Back to Black

After finding out about the Millenium Gates at Christ Church, created by contemporary Master Blacksmith, David Tucker, at his Derbyshire forge, I was interested to see if there was any trace of the many smithys and forges Lichfield once had. Using a town plan of Lichfield from 1884 & trade directories from the late 19th and early 20th century, I came up with a list of those whose location I thought I could roughly identify.

A weathervane I spotted on my travels

The locations are: Upper St John St;  Lombard St; Bakers Lane (3 in this area according to the map!) and Beacon St.

I headed to Lombard St first but it occured to me on the way over, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for anyway? There might be some sort of clue I suppose, but surely there wouldn’t be a sign saying this used to be a forge…..

Well almost! Apparently, behind this facade is a building dating back to the late 17th century. To the right of the house is the workshop in the photo below – the listed building description describes it as ‘an interesting building where further investigation might reveal other early features’.

Workshop on Lombard St.

Before getting too carried away though, on the 1884 map of Lichfield, the smithy is shown on the other side of Lombard St. So this contradiction is a bit of a puzzle…. At home I tried to find out more – on the 1881 census for Lombard St is a Mr Joseph Baxter, blacksmith and his wife Catherine. On the 1896 directory, there is a Mrs J Baxter, blacksmith, Lombard St and the 1901 census seems to confirm that Catherine Baxter, now a fifty year old widow, took over her husband’s trade and was working as a shoeing smith, at 3 Lombard St.

1884 map indicated the Lombard St smithy may have been around here?

Next stop was Bakers Lane. I wasn’t holding out any hope for anything here but in the interests of a comprehensive search I had a look. Plus I needed some milk. As suspected, on face value there doesn’t appear to be much left of anything here.

So I headed for Upper St John St, where it looks as though a smithy (possibly listed to Fred Meacham in 1900) existed either alongside or within the Lichfield Brewery. I couldn’t find anything obvious here on the street, but later at home I did find a newspaper story telling how in July 1903, Mr Meacham, a blacksmith at the City Brewery had a terrible accident being run over by a horse float, after helping in a hayfield. Although Mr Meacham sustained a serious injury, the 1911 census shows that he did return to work as a blacksmith.

Whilst looking at the newspaper archive I found this notice taken out by William Goodwin in the Friday July 11 1902 edition of the Mercury. In it, he advised ‘Nobility, Gentry, Farmers & Others’, that he had taken over the blacksmith’s shop on Beacon St, lately occupied by George Goodwin.

Is there any physical trace of the forge on Beacon St though? Well yes and no. While nothing seems to remain of the building (as far as I could see), the road next to The Feathers pub is ‘Forge Lane’ and the road off this one is ‘Smithy Lane’.

 Footnotes!

In exploring this subject and related matters, I’ve had some great discussions with and help from BrownhillsBob so a big thank you to him.

Although I couldn’t see anything at some of the locations, that’s not to say there is nothing there…..

A few doors up from Catherine Baxter on Tamworth St, in 1881, another widow, Louisa Wood is listed as a ‘Plumber & Decorator’. Ann Tricklebank on Sandford St seems to take over her husband’s trade as a tin worker. I’d not ever thought about the role of women in these traditionally male trades before, so this is something I’d like to find out more about.

Even in 2007, the idea of a female blacksmith seemed to create much excitement in a national ‘newspaper’ with talk of ‘hot stuff’ and ‘unladylike professions’ and ‘an ancient art more traditionally associated with barrel-chested macho men’.

Almost 200 years ago, there are seven blacksmiths listed in the 1818 Lichfield Directory and by 1834 there were 10 – in Market St, Birmingham Rd, Sandford St & Tamworth St, as well as some of those mentioned above.

In surrounding areas there are of course also traces of blacksmiths. For example, in Burntwood there’s a Forge Lane, an Old Forge at Fisherwick, and an old smithy in Fradley. Even further afield, you can see some photos of Staffordshire smiths on the Staffs Past Track website.  

Using the town plan for Lichfield prompted me to see if there was one for Cirencester, where in the late 19th century, my g-g-g-grandfather ran a pub. I had read a while back that it’s no longer a pub so I had a quick look at it on the town plan to see where it would have been. Funnily enough, at the rear of the pub is a smithy and in the 1901 census my g-g-g-grandfather is listed as a Blacksmith & Innkeeper. Maybe that explains why I’m interested in blacksmiths and erm, pubs 😉

Update 19.2.202

Bob has very kindly put a post on his blog about the forge, with four great old maps of Lichfield. There are some great comments and based on these it looks as though the workshop was the smithy & the 1884 town plan may have it wrong. Also, you’ll see that Roger (@ziksby on twitter) has found 34 blacksmiths on the 1881 census. 34!

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archives

1884 Town Plan Lichfield

Staffordshire General & Commercial Directory 1818

Whites History, Gazeteer & Directory of Staffordshire `1834

Kellys Directory of Staffordshire 1896, 1900 & 1912

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10 thoughts on “Back to Black

  1. When I was at King Eddie’s, the sweet shop on St. John Street was called The Forge. It is now Booze King or some similar name. Soooo, I’m gonna do a Doops-like investigation and say that THAT was The Forge! It looked like a Forge inside, I know that much.

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    • Hi Ian! That’s very, very chin strokingly interesting! I think I know the one you mean – a black & white building on the corner of Davidson Rd? I’ve had a look through the maps from 1884 onwards and the smithy does seem to be on the opposite side of the road – another conflict between a building name and what’s showing on a map like on Lombard St. So I wonder what’s going on here? You know what I’d like to do too? Get around the back of some of these places because there are so many old buildings with new facades and outbuildings in Lichfield. Doops get your deerstalker on!

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  2. This is great Kate. I remember opposite Forge Lane use to be Betty Bakers shop where she sold loads of different sweets, now Sugar Surgeons I think. I remember the children use to get their Jubblies from Betty’s back in the early 70’s. It is also interesting to note there use to be 3 newagents/ sweet shops in Beacon Street back in the 70’s. I was a child of Beacon Street many many years ago. The old Forge (Black Smiths on Beacon Street is where the building is opposite the Feathers Pub (The Feathers use to have an outdoor and a smoke room last time I had a drink in it) . This building where the old Forge use to be is next to where a small block of flats were built on the corner of Greenhough Road. I know this for definate because my Father got his anvil from there and I remember seeing the remains of the Forge (Blacksmiths) as a child. The old Forge was a barn type garage for a while before it was made in to an extension of the house next door. This must be the same one unless there is another? Hope that helps.

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    • That’s brilliant thank you & it’s great to hear about other places on Beacon St. I think it must be the same forge. When would you say it stopped being a smithy? I’m glad they used those street names, to let people know what used to be there. I’ll have to go to the Heritage Centre and see what old photos they have.

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  3. Although Lichfield has a wealth of old buildings it has quickly evolved so buildings
    used for industry or transport of farming have to a great extent been lost Bakers
    lane is a good example it has been rebuilt twice in my lifetime with new roads
    been built and old building having new faces transplanted it is hard to trace
    past use of buildings but if anyone can Kate can .

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    • That’s another really interesting thing about Lichfield – how many of the buildings have modern (ish) facades masking older buildings I wonder? I think now when things like shopping centres are built they have to do an archaeological survey to see what’s at the site first but I don’t know when this started to happen.

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  4. Reference the sweet shop now known as Booze King or similar on Upper St Johns. There was a 90+ year old customer who remembered the site as a blacksmiths when he was a boy.

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    • Thanks for the information. That’s really interesting & also matches up with Ian’s recollections. I have a list of blacksmiths from the census kindly provided by someone. Just shows how important different sources of information are. Cheers, Kate

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  5. Really interesting reading all about the forge on Beacon St. I am researching my family tree and my grandfather who was a blacksmith lived at 134 Beacon St. Would that be the same forge? His name was George Goodwin and his parents were Enoch and Francis (Fanny) Goodwin. He previously worked in the family forge in Wheel Lane and in the 1871census his father is recorded as blacksmith and licensed victualler. I do not live in Litchfield so have no knowledge of the area. He met my grandmother, Lavinia Harvey, when she was in service with a family who were millers. Was there a mill near Beacon Street in the late 19th century? Any info much appreciated.

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    • Thanks Margaret. Yes I think it would be that forge! I made a typo in my post and actually what I have is an advertisement from the Lichfield Mercury dated Friday July 11th 1902 letting telling everyone that William Goodwin has taken over the Blacksmiths Shop (known at The Forge) in Beacon St from George Goodwin. On Wheel Lane, there is an old windmill! Here is the listed building entry http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-382650-old-windmill-house-lichfield-staffordshi. I do have a photo of it, and can send you this along with the advertisement if you like? Enoch Goodwin also turns up in Kelly’s Directory of Staffordshire 1896 as a blacksmith on Beacon St. Hope that helps a little. I’d love to find out more about it too!

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