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Q&A with Steve Rogers


A sourdough knife with personal history

Drunk on Wrought Iron

I’d struggle to find a title that sums up the last two years of my life better than “drunk on wrought iron“…

What I’d actually like to share with you is a small extract from the book “How It Is Made” (1907), by Archibald Williams, which I picked up at an Oxfam only a couple of years ago. I was already well into my wrought iron forging adventure, so as you can imagine, I was delighted to find something written from the early 1900’s about the manufacturing of wrought iron.

It didn’t disappoint.

There were some interesting details on how the furnace is constructed and the puddling process, but I am often more interested in the human story of how these things came to be…

Puddling, especially the balling part, is very hard work, probably the hardest work required in the iron industry. The heat issuing from the opened working door distresses a visitor even if he stands a good distance away. This I know from personal experience. So you will easily understand that a man who has to stand close to the door, and at the same time move nearly a hundredweight of iron with a heavy tool, has a rather hard time of it. Though clad in the lightest possible garments (and in very few of them), he perspires freely at every pore, and in the intervals of puddling is obliged to replace frequently the moisture he has lost. If wise, he chooses barley-water, or some other non-alcoholic drink; if unwise, beer.

A story was told me by a gentleman well acquainted with the iron-makers and their ways which illustrates in a very positive fashion the relative values of the two classes of drinks to a man who has to perform such strenuous work as puddling. There was in a certain ironworks a teetotal “gang” – a father and three sons – who had to endure a considerable amount of chaff from their non-abstaining fellows. In order to show that a man who drank barley-water was a “man for a’ that”, they challenged any four of their mates to do as good a week’s work and earn as much money as they. This challenge was promptly accepted, and both parties fell to. Now, puddling at ordinary speed is exhausting, but puddling against time taxes human endurance to the utmost. The moral of this tale lies int he fact that at the end of the week the teetotalers were sadly weary men, but still able to use their rabbles, and the non-abstainers were… in hospital.

After that, barley water was met with greater respect”.

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