BLTC Press Titles


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Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller


Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting


The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian


Industrial biography; iron workers and tool makers

by Samuel Smiles

Excerpt:

Few records exist of the manufacture of iron in England in early times. After the Romans left the island, the British, or more probably the Teutonic tribes settled along the south coast, continued the smelting and manufacture of the metal after the methods taught them by the colonists. In the midst of the insecurity, however, engendered by civil war and social changes, the pursuits of industry must necessarily have been considerably interfered with, and the art of iron-forging became neglected. No notice of iron being made in Sussex occurs in Domesday Book, from which it would appear that the manufacture had in a great measure ceased in that county at the time of the Conquest, though it was continued in the iron-producing districts bordering on Wales. In many of the Anglo-Saxon graves which have been opened long iron swords have been found, showing that weapons of that metal were in common use. But it is probable that iron was still scarce, as ploughs and other agricultural implements continued to be made of wood, — one of the Anglo-Saxon laws enacting that no man should undertake to guide a plough who could not make one; and that the cords with which it was bound should be of twisted willows. The metal was held in esteem principally as the material of war. All male adults were required to be provided with weapons, and honor was awarded to such artificers as excelled in the fabrication of swords, arms, and defensive armor.*

Camden incidentally states that the manufacture of iron was continued in the western counties during the Saxon era, more particularly in the Forest of Dean, and that in the time of Edward the Confessor the tribute paid by the city of Gloucester consisted almost entirely of iron rods, wrought to a size fit for making nails for the king's ships. An old religious writer speaks of the iron-workers of that day as heathenish in their manners, puffed up with pride, and inflated with worldly prosperity. On the occasion of St. Egwin's visit to the smiths of Alcester, as we are told in the legend, he found them given up to every kind of luxury; and when he proceeded to preach unto them, they beat upon their anvils in'contempt of his doctrine so as completely to deafen him; upon which he addressed his prayers to heaven, and the town was immediately destroyed, t But the first reception given to John Wesley by the miners of the Forest of Dean, more than a thousand years later, was perhaps scarcely more gratifying than that given to St. Egwin.

Wilrins, Leges Sax. 25.

t Life of St. Egwin, in Capgrave's Nova Legenda Anglia. Alcester was, as its name indicates, an old Roman settlement (situated on the Icknild Street), where the art of working in iron was practised from an early period. It was originally called Alauna, being situated on the river Alne in Warwickshire. It is still a seat of the needle manufacture.

That working in iron was regarded as an honorable and useful calling in the Middle Ages is apparent from the extent to which it was followed by the monks, some of whom were excellent craftsmen. Thus St. Dunstan, who governed England in the time of Edwy the Fair, was a skilled blacksmith and metallurgist. He is said to have had a forge even in his bedroom, and it was there that his reputed encounter with Satan occurred, in which of course the saint came off the victor.

There was another monk of St. Alban's, called Anketil, who flourished in the twelfth century, so famous for his skill as a worker in iron, silver, gold, jewelry, and gilding, that he was invited by the king of Denmark to be his goldsmith and banker. A pair of gold and silver candlesticks of his manufacture, presented by the abbot of St. Alban's to Pope Adrian IV., were so much esteemed for their exquisite workmanship that they were consecrated to St. Peter, and were the means of obtaining high ecclesiastical distinction for the abbey.

'We also find that the abbots of monasteries situated in the iron districts, among their other labors, devoted themselves to the manufacture of iron from the ore. The extensive beds of cinders still found in the immediate neighborhood of Rie'vaulx and Hackness, in Yorkshire, show that the monks were well acquainted with the art of forging, and early turned to account the riches of the Cleveland iron-stone. In the Forest of Dean also the Abbot of Flaxley was possessed of one stationary and one itinerant forge; by grant from Henry H., and he was allowed two oaks weekly for fuel, — a privilege afterwards commuted, in 1258, for Abbot's Wood of eight hundred and seventy-two acres, which was held by the abbey until its dissolution in the reign of Henry VHI. At the same time the Earl of Warwick had forges at work in his woods at Lydney; aud in 1282, as many as seventy-two forges were leased from tlie Crown by various iron-smelters in the same Forest of Dean.


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