A Forncett blacksmith – Samuel Austin 1823-1910


A recent message to the Forncett History website, from a descendant of the Austin family, encouraged me to revisit the story of this family and to find (on the Ancestry website) a couple of rare photos of Forncett blacksmiths. 

Samuel Austin and his grandson, Clifford, in 1904 (photo courtesy of Martin Johns)

Until horses began to be replaced by tractors during the early 20th Century, the blacksmith was an essential member of a rural community and Forncett was no exception. There were smithies in Forncett St. Peter, Forncett St. Mary and Forncett End and the skills of the blacksmith were invariably passed on from father to son. The Forncett St. Peter smithy was on Low Road, close to Church Farm and it appears to have been run for more than 100 years by the Austin family.

In 1841, the smithy was being run by James Austin who was born in Carleton Rode in 1759, and in 1773 (age 14) he was apprenticed to the local blacksmith, Abraham Lansdell. (The Lansdell family ran smithies in many villages in south Norfolk, including running the smithy in Forncett End from 1825 to 1879.)

James Austin and his wife, Margaret, lived in Forncett from around 1794 and they had three daughters and four sons. All their sons became blacksmiths: John Austin (1792-1862) was a blacksmith in Carleton Rode, Thomas Austin (1798-1867) had a smithy in Ashwellthorpe, and James and Isaac worked alongside their father in Forncett. However, in 1842 both James and Isaac died, apparently from consumption (tuberculosis), and their father passed away just two years later in 1844.

So, the smithy passed to Samuel Austin, the son of James Austin junior. Samuel had been apprenticed to his father from a young age and he was to go on and run the smithy for over 50 years! Samuel had married a Forncett girl, Maria Buck, with whom he had seven children. However, although each of his three sons learned to be a smith, two of them, William and James moved to be farriers in London and the third, John, didn't take up the trade. 

James Austin (1859-1927) – Farrier's shop in Islington 

When Samuel's wife, Maria, died in 1898 Samuel finally retired. He went to live with his daughter, Emily, at Morston on the north Norfolk coast, which is where the photo of him with his grandson, Clifford, was presumptively taken in 1904.

The smithy in Forncett operated for a few more years but it had closed by 1908. It was later demolished and sadly we have no surviving photos of the building. Samuel died in 1910, aged 89, and although he was buried in Morston, his death is also recorded on the grave of his wife, Maria, in St. Peter's churchyard.