This is the second part of my “journey” around the UK in search of our heritage artisans for my book. This time it took me to the Malvern Hills to meet the fabulous creative Blacksmith and Artist, Andrew Findlay. Please subscribe to the blog to follow me around the country as I write my book.
Bank Holiday weekend in Britain, usually a recipe for disaster in terms of weather and traffic on the road, and yet this weekend it was a beautiful spring day and totally no traffic. So where was I heading? I was heading to the Malvern Hills to photograph Andrew Findlay, Blacksmith and metal-work artist for my book.
I got to Tewkesbury and serendipitously it was 542 years to the day, that the Battle of Tewkesbury was fought, notably the 4 May 1471. For those of us who might need our school history given a little nudge, this battle was one of the pivotal moments in the Wars of the Roses (that’s the bloody clobbering the Lancastrians and Yorkists gave each other for the good part of 20 years) and brought about the end of the Lancastrian dynasty (for a few years anyway, until Henry VII united the two houses, hence the red and white “Tudor rose” emblem).
There is a fabulous little museum in a quirky Tudor house with gloriously lopsided wooden stairs on the main high street in Tewkesbury. It was here that I saw the re-enactment of the Battle. Well, it was a bit static (!), but was great to kind of breathe the battlefield, even if it was through a big glass box. I confess to adoring market town museums, I’m still trustee of March Museum, back in Cambridgeshire, and it is these small independently run museums which are preserving the idiosyncracies, regional traditions and local trade artefacts of our heritage.
On display were cameras (which seemed appropriate considering I was on a shooting mission), Roman pots (including Samian ware and a random skeleton), and much more including documents and photographs of Raymond Edward Priestley who accompanied Shackleton to Antarctica as a geologist in 1908 and then went with Scott on his Terra Nova expedition in 1910.
Who has heard of the Mop Fair? No? Well, you can’t be from Tewkesbury then! Their Mop Fair is the largest street fair in Gloucestershire. Where the fair originated from is fascinating. Apparently, once a year, all the “ready for hiring” folk would descend onto Tewkesbury in their Sunday best, holding the item of their trade (so think: hammer, spanner, shepherds crook and the like, presumably!). If you weren’t skilled you took your broom or your mop (think ‘Trigger’). Hence due to the plethora of mops, it became known as the Mop Fair.
Andrew Findlay, is an amazing artisan blacksmith, he is commissioned all over the world from Chelsea and Provence to Dubai, Monaco and America, plus his work, which is so beautifully crafted and comes from such a creative and artistic soul. He was also featured on Chris Beardshaw’s Country Lives on ITV. He of course has had many column inches in magazines, and he receives regular commissions from stately and private homes and hotels, plus from famous names you’d give your high teeth to know! I’ve got some truly arresting images of this man at work, can’t wait to show you all! Ah, you may have to wait for the book!
It felt like I was sharing time with Hephaistos, the ancient greek god of blacksmiths and craftsmen. The smell of metal, coke and fire was heady and rich. My heart thumped with the sound and rhythms of the heavy pounding of the hammers, if I closed my eyes I think I would have imagined what it would be like in a heavy rock blues club at the bottom of a volcano. Even so, surrounded by the rough red brick walls of the Forge, coated with history of blacksmithing since the 1700s, hand-grafted tools, dust and soot on the stone floors, massive metal industrial hammers and the iconic (and much used) anvil beside the 1300 degree fire I felt at home and at ease with the honesty and creativity that seems to exude from Andrew and blows freely through the open doors throughout his forge. Interestingly, he said that many blacksmiths are also musicians, himself plays a blues harp (I am secretly wanting to hear him play, so will have to wangle that one at the book launch, shh don’t tell him that!!).
At the end of the shoot, I was packing up to leave and he walked back over to the bench and gave me the beautiful copper bowl he was working on while we were shooting. It was one of the kindest things that has happened to me, and took me so by surprise I was really touched. So if you read this Andrew, many thanks, you have a huge heart and your work reflects your unique organic and genuinely creative view of the world. It was an honour to work with you.
Andrew Findlay, blacksmith www.andrew-findlay.com
Tewkesbury Museum www.tewkesburymuseum.org Does your town have a local museum, why not pop along and refresh yourself with memories of your childhood or learn about your local history and trades. Why not volunteer, it’s great to put something back into your community if you can. I’m sure you’ve a skill they would be desperate for.
This is part two of Through a Photographer’s Eyes, you can read Part 1 here