tree and, despite the creativity and physical effort that goes into them, they wouldn’t break the bank. But the main focus of John’s work is commissions and he talks of a genuine excitement when someone approaches him with an idea, large or small, and they start to explore how to bring the idea to life.

Projects include garden sculptures, seats, benches, gates, rose arches, bird feeders and, for inside the house, banisters, sweeping hand rails, tea light holders and companion sets. The only limits are really the size of what can be constructed within the confines of the workshop.

Now John is teaching others the skill. ‘The interest in the workshop has been huge, much more so than I was expecting,’ he says. ‘Everyone seems to associate with a blacksmith in some way, particularly those who remember when there was one in every village. It really does have a deeply ingrained, cultural resonance.’

It is not hard to understand the attraction. It is a fascinating place full of curious tools, each with their own story - some handmade, some prizes from the scrap yard, some discovered on eBay. There is even an ex-military portable forge that has probably had its day shoeing the cavalry.

‘It’s hard to explain why people are so drawn to it, perhaps because it is such an elemental craft. They’re often amazed at how quick and easy it is to work with.’

The interest is such that there are plans to turn part of the workshop into a viewing platform. ‘It’s quite rare these days to be able see a blacksmith at work,’ he says. ‘The forge has become a destination in its own right.’

John runs half and full day courses with participants introduced to the basic techniques. He will also be giving demonstrations in craft fairs across the region over the summer months. For instance, John will be at the Silverdale and Arnside Arts & Crafts Trail (Friday 26th June to Sunday 28th June).

John usually works Monday to Friday at Yew Tree Barn, Low Newton, Grange-over-Sands, Lancashire. LA11 6JP.015395 31498. John can be contacted on 07583 124769 or by email at john@bespokersforge.co.uk. He is also having a website built at www.bespokersforge.co.uk

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