Heritage Blacksmithing – funded by HLF ‘Skills for the Future’

The National Heritage Ironwork Group’s (NHIG) first eight trainees, selected from applicants from all over the UK, started their Heritage Blacksmiths Bursary training programme on 23 May.  These semi-skilled blacksmiths, six men and two women, will be the first to receive one year of specialised Blacksmith Conservator training as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) ‘Skills for the Future’ programme.

It has long been recognised that our Heritage Ironwork has suffered from a lack of readily available trained and skilled practitioners in conservation practice and although there are several high quality firms specialising in restoration ironwork, the size of our ironwork heritage is so vast it means that inappropriate and damaging processes and treatments are being applied countrywide to often unique and irreplaceable artefacts almost on a daily basis.

The NHIG Heritage Blacksmith Bursary has been put in place to address this need by providing the beginnings of a skilled and experienced cohort of practitioners able not only to work on sensitive ironwork artefacts but also to work effectively with fellow professionals in the field.  It is an advanced training programme that broadens the skills and experience of blacksmiths involved in historic ironwork repairs by bringing together the best of blacksmithing craft practise and the philosophy and ethics of conservation.

44 year old bursary student Alexander Coode said: ‘I am passionate about the heritage of ironwork and feel that the protection of antique ironwork is of vital importance for the conservation of heritage sites and am keen to play whatever role is possible in support of this aim.  I believe that the completion of the Heritage Blacksmith course would be an invaluable asset in establishing the necessary benchmarks to be followed in undertaking any future restoration project.’

The course is a one year full time commitment catering for eight students per year, with a total number of sixteen, over the two year programme.  It provides real and relevant training made up of a series of practical skill-based and conservation-based work placements.  The first placement is at Hampton Court Palace where students will gain practical experience of ironwork conservation and holding repair works under the supervision of a specialist conservator.  In July they will learn pure conservation in a museum environment, at Hereford Museum, The Royal Armouries and Birmingham Museum where amongst other things they will have the chance to work on the Staffordshire Hoard of medieval goldsmiths’ work.  Thereafter the students will visit a number of established blacksmiths’ workshops for periods of on-the-job training.

The bursary programme has been enhanced by the inclusion of a five week block release course in the conservation of ironwork at Hereford College of Technology (HCT) – the leading British training establishment for forgework skills.  The HCT syllabus has been specially developed to complement the work-based learning in order that the student receives an holistic education programme with essential underpinning knowledge.  Trainees will attend HCT for one week at a time between workshop placement swaps.

The bursary will culminate in the achievement of the NHIG Award for Blacksmithing Conservation.  This is a competency work-based award covering specialist units in forgework conservation, which formally offers students the opportunity to demonstrate the skills gained during the course.  The award standards are derived from Construction Skills National Occupation Standards for Heritage skills level 3 blacksmithing option route with an assessment process that reflects the accepted NVQ Level 3 model.  This is aimed at ensuring long lasting value and recognition of the qualification gained and the possibility of linkage to any future courses that are developed from this programme after it has ended.

The college part of this programme is seen as the first step in the process of developing and building a permanent heritage blacksmithing training route.  Although current funding will run out after two years the project is intended to be the pump priming for an ongoing requirement for training and qualification in the sector.  This is seen as a requirement at present in other built heritage craft sectors when engaging individuals/companies and the field of heritage ironwork deserves no less.  NHIG are not alone in this view and are proud to announce that having reviewed our training plan English Heritage have endorsed this programme.

Bill Martin, Conservation Director for English Heritage said: ‘The field of architectural metals conservation has for too long awaited a framework to successfully bind together the essential skills of the metals conservator and the conservation blacksmith; the aims of the National Heritage Ironwork Group will go a long way to deliver this.  English Heritage fully support these aims and we intend to contribute in every way that we can to ensure their successful development.'

For more information on the bursary aims and objectives as well as how it has been set up and is being run you can download the ‘Heritage Blacksmiths Bursary Programme Overview’ from the bursaries page of the NHIG website.