Between 1926 and 1940, Richard Rennison performed 5,147 marriages over the anvil of the blacksmith’s shop at Gretna Green
Despite the demise of the blacksmith as a common occupation, there remained a demand for crafted ironwork that persists to this day.
The modern smith also has help from the mechanical world. He no longer needs a boy to work the bellows; a machine blows air into the hearth instead.
Mechanisation also helped the blacksmith. Companies such as Blacker and Co of Lancashire, made motorised trip hammers that had as much power as the old hammers worked by waterwheels. The arrival of the oxyacetylene welder and similar devices has made things easier.
One big change has occurred in the 20th century – the manufacture of wrought iron has all but ceased, and the modern blacksmith uses mild steel instead. At some time or other almost every community had its own blacksmith’s forge – Britain’s most popular surname, Smith, originates from this extremely common occupation. They will be listed in trade directories and if you know the area in which your ancestors worked, it is always possible to do a little detective work on the ground. Even when no longer in use, forges are distinctive buildings with their tall, squat chimneys, and often now have names such as ‘Forge Cottage’.
The Blacksmiths, Forge and Smithy Workers’ Society and the Associated Blacksmiths of Scotland were unions formed in 1845. Their members, however, consisted almost entirely of men who worked in the larger forges as employees, not self-employed smiths. The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths ( blacksmithscompany.org) holds records on its members. Anthony Burton is an author who specialises in industrial and transport history