There was a time when every village had a smithy with blacksmithing skills being handed down from generation to generation, either from father to son or close relation, or to an apprentice. Once trained these young craftsmen became journeymen and then masters, sometimes taking over the forge in which they had trained or starting their own smithy. Felbridge was no exception and at its peak could boast at least five known forges, Felbridge Forge, now the site of Hire Shop at the Star junction, Woodcock Forge, now the site of Markeys Restaurant, Newchapel, one to the east of the Blacksmiths Head, Newchapel, one in West Park Road at the junction with Stubpond Lane and another off Chapel Lane, Snowhill.
The basic methods of blacksmithing have not changed since the early medieval period when blacksmiths were the leaders of industry, making everything from weapons to ploughshares, tools to cooking pots, and fittings for wagons to horseshoes. Initially blacksmithing consisted of general skills that covered the functional, architectural, and shoeing. However, even by the medieval period some blacksmiths had begun to specialise in shoeing horses, a skill that had been introduced by the Celts during the Romano-British period, these men being known as farriers, a corruption of the Latin faber ferrarius, maker in iron. Decorative ironwork developed slightly later as a practical solution to a pressing social need for security for castles and churches. Blacksmiths made decorative, ornate hinges, studding for thick oak doors, portcullises and grilles for windows to protect against attack. As the need for defensive ironwork disappeared the decoration was retained in the tracery, scrollwork and foliage of the gates, balustrades and screens commissioned to adorn the large mansion houses that replaced the defensive castles.
Blacksmithing in general peaked around the mid 19th century and began to decline with the industrial revolution and the mass production of cheap metal goods, and with the onset of the railway that eliminated the need for stagecoaches and horses, and therefore shoes, as the only mode of long distance travel. The local blacksmith was reduced to the occasional piece of decorative ironwork, repairs to farm machinery and the shoeing of locally used horses. The beginning of the 20th century saw still further reductions in the workload of the blacksmith, in particular the farrier, with the development of the motorcar that limited the use of the horse to agriculture and as a leisure activity, and many smithies closed their doors. The final blow was dealt after World War II, with the introduction of the tractor replacing the working horse, and of more sophisticated farming machinery that was less amenable to homely repairs. Today the role of the blacksmith tends to be divided between the architectural and decorative blacksmith, who specialises in designing and making ornamental gates, door hinges, tomb grilles, house railings, balustrades, lanterns, lamp standards, fire dogs and baskets, and the farrier who still remains essential to a rural community.
The arrival of Reddick Forge to Felbridge renewed the tradition of a working forge in the village that had been absent since the 1930s when Felbridge Forge, the last working forge in Felbridge ceased operating, falling victim to the emergence of the motorcar and the establishment of a garage next door. Reddick Forge, although not always known by that name, relocated from Dormansland, Surrey, in 1998, being one of only a few forges that had remained in operation since its establishment around the 1840s. Reference to a smithy in Dormansland can be found in the census of 1851, which lists William Head aged 58, as the head of a household living in the Forge employing two blacksmith journeymen. The Forge was the next property on from Nortons in Dormansland, on the southeast side of the road leading from Edenbridge to Wilderwick, placing it in the road leading from the Plough to Ford Manor (now known as Greathed Manor). It is also known that a wheelwrights shop was attached. The land on which the forge and wheelwrights shop were built formed part of the 17th century Ford Place estate, being owned by John Fullarton Elphinstone esq. from his retirement from the East India Company in 1830 until his death in 1845. and it is possible that the forge was established during his ownership.
William Head was born in 1793, and the two blacksmith journeymen working with him in 1851 were his younger brother John born in 1806, and John jnr born in 1832, the son of William. It is also possible that a brother of William and John had operated the wheelwrights shop as the census of 1851 lists a Philadelphia Head of a similar age to William and John, as a wheelwrights widow also living in the area. William Head is confirmed as the blacksmith in Dormans Land in the Kellys Directory of 1859, being by that time aged sixty-five. By 1867, William Head had been succeeded as the blacksmith by his brother John, by then aged fifty-eight, still working with his nephew John jnr In the census of 1881, both John Heads are listed as living in separate households in Heads Cottages. This was a row of five cottages that included two Head households, a butcher by the name of Alfred Decker, a farm labourer called Elias Smith and a shoeing smith called John Ashby. The cottages are still there with Blacksmiths Cottage the first cottage when approached from The Plough. Living with John Head snr was his son-in-law Edgar Skinner who had married his daughter Avice, their son Frank, along with Ernest Phan another grandson of Johns, and Samuel Cullen who was listed as a servant, another blacksmith. Edgar Skinner was the son of Robert and Mary Ann Skinner from the parish of Godstone. Living within Heads Cottages were four blacksmiths and a shoeing smith implying that by 1881, the forge in Dormans Land was a very busy place.
John Head appears in the Kellys Directories between 1867 and 1887 as the proprietor of the forge in Dormansland but it is unclear whether this was John Head snr for the entire duration, making him over eighty in the last entry, or whether it was John Head jnr for some of the time. What is evident is that by 1890, Edgar Skinner was listed as the proprietor, making him about 43 years old when he took over the forge, suggesting that perhaps both John Heads had retired or passed on by then.
By the late 1800s Dormansland, which had originally appeared as a sub division of Lingfield, had grown sufficiently in size to be considered as a separate village, and in 1885 became a separate parish. With growing prosperity, the forge and wheelwright shop moved to Plough Road sometime between 1881 and 1896. The new location was still within the estate of what had by then become known as Ford Manor, under the ownership of Mr Spencer Clay who had purchased the estate from the Ho Chee family in 1865. The Ho Chee family had come to Dormansland when John Ho Chee had accompanied John Elphinstone on his return to this country, inheriting Ford Place on the death of John Elphinstone in 1845. On the purchase of Ford estate, Spencer Clay set about a programme of rebuilding with the current house being designed in 1868 by Robert Kerr, author of The Gentlemans House.
The proprietors of the forge appear as Edgar Skinner and his wife Avis from 1890 until 1919, and then just Mrs Avice Skinner from 1924 until 1930. This suggests that Edgar had died sometime between 1919 and 1924, being well into his late seventies. In 1934, their son Frank Skinner appears as the proprietor of the forge implying that Avice must have died sometime between 1930 and 1934 making her in her late eighties. Working with Frank Skinner was Gordon Mayo who had come to the village at the age of eighteen to work under Franks father, Edgar Skinner. Gordon Mayo came from a blacksmithing family in Wantage, Berkshire, working with the racehorses in that area and was therefore a competent farrier, which must have been an essential part of the blacksmithing business carried out by the Dormansland Forge, especially with the Lingfield Race Course just down the road. Apart from farrier work, the forge also produced all sorts of wrought iron and ornamental ironwork, including roasting jacks, spits, fat boats, grease pans, cauldrons, skillets, candlesticks, lamps, lanterns, gates, railings and ecclesiastical work. The forge also worked in conjunction with Charles Wayte & Cheverton of Old Wealden Ironworks of Edenbridge, Kent. This company was established in 1899 specialising in antique fireplace furniture and provided decorative cast ironwork including firedogs, firebaskets and firebacks.
From the memories of inhabitants of Dormansland, Frank Wallis, who lived in Ho Chee Cottage, also worked part time at the forge with Gordon Mayo. Also, Sidney Simmons was another name that came to mind as employed at the forge. It is unclear when Frank Skinner retired from the forge, but by the 1950s the forge had been taken over by a man known as Gutslow and had changed its name to Wealden Iron specialising in wrought iron and ornamental ironwork, continuing to use Old Wealden Ironworks for its cast iron requirements until the company ceased trading, sometime in the early 1950s and became Cheverton Antique Distributors. It was probably under the ownership of Mr Gutslow that the forge dropped the farrier business completely, concentrating solely on ornamental ironwork. In 1957, Gutslow was joined by Albert Dennis Reddick who had recently left the Navy and moved to Butchers Field Road, Dormansland. Albert, known as Tim Reddick, had trained as a blacksmith and had been working as a blacksmith in the naval dockyard at Ramsgate. Trade must have picked up at the forge by then because on the death of Gutslow in 1970, there were five employees, including Tim Reddick, to whom the forge was left along with a substantial sum of money. The forge now took on the name of the new proprietor and became known as Reddick Forge.
Under new ownership the fortunes of the forge fluctuated, for whilst Tim Reddick was a skilled blacksmith he was not a businessman. Initially the four other staff were dismissed and Tim Reddick worked alone, completing a lot of work with John Hayward the architect renowned for his ecclesiastical stained glass including the east and west windows of St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside in 1960-64, windows in St Marks, Regents Park in 1964, the window in the south wall of the Church of St Matthew, Croydon in 1971, and later in 1985, the restoration of the Chapel Sanctuary window in the Church of St Peter & St Paul, Lingfield, the panels of which were donated by Lord Raglan. Through John Hayward, Tim Reddick was commissioned for work at Blackburn Cathedral including a large light chandelier. In 1977, Mr Brunning, owner of A W Stanford, Builders of Lingfield bought the assets of Reddick Forge retaining Tim Reddick as blacksmith. By the late 1970s business had improved and in December 1979, Tim Reddick took on a full time apprentice, Jon Jones, who had left school at the age of sixteen earlier in the year. It is ironic that only a couple of years earlier Jons older brother Nick Jones had enquired about an apprenticeship with the forge but at that time there was no position available. With Mr Brunning in control of the business side of the forge, Tim Reddick could continue blacksmithing and training his new apprentice.
Jon Jones started work at £30 a week with the promise of a college course to learn the art of blacksmithing, the latter never materialising under Tim Reddick. The forge by then specialised solely in ornamental and decorative wrought ironwork and boasted a Show Room that was set up by Tim Reddick and Jon Jones, where examples of work were on display for purchase. In 1982, the forge was mentioned in a book compiled by Readers Digest called Traditional Crafts in Britain under the section entitled Where to see Craftsmen at Work. The entry reads:
Visitors to Dormansland should look out for the Village Sign, a fine example of the work carried out at this small smithy. The blacksmiths concentrate on ornamental hand wrought ironwork, and may be seen forging a range of fireside furniture and light fittings as well as larger, specially commissioned items such as gates or fitments for churches. A room next to the forge has been converted into a display and sales area.
Shortly after the write up and publication of the book by Readers Digest, Tim Reddick was forced to retire from Reddick Forge due to ill health and Jon Jones took over the business at the age of twenty. As blacksmith, Jon Jones enrolled on two courses held at Salisbury College by COSIRA (Craft Orientated Industrial Rural Arts), which gave a wider view of general ornamental wrought ironwork and a chance to meet contemporary blacksmiths specialising in the art. Course work included general blacksmithing skills and artistic blacksmithing that demonstrated the use of blacksmithing as an artistic medium, e.g. the use of animal heads such as rams, horses and dragons as the handles for paperknives and companion sets, or flowers like daffodils and roses made of a combination of copper and iron as purely decorative objects. These courses were instigated to support the new found status of the blacksmith who by the 1970s was emerging as a new kind of blacksmith, the artist blacksmith, backed by the British Artist Blacksmiths Association (BABA) that was established in 1978. The artist blacksmith had always existed but by the 1970s had been joined by art school trained, young people who believed they were part of a renaissance in the art of blacksmithing that had been eclipsed by the cast iron of the industrial revolution and mass production of cheap metal products. It was with this new appreciation of artistic blacksmithing that Jon Jones embarked upon his career as master blacksmith at Reddick Forge.
Artist blacksmithing is a luxury market relying, in the main, on patronage and commissions and one of the first major solo commissions that Jon Jones received was for a balustrade for a curved marble staircase and landing for King Fayed of Bahrain, completed with the assistance of his father and both brothers, called in to help meet the fast approaching deadline! As well as commission work, the artist blacksmith also needs bread and butter work, a steady requirement for blacksmithing skills and this was found in Suggs Lighting Ltd, of Crawley, West Sussex, a company specialising in decorative and heritage lighting. In 1807, Thomas Sugg, an ironmaster, made and laid the gas pipes in London for the first demonstration of gas lighting. This was followed by the establishment of William Sugg & Co Ltd by his son William Sugg in 1837, becoming the leading manufacturer of gas equipment, in particular lighting during, the Victorian era. The company also manufactured the gas illuminations, which included flambeaux or medieval or castle torches, to decorate the major public buildings for the Coronation of King George V, in 1911. Many of the 19th century installations still survive with any refurbishment or replica work required being carried out by Reddick Forge. Today the ornate columns, decorative lanterns and flambeaux of Sugg Lighting Ltd can be found worldwide with many of the brackets and decorative ironwork made by Reddick Forge.
In 1997, the landlord of the Reddick Forge, Tical Investments who owned Greathed Manor, were forced to sell some of their assets and the decision was made to sell off the forge, the stables, the byre and several parcels of land belonging to the Greathed Manor. This resulted in Reddick Forge being served a years notice to vacate the premises so that the property could be converted as a house. After searching around the surrounding area an alternative location was found at Llanberis Farm, Crawley Down Road, Felbridge. Planning consent was sort and eventually granted to convert an existing barn into the new forge. The forge equipment and tools at Dormansland was cleared and installed in the new premises which was up and running by December 1998, thus ending the tradition of a working forge in Dormansland that had been operating for over 150 years. The old forge was put on the market with offers invited in excess of £100,000, and was sold in February 1999 for £150,000. The property included the forge with three hearths, the Show Room, cart lodge and small rear garden area. Having been converted to a three bedroomed house with gallery room, rafter room, drawing room and kitchen, the property was back on the market in June 2002 with an asking price of £369,500.
Reddick Forge still specialises in hand wrought ironwork and decorative ironwork and examples of this work can be seen around the country and abroad, including the railings at Wolf House, Westerham, lamps for Folkestone to replace those that had been cut down during World War II, external stairs for a Martello Tower in Pevensey Bay, lamp posts for the recently rebuilt Trafford Centre in Manchester, hand railings for the Queen Mothers apartment at Hampton Court, light brackets for the church at High Grove used by Prince Charles, lamps at St Andrews Golf Course, Scotland, a box framed cross for a church in France, and a set of flambeaux for the Virgin Mega Store in Barcelona, Spain. Closer to Felbridge examples of work include, the floor ties at Hammerwood House, Hammerwood, a structural arch at the Town Hall, Horsham, fire escapes at Horley, Lingfield Racecourse and Copthorne School, the Hazel Leigh Memorial Gate at Edenbridge church, the Village Sign and Old Town Sign at Lingfield, the Village Sign at Dormansland, the railings at Cranston Guest House, East Grinstead, and the arch over the gateway of the Old Lock-up in East Grinstead High Street. In Felbridge itself, Reddick Forge made the Village Sign erected on the Village Green in 1984, as well as the weathervane on the Felbridge Village Hall commissioned by the Felbridge WI to commemorate the new millennium, the gates at Llanberis Farm, the side gate at Anns Orchard, Crawley Down Road, the steel frame of a conservatory and railings at Oaklands, Furnace Wood, and several gates and railings for properties in Domewood.
Now in its fifth year in Felbridge, Reddick Forge still specialises in ornamental and decorative wrought iron work to commission and is still used by Sugg Lighting Ltd to create an array of ornamental light brackets and flambeaux, and for the restoration and replication of their original ironwork.
For further information about Reddick Forge, contact the proprietor, Jon Jones, on telephone number 01342 302055, or mobile phone number 07710 325 115.
Story of Dormansland, SHC
Two Thousand Years of Dormansland by R Smith
Around East Grinstead by D Gould
Felbridge Parish and People
Memories of the old blacksmith at work, article from News in Focus, Dec. 2&3 1988, FHA
Memories of old forge, article from local newspaper, FHA
Chas. Wayte & Cheverton, Old Wealden Ironworks catalogue, FHA
An iron in the fire, magazine article, FHA
Original forge building, EGC, Dec. 1998, FHA
Discover appealing character features, EGC, June 2002, FHA
Blacksmith knew all about that wedding!, EGC, 1984, FHA
Old Town, EGC, 1983, FHA
Marking the millennium, EGC, Nov. 1999, FHA
Kellys Directories, 1851, 59, 67, 74, 82, 87, 90, 99, 1903, 05, 07, 13, 15, 19, 24, 27, 30, 34 and 1938, SHC
Census records, 1851, 1881, 1901
O/S Maps, 1810, 1876, 1896
My thanks go to Jon Jones, the current proprietor of Reddick forge, for his time and information about the forge.