The History & Restoration of Slindon Forge
The original Forge building you see today began life in the mid-19th century – (the exact date is unknown but no building is shown on the Tithe Map of 1837 and a small building is shown on the Ordnance Survey of 1879).
Initially, the building consisted of just the right-hand half of the building and may have been a wheelwright’s workshop (a blacksmith’s workshop and farriers stood in Dyers Lane at that stage).
The building was extended some time before the next Ordnance survey in 1896 – you can still ‘see the join’ in the brickwork today – and it is believed it became the village blacksmithy at that date.
The Forge was a thriving place at the heart of the village – but was sadly closed as a blacksmith’s workshop several years ago.
By 2009 this historically important and high profile village building was in a poor state of repair, and when Slindon Forge Society took over the lease on the building, major repairs were needed to stabilise the building and bring it up to scratch for its new use. We also built a major extension to house the café – and all the modern services were also sited in the extension to minimise alterations and changes to the historic fabric.
Our thanks to Nutbourne Construction, who undertook all the work, led by Dave Briant.
Restoring the original building
Key tasks involved solving a serious damp problem, underpinning the so-called ‘foundations’ (just a few bits of rubble and compacted soil mostly!) at various places and repair to brickwork (including the orginal hearth), improving the insulation, re-laying the floor and replacing the joinery.
The damp had many sources – but high soil level was one reason and this meant removing many tons of excess soil from around the building. And the building had been painted with modern non-breathable paints which trapped moisture in the walls, causing the brickwork to ‘spall’. One of the first steps was to strip this modern paint from both inside and out, and then replace and repair damaged bricks.
Then the floor needed to taken up and excavated to an unbelievable depth to get rid of a silly step in the middle of the building and allow us to install a proper level floor, offering sensible moisture control and insulation (a short sentence that covers a massively complicated procedure which included dismantling and rebuilding the forge hearth!).
Finally, the roof needed strengthening, by which time the building was probably in a better state of repair than it had ever been. It would have been MUCH cheaper and quicker to knock it down and start again – but of course that’s not the point.
We kept all the orginal bits on the walls and beams and together with the restored hearth you can still get a sense of the previous life of the building.
The design of the extension took some time to sort out – and there is a clear design ethos behind the look of the extension.
Firstly, the aim was to ensure the history of the building is self-evident – and thus the new extension LOOKS like a new extension, not an ‘in keeping’ pastiche of the original building.
Secondly, the siting, and roof line of the extension was carefully devised so the street-scape is largely unchanged and the original building is still the ‘hero’ of the site.
And lastly we sought to apply the same approach to constructing the extension as the builders of the original Forge would have done. As artisans, they would have built a practical, working, no-nonsense unpretentious building from readily available and cheap materials. So that’s what we did with the extension – in essence it’s a very well insulated glorified shed made from the kinds of materials you’d find in any builders merchants. (Covers in our case).
Community Shop & Café
A group of villagers – headed by Mike Imms – developed a plan to take over the building, enhance, and add to it, and open it as a community shop, with a café adding much needed visitor attraction. Sllindon is a small village – too small to sustain a grocery shop; by adding a café, the idea was to provide an extra draw for villagers and, of course, for all the visitors to the village who come to enjoy the annual lambing at Gaston Farm, pumpkin display on Top Road and the many events organised by the National Trust, which is very active in the village.
To the original blacksmith’s building an annexe was built to house the café and kitchen, office and cloakroom.
Since The Forge opened in October 2012, the original Management Committee has changed, and members replaced by other volunteers. A manager has been in place since June 2015, with a team of staff, ably and generously aided by a team of volunteers.
There is always room for more volunteers to help!