Loudoun Academy pupils forged new links with the Galston Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) on a recent visit to the Ratho Byres Forge in West Lothian, to learn more about the production of the prizewinning hanging sign, designed by them as part of the plan to restore the town’s historic buildings.
Hosted by Pete Hill, Master Artist Blacksmith, partner and founder member of P. Johnston and Company, four pupils, Megan Berry, Jay Campbell, Jamie Muir and Allison McCall spent a day learning all about the processes involved in production of the new sign for the Buck’s Head pub, which is currently undergoing extensive renovations thanks to grant funding from CARS.
The pupils were accompanied by Claire Paterson of Napier University and George Paterson, Technical teacher from Loudoun Academy who has been working with Pete Hill and the pupils to teach them all aspects of metalwork, design and traditional skills.
The group, whose whole class have participated in a year project which has involved hands on workshops, meeting building owners to take design briefings, design and metalwork sessions and an exhibition of winning ideas, spent a whole day at Ratho, learning all about the work of craft blacksmiths like Pete and his partners.
Pete started by giving the students a brief history of the company which was established in 1974 as a family firm. The four original partners are all renowned artisan blacksmiths and work with a further six blacksmiths and a designer, Jois Hunter who turns ideas into working models and drawings from which the team creates their wares.
The pupils were intrigued to see the range of products tackled at the forge, from bespoke railings and gates, to spiral staircases, seats, tables and benches and, of course, the hanging signs for which the forge is famous. For them, the chance to see and actual working forge and get a chance to learn some hands on skills was inspirational.
Pete covered a wide range of techniques, skills and abilities suitable for both the absolute beginner and those with previous experience. He explained to the students that Forging is a manufacturing process involving the shaping of metal using localised compressive forces. The blows are delivered with a hammer (often a power hammer). It is often classified according to the temperature at which it is performed: cold, warm, or hot forging. For the latter two, the metal is heated in the forge.
Forged parts can range in weight from less than a kilogram to hundreds of metric tons and has been done by smiths for millennia. Traditionally the technique was used to make kitchenware, hardware, hand tools and jewellery.
The students worked out of the fire, at the anvil and learned how to use a handheld hammer, cutting wedge, press and a power hammer. The tuition was very much hands on. They were taught fundamental techniques which they then used to develop their own ideas with a little help. They left having learnt new skills, developed an understanding of the malleability of metal and with the satisfaction of having forged something for themselves to take home and treasure.
Highlight of the day was when they were shown the finished sign, which they had designed as part of the Hanging Signs competition. It will shortly be installed at the Buck’s Head, and it’s hoped that other building owners will also have their designs produced to create a unique streetscape in Galston.
Councillor Jim Buchanan, Cabinet member for Economy said: “CARS is funded by ourselves and Historic Environment Scotland and it’s not just about the physical process of restoring old buildings using traditional techniques and methods, it’s about investing in training, education and skills to enable future generations to understand, appreciate and care for our historic architecture.
“This project has given the whole class a great understanding of the importance of their heritage and let them see that traditional skills are still vital and can offer great career opportunities. Through the process of meeting with building owners they’ve also got a greater understanding of local business and the importance of image and design. And for the Buck’s Head, the new sign is an exciting herald of a new era for a long established hostelry, bringing it into the 21st century with a beautifully crafted nod to the past.”