Forncett St Mary Smithy

Forncett St Mary Smithy

The smithy in Forncett St Mary was initially located on Blacksmith's Lane, just off Low Road, near the village hall. 

Forncett St Mary Smithy on the 1884 O.S. map

The blacksmith's cottage at that time still stands today and is now called Springside. The first blacksmith for whom we have records was Henry Brewster, who was born in Forncett St Mary in 1812. Henry was the blacksmith there from at least 1836 to 1856. In the 1851 census there were two blacksmiths in Forncett St Mary, the second being Jonas Mickleburgh, but whether there were two separate smithies isn't clear. Sometime before 1861 Henry Brewster and his family moved to London and the smithy was taken over by Jonas Mickleburgh.

Jonas was born in Bunwell in 1811 and he married quite late in life, at the age of 48, to a widow, Catherine Moore. They had three sons, one of whom, William, followed his father into the blacksmith's trade. When Jonas died in 1896 William (Billy) Mickleburgh took over the business and sometime between 1884 and 1906, the smithy was moved to a site at the junction of Blacksmith's Lane and Low Road. 

Forncett St Mary smithy on the 1906 O.S. map

Billy Mickleburgh (arrowed) at the wedding of Edward Ludkin and Ellen Falgate in 1909

(photo - Keith Parker / Forncett Archive)

Billy Mickleburgh married a local woman, Julia Spicer, in 1910; Billy was 47 and Julia was 53. As Billy had no son to follow in his footsteps, he took on an apprentice, a local lad called Albert Bassingthwaite. Albert was the son of a Forncett farm labourer, and in the 1911 census, when he was 22 years old, Albert described his occupation as "blacksmith's striker". Albert learnt his trade from Billy Mickleburgh, and when Billy died in 1936 (age 73) Albert took over the smithy.

In 1939 Albert Bassingthwaite, his wife Ruby and two of their three children, were living at one of the two cottages at the bottom of Northfield Road. Albert was then described as a "Master Blacksmith". Young children at the time recalled how Albert used to light his pipe from the glowing forge furnace. He would allow them to have a surreptitious cigarette and to operate the bellows. Albert was the last blacksmith in Forncett St. Mary and he was still working in 1953 when the photograph below was taken. Albert is shown with Juliet Leftley and "Gypsy" who has been re-shod. They are about to return to Harry Ludkin at Hill Farm in Cheney's Lane.

Albert's wife, Ruby, died in 1958 by which time Albert had retired. The smithy was eventually demolished and Donald Tunmore built a new bungalow in its place.