Geoff Taylor and Geoff Dodd Interview on Tulip Radio
Chris Carter: . . .Geoff Taylor and Geoff Dodd who are concerned with the forge in Spalding which probably many of you, myself included, know really very little about. Who would like to start, which Geoff would like to start? Where is the forge for a start?
Geoff Taylor: The forge is in the High Street in Spalding and as you go along the High Street from the Anchor Pub you go past The Vine on your left you come a white building that sits on the riverside of the actual road and then just past that is a low building which is the forge.
Chris Is it called the forge? Or Spalding Forge or what is it called?
Geoff T We’re going to call it Chain Bridge
Geoff Dodd It’s always been called Chain Bridge Forge
Geoff T Alright, OK
Chris So it’s Chain Bridge Forge.
Geoff T Yes
Chris And again it’s one of those buildings, one of the very rare buildings that are between the road, the High Street and the river.
Geoff T Yes
Chris The Anchor Pub, the late Anchor Pub sadly is one of them
Geoff T Yes that’s right
Chris So, just give us a brief idea of the history of it, when did it begin operating as far as you know?
Geoff D We reckon it was probably built a bit before 1800 by a blacksmith who already had another business on the London Road at the other end of the town and it was leased to a Francis South round about 1800. Joseph Rose himself died in 1811. Francis South occupied the building and the little cottage which we also presume Joseph Rose had built just on the other side of the road. He was followed by an Edward Fisher who occupied it for nearly another 50 years. My grandfather bought it in 1898
Chris Is it still in your family’s hands?
Geoff D Yes, well no, . . . my father worked in the shop with his father and then in 1947 when I was doing national service my father was seriously ill. My grandfather was then 81, still shoeing horses, bless his heart, and he was only alive for a year. From then on I was on my own until Father recovered. The building itself was neglected because the Council informed us they were going to straighten out the road and demolish it anyway.
Chris We’re still waiting!
Geoff D We didn’t do any maintenance until we discovered that those plans had been dropped.
Chris Right so, in the days when it was first established, erm, I’m guessing that, er, probably its prime function was for horses or was it for something else?
Geoff D I would think that probably, well I know I’ve got grandfather’s old day books from 1913 and horse shoeing in those days made up almost half the business I would think at that time.
Chris Because, of course, horses were the prime movers I guess you could say at that time, for goods and so on and being a predominantly agricultural area, many horses were used on the land as well.
Geoff D Exactly, yes, although my grandfather always referred to it as a town shop so there was . . .
Chris Well, this is why I’m slightly confused because I guess that ladies who lunch as I call them today, would have had a device for taking them away to various hostelries in the area and the gentlemen of the area again would require horses for their carriages so I guess that that is the difference, is it?
Geoff D Probably, the, around about the First World War time there were still, I understand, a hundred horses stabled within a hundred yards of the workshop. Birches, the corn merchants and millers had 40 I think, for drays and delivery work. There was a hay and straw merchant just across the road from the workshop. He would have had some and then there were a number of big houses in that area who would all probably have had a couple of light horses for the carriage.
Chris Cley hall being one.
Geoff D Well, that of course, belonged to the Birch family, the millers.
Chris I didn’t realise that.
Geoff D And probably the big house next door ….. from the 30s on would probably have had a pony for the gardener as well.
Chris Extraoardinary, isn’t it? So what other items did the forge and at that time when it was first established I guess Spalding was still a port, wasn’t it?
Geoff D It was indeed and probably less in my grandfather’s time than Edward Fisher before him from roundabout 1850-60. I’ve got Edward Fisher’s account books and there was considerable amount of work he was doing for boats at that time. The pages of the account book are headed by, in many cases, the name of a sloop and the name of the captain and you can see Fisher had done several jobs on the boat or for the skipper over a few days and then the name didn’t appear again for perhaps two weeks or four weeks, it had probably been up to Newcastle taking corn or produce or whatever and bringing back coal.
Chris So what sort of work would they have done on the boats?
Geoff D Ha, ha, er, repairs to the ironwork on the boat, repairing anchors and anchor chains. Actually there was a hole in the wall at the back of the workshop where an anchor chain could be dragged in from the boat and repaired and pulled back into and they wouldn’t have to disconnect it from the boat probably. Repairs, I remember an item there, repairing the stove on the boat, they lived on the boat. Could be repairing stoves
Chris Which would have been cast iron I suppose?
Geoff D Er, probably, yes.
Chris Very interesting. So, when did the boat, when did Spalding cease to be an important port?
Geoff D In the late 1800s I should think, it would be tapering off then.
Chris Right and the river at that stage was navigable, the twin bridges weren’t there, the Coronation Channel wasn’t there and up until after 1947 Spalding did suffer from floods quite a bit. So that was one of the reasons the Coronation Channel was built. So prior to that the riverside was a fairly bustling haven and area I expect.
Geoff D Not really in the time I can remember but it would have been when my father was a lad and grandfather’s time. Only Birchs were using the river and they were only flat bottomed barges coming up from Fosdyke, no sea going ships came up at the time I can remember.
Chris Yes, one forgets that it’s only a few years ago that Fosdyke Bridge was used to swing open didn’t it.
Chris Was welded shut and there was a freighter just inside Fosdyke Bridge that never made it out, was dismantled but I don’t know when Fosdyke Bridge was put in, do you?
Geoff The original bridge …
Chris I guess there was a need for the A17 to cross the river via a bridge rather than, I suppose a ferry.
Geoff Yes, I really don’t know, I would think about the mid 1800s, maybe a bit before, I would suppose about the same time as Sutton Bridge.
Chris Because at Sutton Bridge, the iron bridge at Sutton Bridge and Fosdyke have remarkable similarities and that was the railway don’t forget, at Sutton Bridge. Yes, I can remember the railway going through Sutton Bridge on one side and the road going the other side. In fact we were talking about this yesterday, weren’t we Geoff, that the railway used to go down where the road now is and the road used to go on the board which is the bit above. You could look down the railway going between Spalding and Kings Lynn I suppose. Interesting times, so back to Spalding, I mean, so you’re saying that really in the latter days Spalding port was really only a grain port.
Geoff Yes, I think mainly agricultural produce out and coal and building materials coming in.
Chris What about Geest because Geest was the importer of bananas and I understood that at one point the bananas came into Spalding
Geoff Well they did but not by boat.
Chris Right and the boats were never used despite having Geest Line
Geoff Oh no, Geest Line were sea going ships to the West Indies.
Chris Yes but where did they dock here, do they dock in Spalding
Geoff No, in London Docks, in Wales, er I’ve forgotten
Chris So they dock
Geoff Docked in Wales and transported by road to Spalding.
Chris Extraordinary isn’t it. Nowadays that would take a very long time from Wales
Geoff And they all came on the stems
Chris O did they
Geoff Yes, not in boxes, on stems which were hung in storage rooms and again at this end of Geests in ripening rooms which were temperature and atmosphere controlled and the hands of bananas were cut from the stems for marketing.
Geoff T I can remember my father taking me to London docks and exactly the same thing there. You had these areas underneath the wharf area where the bananas came in off the boats on the stems and they were hung up and it wasn’t uncommon to find a snake in amongst the bananas that would come in as part of the cargo. And they would sort of put a gas through to fumigate them to actually get rid of all that incoming and was in my lifetime which was 50 yrs ago back into London Docks.
Jan There was talk that years ago, not that many years ago there used to come in the boxes big spiders and they would come
Geoff Yes, that was true
Jan They could come and be delivered to the stores as well sometimes and there would be a spider, you’d often hear about that.
Chris And they weren’t very nice spiders either.
Jan So Geoff, are you a blacksmith then really by trade?
Geoff Er, yes, I suppose. Er, I came into the business I said when my father was ill. My grandfather was 81, he was only alive for a year so that was my apprenticeship but I was 19 yrs. old, I was released from the army because of the agricultural need for a blacksmith. But I knew what it was all about but
Chris But you hadn’t got involved in the business as a youth before then
Geoff Oh no, not at all except for watching, and I said grandfather was still shoeing at 81. Within a couple of days I think of being released from the army, there weren’t many horses then, I should think back proabably three every two weeks as an average. I was certainly pulling off horseshoes within two days and I think I was actually nailing a shoe on within a couple of weeks of coming home. I’d seen it so many times and I knew what it was about.
Jan That’s what you used to do, that was your job.
Geoff Yes but on, not more on average, than three a fortnight. Most of the horses had gone very quickly after the war. It’s staggering to think how many horses were knackered in the first few months when the war ended and tractors became available again and fuel but there was machinery, agricultural machinery for most farm crops, sugar beet and potatoes but there wasn’t machinery, viable machinery, for bulbs. The Dutch had automatic machines but their land was much lighter than ours and their bulb lifters couldn’t cope with the heavier land that we’ve got over here so they were still ploughing and ploughing out bulbs using horses for a number of years. The whole system has changed, instead of, bulbs were planted in beds of about 5 rows, then a path and then another five rows. Then they discovered that bulbs could be planted like potatoes using a ridger plough which made the whole job much easier because all farmers had got ridgers and potato ploughs for taking them up.
Chris And that’s what you see today actually with the daffodils prevalent in the area all in ridged up.
Geoff That’s right, all in ridges
Jan So Geoff, what made you get involved, I can see you’re fairly close, you obviously know a lot about what the other Geoff is doing. What made you become involved.
Geoff T I think my early recollections of going to a blacksmiths was when I was a little boy and, not living round here, but it was my treat for going to the dentist. I was, they used to take me to, I never wanted to go to the dentist so it was the promise of going to the blacksmiths shop. It was the treat that went with it. And I still have those memories of going to workshop and seeing him.
Jan Did you get involved?
Geoff No, no, it was just looking, it was really quite an enjoyable experience. It was magical. I always think of blacksmithing as like being with a steam train – there’s lots of noise, there’s fire, there’s an atmosphere with being there in a blacksmith’s workshop and that captivated me then. I went off and did an engineering apprenticeship, telecoms, learnt all the basic skills of that, went off and did lots of other things and then I came back to live here and I think I was on a heritage day. I walked in and saw this wonderful blacksmiths shop, it was round about 2006. That is fantastic.
Jan So it sort of brought you back to your childhood.
Chris I must say I can remember in the village I grew up in just over the border from Lincolnshire, the blacksmith shop had shut years ago because once upon a time every village had a forge in it and the next village which was Tydd St. Mary had an active forge and I can actually recall what you said there, Geoff. I used to stand around and watch this chap being kicked by horses and putting the metal in the bellows and getting it heated up and then try to nail it back on or nail some things back on the horse and the horse kicking again. It was quite fascinating.
Geoff Yes, it really was a magical er … As a little boy I really enjoyed the experience of going, so, yes … that’s er … I think it’s such a wonderful building ‘cos it’s 200 years of history.
Chris So can I just stop you there, we’re talking to Geoff Taylor here, erm when you first saw it in 2006 how long had it been unused ‘cos apparently it’s like a time warp, nothing has happened inside for years is that right?
Geoff That’s …
Geoff D Not quite
Geoff We’ve done, Geoff has done, has worked in there and done a little bit of work in there but in essence the building, when it was sold to the Council in 1989, there was … the work has been done to renovate the structure and the roof of it but you still go in there and Geoff’s tools and his materials are there as though he closed the door one night and had moved away and that’s it the time warp of him just coming out of it 30 odd years ago.
Chris That’s actually tremendous to hear as all too often I do occasionally go to country pubs drink a bit and there is a fashion for putting these sorts of old tools as decoration in pubs and many people haven’t got the faintest idea what they were for. And once they’re out of the forge they’re lost for ever.
Geoff D Yes
Geoff And it’s the setting that makes them because you can see something but you don’t understand its context or how it was used. You put it into the forge and then you can start seeing it hanging up against on the forge front, how the tongs were used, how the anvil was used. The things start to come to life ‘cos you can then put that picture all together.
Jan So are you all cleared up …………. to try and get back to its originality (sorry could barely hear what Jan was saying)
Geoff I think the thing is we’re not trying to clean it up, we’re trying to re-interpret what’s there because if we clean it up that’s not how the forge was and so we’re very keen to preserve the look of a working forge. But take parts of it to be able to then demonstrate Geoff’s life, the craft of being a blacksmith and the social history because the blacksmith was Mr. Fix It in the days when we used to items, we didn’t, it wasn’t the consumer society we have today. We make do and mend society and the farmers used to come to Geoff for repairing things and his workshop had things in it which meant that he could instantly do it. And so that was a very different way of life and I think that’s the important story to tell because people have got to understand. Alright, we’re a consumer, we throw stuff away but eventually we’ll come back to being a fix it society and that concept needs to be preserved.
Chris So what is your role, Geoff Taylor, you say SHDC has bought it so when are you going to start/sell?
Chris 1989 – what was the plan behind that, that purchase?
Geoff At the time they purchased it they were going to conserve the building and repair it which they did in conjunction with English Heritage and then people changed and then really then it became a time warp because nothing more happened except from Geoff occasionally going in there working it and that was … and he would open it for days so that people could come in and look at it what was going on, however, erm, what happened was, er as I say I heard about it and have been trying to persuade the Council to let, well the Council have had an opportunity through Ayscoughfee, to try and develop it, erm, a few years ago but it came to nothing. Erm, I got involved and had just retired and had the time, and the energy still to actually try and do something with this lovely building and so since October last year we have been trying to create a project, get funding that we can then take this project forward.
Chris That’s incredible. Have you achieved funding yet or are you still seeking this?
Geoff I have some funding, yes, and I’m in discussion at the moment with Heritage Lottery Fund for additional funding and we hope to get £50k from the Lottery to be able to take this and to tell this wonderful story of the blacksmith.
Chris So will it be a visitor attraction, obviously, will there be a, as seems fashionable, a learning centre around it?
Geoff Yes, I think that’s almost certainly what …
Jan Like the schools education ?????…… and come and see it
Jan Because you have had some tours in there already, haven’t you?
Geoff Yes we have and we’re trying to set up a partnership with the Gleed School because the building, with health and safety today, bringing young children in and letting them have an experience of the forge is quite a difficult job. What we are hoping to do is a future project is for the Gleed School to set up a workshop so that they can demonstrate the blacksmith and train people to become blacksmiths and try and keep alive traditional crafts. So that the link we hope …
Jan And that’s with the students thinking they might try and train the students to do similar things.
Geoff The students, hobbies, blacksmiths and there are a suitable number that are interested in .. it’s a revival of traditional crafts basically.
Jan Right, em, Geoff I know you’ve had dealings with the Flower Parade, talking about the Flower Parade that’s coming up soon, that must give you a lot of pleasure to see it, so what dealings did you have with the Flower Parade … (can’t hear what she says) … can you help follow it on.
Geoff D I really had been wondering for a while how my working life would go ahead. The workshop is primitive to say the least, it wasn’t the sort of place to make much of a living in. My grandfather made a reasonable living and my father less so. But now the state of the building and the floor and everything and I was seriously wondering whether to move into a more modern premises and put some machinery in or give up altogether which I think is probably what I’ve done, would have done because I never intended because I never intended being a blacksmith anyway.
Jan Have you been to Birchgrove, the Museum, have you been to see that?
Geoff I have indeed, yes.
Jan But that is absolutely amazing, when you were talking at the beginning it sort of made me think about what they’ve done down there and thinking about the equipment and so on. So is that the sort of thing you’re trying to do in the Forge?
Geoff Not really I would say. I don’t quite like the word museum but there isn’t an alternative. It’s a traditional workshop which we hope will be showing people the traditional …
Chris So is it your wish then to fire the forge up at regular intervals and demonstrate how it is still a working place?
Geoff Yes indeed. I think my demonstrating days are over now.
Jan Ah but with your help …
Geoff Yes that’s right
Jan someone can follow on from you.
Geoff Yes, yes, we will have.
Jan So getting back to the Flower Parade, what did you actually do? How did you work with them?
Geoff Well, the Flower Parade ….
Jan This obviously must be about 50 years ago.
Geoff Yes, rather more. In a way it saved my life, perhaps financially, because I’m not a particularly good businessman but the job wasn’t stretching me, mentally, it was interesting, mending this and mending that, and, yes, I was quite enjoying life I suppose but it wasn’t giving me enough to think about and flower parade cropped up. I wasn’t involved with the first parade at all but one of my customers who was a bulb merchant wanted to enter a float in the parade. He was a Dutchman and personally knew Mr. van Driel who had been invited to design the floats for the parade. He brought Mr. van Driel along and introduced me and said I think this is the chap you’re looking for. And I build his float and one other for the second parade. The third year I certainly built three, possibly five, and within a very few years I was building three-quarters of the floats and within a few more years practically the whole of the parade for 43 years.
Chris Good grief and these were based, obviously those days, 58-60-62 based on contemporary tractors at the time and of course things have moved on but those tractors are still there, aren’t they?
Geoff Well, that’s part of their problem, I think. Tractors these days have got bigger and bigger. They were small and medium sized tractors which were used …
Jan And they’ve got more a lot more pleasant now, Geoff, to sit in, they’ve got music, comfortable seats and everything …
Geoff We borrow tractors from various farmers and collectors of vintage tractors would lend us their float and we built the float and then put the tractor in a day or two before the Flower Parade.
Chris So, you’re saying there’s a problem and currently, you know, people are saying to us and someone said the other day well of course the problem with the Spalding Flower Parade there’s always a breakdown with a float. They must understand that the tractors underneath them are, you know, pretty old and, you know, it’s a pretty hot day typically and there’s cooling problems. Your car explodes when it’s hot so why shouldn’t the tractor.
Geoff Tractors are made to work at slow speeds ..
Chris But not with a flower float wrapped round it though.
Geoff Oh, as far as the amount of work a tractor’s doing a float doesn’t really compare with ploughing with a two or three furrow for a small tractor anyway, two or three furrow plough. It’s negligible on a smooth road.
Jan So did that give you a lot of pleasure seeing what you’ve done as it goes down the street every year?
Geoff Yes, indeed, it was great for the first few years I used to stand at the side of the road with my two daughters, watching the parade and think .. er, no conceit, I’ve done all this and I’m in the middle of a crowd and nobody knows and that was rather nice.
Chris When did you stop providing this expertise to the Flower Parade?
Geoff Well it tapered of a bit because the Flower Parade peaked, what 15, 20, no, more than that now, all of 20 years ago, it peaked and then ..
Chris And so you’re saying around the 70s. mid-late 70s,
Geoff Yes, it would be, it’s difficult to remember now, about then and it began to taper off though but there were problems with the .. well, there was a national financial crisis wasn’t there and the sponsorship money just wasn’t there any more and it tapered off. I was getting older so that didn’t matter at all because I was happy with rather less work and eventually we found another blacksmith I didn’t know and we worked together for a couple of years or rather more. I was building, helping with the Churches Together float so I was still involved a little bit but gradually, I didn’t suddenly retire, the whole thing just tapered off as I was tapering off at the same, I suppose.
Geoff But you did export the flower parade to Egypt, was it you went to?
Geoff D Yes, one, Lingarden took their .. instead of entering it into the Spalding Parade they took their float to a food and farming exhibition, a national exhibition in Hyde Park. An Egyptian man who also had a business in this country, an advertising business, saw the float, enquired of the young lady who was riding on it the origin of it and the following day, that’s a Sunday after our parade, he came up to Spalding and telephoned me, no, came to Spalding, looked at the floats, entrepreneur that he was thought there was something her for me, telephoned, had a telephone call – would I be interested in building another parade. And I said well, when. He said well it would be September. I said that would fit in alright but where. He said, well Alexandria. The whole thing was part of an enormous presentation and there would be trade shows and dramatic performances on boats off the corniche, the prom on boats on the river, lots of other things, celebration of Alexandria. Apparently there are 50 Alexandrias all over the world and they were inviting representatives from every town and village. It was all a bit optimistic I think, in fact in a way, a bit farcical. It did, in fact, make a small paragraph in the satirical magazine, Private Eye. So I’ve got, had my name in Private Eye. I’d checked what about flowers – we have plenty of flowers, tractors – we have plenty of tractors, it was just a little bit, a little bit farcical.
Chris So did it happen?
Geoff It .. I don’t know, we built floats in Alexandria …
Chris You actually went to Alexandria?
Geoff I went to Alexandria, yes and we, we built some floats. Then for some reason the whole thing moved to Cairo and the Alexandria thing fell through I think. We moved, put the floats we’d got finished on lorries to Cairo and started again. In the end I had to leave to come back to Spalding parade and I don’t know to this day whether that parade was actually held or what.
Jan So they didn’t send you any pictures then, Geoff, they didn’t send you anything of the final …
Geoff Well, ha, ha, there were financial problems as well and I didn’t hear very much again but I would have done the whole thing over again even under the same terms and conditions. It was an experience. I was there several months.
Chris I bet it was. That’s extraordinary, I’d no idea that story existed. I had visions of you in creating all these floats from in the forge in the High Street. Plainly space was a little premium and when you did the flower parade anyway, did you actually work from the forge then when you did the flower parade in its heyday?
Geoff For the first couple of years we built the floats on the road in High Street outside the workshop ..
Jan That would never happen now.
Geoff No, no, a police sargeant walking past with a constable, we knew them both, and the sargeant said to the constable – I reckon we ought to run these two in don’t you think? We all knew each other very well but High Street was, in 1952, was nothing like as busy, couldn’t possibly be done today.
Chris No no
Jan Have you ever had the chance to go to Jersey, Geoff?
Geoff Yes, I’ve we’ve seen the Jersey parade. I have a cousin lives in Jersey and I made myself known to some official, explained what I did here, and they’d heard of the Spalding Parade of course …..
Chris Very interesting, similar, yet different arrangement there in Jersey. The thing that struck us when we went was the enormous sense of community spirit…..
Christ they engendered there which I know was prevalent here in Spalding initially but it faded away didn’t it?
Geoff Yes a bit. The different parts of Jersey promote their own float and of course, for tourism reasons it pays but it’s also a hobby for a lot of people. I mean they spend a year, perhaps not the whole year …
Jan They have a competition, Geoff, they do a competition between each village …
Geoff That’s right
Jan And that’s how it goes forward each year. They seem to get more and more and bigger and bigger designs and it’s the best one throughout the villages that actually go into the finale and then there’s a big award winning ceremony actually on one of the evenings.
Geoff That’s right but there are, the prizes are distributed fairly generously, I think, so that the competition doesn’t actually spoil the parade. I understand that in Holland they have or had a competition there and big sponsors wanted to win and began spending more money and more money and more money in competition with somebody else until neither of them could really afford what they were doing and it was a disadvantage.
Chris We could do with some big sponsors here in Spalding for the Flower Parade I’m thinking.
Geoff I’m sure we could, yes, yes if the money were there.
Chris That’s exactly …
Jan But Geoff, are you intending getting involved or are you already involved with what’s going on with the flower parade now?
Geoff T No, I’m not actually, I’m a relative new person to the town so, er, I’ve been to the flower parade and I’ve viewed the flower parade, think it’s a fantastic event but no I haven’t got involved is the answer to your question.
Chris So now you’re, you’re, what is your role in this forge project? You’re leading it aren’t you?
Geoff T Yes. I’m working with the Council, we’re setting up a company that will manage the forge as we go forward and will have the property on a lease from the Council. That’s the start of it. We’re now virtually at that point, we’ve got a … we’ll then start up the Friends of the Forge and we’re very keen to hear of people that are interested in the forge and wanting to take an active part in conserving it or preserving it whichever you like to say and we’re hoping to set up as part of the Heritage Lottery Funding a programme which will mean that we can record, orally record the history of people that used the forge. We can do the full historical research around the forge, the buildings, what was there and when did it start and then gradually develop that history in conjection or in conjunction with Geoff, all the records that he’s got. We can create a chronology that will tell the whole story of it. Geoff also has a whole wealth of knowledge about the blacksmith’s trade, the farrier’s trade and we want to try and tell that story. There’s also a wheelright plate by the side of the forge and we want to tell how the actual wheels and metal rims that went round the outside of it were actually put on because we can demonstrate that as a capability within the forge. Also, so we’re very keen to make this a participative activity so we really want people to come out – have you got reminiscints of Geoff and using Geoff in the past. We would love to hear from you about that because that will add to the colour of what we’re and the story that we wanted to … have you got pictures of the forge, have you got pictures of shoeing horses … All of those sorts of things we would love to hear about and to be, you know, if have them …
Jan You’d like a copy
Geoff Please, if that was possible
Jan So, so, Geoff, how do people get hold of you to sort of participate in anything that you want? How do they get hold of you?
Geoff Well, there’s a number of ways. I live at 107 Hawthorn Bank, Spalding, PE11 1JQ. I have an email address email@example.com and I also have a telephone number which is 07960 587724.
Chris So lots of points of contact there. Erm, now this is still a fledgling project isn’t it? I suppose that it’s your long-term aim to form the company to actually own the building because currently, as you say, it is owned by SHDC, no doubt in view of the imminent and current spending cuts it’s their intention to divest themselves of everything they own, maybe this is one of them, I don’t know. Is that your aim?
Geoff T No, I think, we wouldn’t… we would like to keep the building as, er, on a lease … not to take over the liabilities of a 200 year old building if we can possibly do it. Clearly that is some discussion to take around, will be around that but I think for us, going forward that would be the more sensible way of going forward so we would have it on a 25 year lease basically.
Jan And everyone is in agreement with all this and obviously the Council must be party to some of this and obviously happy with what you’re doing.
Geoff The Council are very much part of it and Nick Worth has been extremely supportive and Cllr Laughton has been very very supportive in actually making this happen. The Portfolio report which sets it all out, I think is, it should be approved today or tomorrow so we’re hoping that this is now, er we’ll get our formal lease and we’ll be able to move on from this point
Chris Why, why was the decision taken in ’89 to, by the Council to buy the forge, what, what was the reason behind that?
Geoff D The building was deteriorating, part of the roof was beginning to fall in and I received a rather formal letter from a chap I .. Norman Humphries who I had known a long time, telephoned. They were asking what I intended doing with the building. I telephoned Norman, does this have to be kept at this very formal level … no he said, I’ll come and see you. I think what the Council really had in mind was to put a closure order on the building which was probably what it deserved. I mean, it wouldn’t have paid me to do the repairs. It would have been much better to have moved into another property. They, Norman … I’ll bring somebody from the office and he brought five people from different departments. Suzannah was then curator of the Ayscoughfee Museum, one of her colleagues and three others and I don’t think, apart from Norman, I don’t think the other five barely knew the workshop existed and I remember clearly, as they went inside, one of them said we can’t let this go. And they couldn’t, couldn’t put money into it, of course, unless they owned it so I sold it to the Council for £1 which I never saw and …
Chris There’s a certain amount of interest paid, I’m, sure (couldn’t quite understand what was said!)
Geoff Yes, perhaps. But I’m sure it’s hidden away somewhere. And it’s mine, still, until it’s transferred to the Trust. It is mine to use rent free as long as I’ve got any interest in it. For a number of years now I’ve looked on myself as a curator than a tenant.
Chris That’s quite nice because it gives you quite a lot of free rein, I suppose, and if you want to go and do something then you can do that.
Geoff Yes, I can, yes
Chris Literally, keep the home fires burning literally
Geoff Yes, yes which is what has happened but the disappointing thing was that apart from inviting people in and telling the story absolutely nothing had happened in 22 years. I overheard Geoff one day last week say something about making an old man happy. Apart from saying I preferred the term elderly, it’s quite true. It has made me happy and if a man in his 80s is allowed to get excited then I got quite excited, perhaps it doesn’t show, over this whole project.
Chris Well I think, and quite right, I mean I think, as I said earlier on, every village once had its forge and every village without any exception, I said that wrong, I’m sorry, every village used to have its own forge and now without any exceptions they just haven’t got a forge any more. The house has been converted into ‘the old forge’ but the equipment, the machinery, the tech… the wherewithal, the know-how, all that has just disappeared and, you know, until you preserve something like this, generations, today’s generations have no understanding what used to happen.
Geoff T Absolutely, absolutely, yes
Chris Now, Spalding was at that time, in the 50s and 60s, was quite a forward, thrusting looking town with one major engineering works here who were responsible for overseeing a lot of tractors in the area, Levertons I’m thinking, did you have any dealings with them?
Geoff D No indeed, apart from, well certainly my father had lot of old friends, school friends who’d worked at Levertons all their lives and they’d been in touch but no, no actual business contacts.
Chris I’m surprised because typically, if you’ve been ………. Sometimes you need a blacksmith’s know how to get certain jobs done.
Geoff D Oh, they had blacksmiths of their own obsiously ……. (can’t hear properly) …. had a number of blacksmiths.
Jan Have you had volunteers come forward yet?
Geoff T Yes, I mean, we’ve talked to the Civic Society last night and people have been interested in what we’re doing and come forward and said yes, we want to be part of this. We’ve had people we’ve met or Geoff’s known through the past have come forward and said – soon as you get the Friends started we want to become members of Friends so I, we’re quite positive that once we can get this, ourselves up and running that, yes, we’ll have people that will come forward and wanting to take on various roles ‘cos obviously we’ve got a chairman, we got a treasurer, we got a secretary, we need somebody that will believe the historical research so if there’s somebody out there that is, has a burning desire to coordinate all of the oral and documentary history, we’d love to hear from them because that’s key to the project, to the actual recording of it. We’re also, we’ve got people who are involved with the building, someone came up to me last night and said they’d like to come and have a look at the building and tell us some of the architecturally how it was developed, what was there originally and so they’re going to have a walk round and will be able to tell us this history of 200 years by just looking at it.
Jan It would be good to just have someone talking as you go to certain parts of the forge, it would be good to have someone actually saying things as well as you go along wouldn’t it?
Geoff I, yes, sorry, one of the things I’d like to do is, I’ve been to Chatham Dockyard and where the Chatham Dockyard, they have, you’re the apprentice of the shipwright as you go round and one of the ideas I’ve got is to make the tour around the blacksmith shop as though you’re the apprentice on your first day and you’re going to the blacksmith who’s telling you about each bit of the forge as you go on. That’s a way I think we could do it.
Jan I see that you were saying that maybe you’ll open the actual forge on Flower Parade day. Is someone going to be in charge of it? Are you going to charge for people to come round? How are you going to get that developed?
Geoff No, we’ll open it on the Flower Parade Saturday and it’s basically we’d like people to come along and to actually look into the building because at the moment we couldn’t take a lot of people in there because it’s not possible to do it but we’d like to take ones and twos to show them what we’re doing, to involve them in the project and hopefully, get them support going forward, so yes we’d love to see people on that Easter, I keep saying Easter – on Flower Parade Saturday
Chris It’s the Saturday after Easter, you’re quite right.
Jan I think we need to just go through that one more time as far as people getting in contact with you, Geoff, because we said it fairly quickly. I got it written down fairly quickly because if people haven’t got a pen and paper ready so if you’ve got your pen and paper ready you can contact Geoff Taylor on 07960 587725.
Geoff Er ..07 sorry 07960 587724
Jan 724 ok. And then it’s firstname.lastname@example.org
Geoff All one word is that
Jan Yes, all lower case, that’s 07960 587724. So just in case there are any people out there that would be interested …
Geoff We’d love to hear from you
Geoff D It can be opened any time at all if it’s convenient when I’m at home, which has been the case for, you know, the last 20 years and for the 30 years that I’ve been working in it before that.
Jan It’s like everything, I think once people get involved or come and see it like the schools, you’re talking about getting involved with schools, there’s going to be somebody there, it’s like everything that we do, you can have 30 and out of that 30 you can have one or two that ……… (can’t hear) and that’s the key getting those youngsters involved – someone.
Chris It’s sort of vocational ……….. you want to encourage people to really get involved. So the situation as I understand at the moment is that you’ve got the building, you’ve got the lease, you’re forming the company to run it, you’re hoping to get some funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and others, is there a point at which you say this project is now live?
Geoff T I think once we have the a company set up and we’re able to start which, hopefully will be the end of this week, the project’s live. Basically.
Chris And you get out into schools and show people what there is, this there but you still want volunteers, I guess, to intelligently refer parts of the building but not destroy its character you need to keep maintenance going, don’t you?
Geoff T Yes and we want to actually, we’ll probably take the roof and take the tiles off and redo the tiles because we get some water coming into the building. Clearly if we’re going to, for the long term, we want to make it as dry as possible in there. One of the things we haven’t talked about is that we would like to actually create, what I would call, a virtual forge but basically it will be a forge that sits up on a website and people will be able to go and view, even if the door’s not open, but they’ll be able to do it remotely and we’ll create an electronic forge with all the information that we’ve gathered so that we can share it with people in the community and the schools.
Jan Have you got a wbsite, Geoff, yet?
Geoff No, we’re just developing it now so we have funding for the website so we’ll get a web presence I believe it’s called within, I guess, the next month.
Chris Very interesting. Erm, are there any moves, aside from opening the forge from time to time to actually shoe some horses or make some bits and pieces.
Geoff T I think we’d like, what we’d like to do is go and film somebody shoeing horses. The building wouldn’t easily lend itself to a blacksmith doing that within the existing building. However, what we would like to do is get a blacksmith in there to actually demonstrate the blacksmith’s art because the building comes alive when the forge is running, people are hammering metal, they’re shaping metal, it tells the story that much more and so, you know, if there’s the blacksmiths out there that are desiring to have a go, please come to talk to us because, yes we want to run demonstrations, we want to tell this story and we want to hear from people that want to be involved.
Chris Tis a dying art, sadly and I’m recalling a friend of mine whose family, long-staying family ran a forge in Sutton Bridge and made machinery for the bulb industry, Messrs. Somerfield, I think you may know
Geoff D Yes, I know ……. (can’t hear)
Chris Well Somerfield made lots of bulb lifters and so on, specifically made small area and it passed down from grandfather to father to son and so on and so on and the chap my age sadly had to give it up a few years back and he now works for an agricultural engineering business. It’s much the same thing but it’s not his own premises.
Geoff T Sad
Chris Such is life.
Geoff I mean, what we would hope to do is that once we’ve, we have preserved the blacksmith’s area we would look at other trades because copper-smithing, tin-smithing are all of the same sort of era and if we could incorporate them with the forge or other premises, maybe we’d start to develop a traditional crafts within the area and be able to use that at a … so we would extend it out into more of a traditional crafts that are in area.
Chris Very, very interesting. Thank you very much indeed for coming to talk to us about this today. Messrs. Geoff Dodd and Geoff Taylor. The project is Chain Bridge Forge I guess, is it?
Chris We look forward to seeing you again, I hope and learning more about this project as time goes on. We wish you all the very best.
Geoff & Geoff Thank you very much
Jan And good luck on Flower Parade day.