Metalworks! - Episode Three: The Blacksmith’s Tale
First broadcast: BBC Four, May 2012
The final episode in the series looks at British ironwork from the Middle Ages to the Victorian period. It tells the story of the blacksmith and founder, and how these highly skilled craftsmen produced the wrought and cast iron works that have shaped our world.
The film explores the key properties of iron – strength, malleability and resistance to heat – that lent it from a very early date to functions of protection and security. It also looks at the blacksmith’s central role in pre-modern society, responsible for making useful and decorative objects in wrought iron (worked by hammering on an anvil) ranging from tools, locks and keys to gates and screens for churches.
The film follows the development of ironwork into the 17th century, tracing the new styles and techniques introduced into British ironwork by the French émigré Jean Tijou, and the adoption of these by British smiths such as Robert Bakewell, showcasing the intricacy and artistry of ornamental wrought ironwork in the late-17th and 18th centuries.
In the industrial age, innovations in the techniques of iron casting, produced by melting iron to a liquid state and casting it in a mould, allowed iron to be used as a structural material on an unprecedented scale. Key structures telling this part of the story include Abraham Darby’s Iron Bridge in Shropshire – the first iron bridge in the world – and masterpieces of Victorian engineering, such as the Crystal Palace and St. Pancras Station, which combined wrought and cast iron to their best advantage, helping to turn Britain into an industrial force on the global stage.
Contributors include V&A curators, as well as other experts including Jane Geddes and Suzanne Groom, and contemporary blacksmiths and iron founders.
Click on a selection of objects featured in the programme to view more details