The blacksmith was a vital member of a rural community, owing to the key role that heavy horses played in farming. These horses pulled field implements such as ploughs, harrows, rollers etc. as well as all the wagons used on the farm. Shoeing these animals was a major task and so a reliable local smith was invaluable. He would also repair implements, gates and other ironwork. Mechanisation of farming began at the beginning of the 20th century and tractors have appeared on the farms of Forncett in the 1920s and 30s. However, the 1939 register for Forncett still records thirteen men who listed their occupation as "horseman on farm" compared with four "tractor drivers".
The importance of the blacksmith is confirmed by the fact that for many years there were three smithies in the parish: one in Forncett End, one in Forncett St Peter (on Low Road) and one in Forncett St Mary (near the church). Unfortunately, we do not have any surviving photographs of the smithies, but we can deduce a great deal about the blacksmiths and their families from old maps and census records. As with most trades, skills were often passed on from father to son, with the result that the same smithy could often be run by a single family for many decades, and members of the same family often ran the smithies in adjacent villages.
All of the Forncett smithies were active in the early 1800s but the move to cheap, large scale production of much ironware during the 19th century, and slow replacement of horses by tractors meant that by the early 1900s there was increasingly less work for the blacksmiths. The smithy in Forncett St Peter closed down around 1905, followed by the Forncett End smithy sometime after 1912. However, the Forncett St Mary smithy only closed in the mid 1950s.
A detailed history of each of the smithies and the people who lived there, can be found on the following pages:
Some of the initial material for this page comes from Forncett Archive Note No. 15 written by John Webster