Be­tween 1926 and 1940, Richard Ren­ni­son per­formed 5,147 mar­riages over the anvil of the black­smith’s shop at Gretna Green

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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

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