(Condensed transcript from a taped interview with Ken Hawley recorded by Bert Crookes in 1987)
The forge certainly had a charmed life; so many things could have happened to make restoration impossible.
This is a story of slow, painstaking, frustrating, sometimes dangerous but ultimately rewarding work, undertaken by volunteers men without experience of such endeavours. Their tenacity and dedication prove that nothing is impossible if you are determined enough to persevere against all odds. (The 'Wortley Workers' never thought about this - they just got on with it!)
In the beginning they were on their own - beholden to no one except good friends, who helped willingly if called upon.
They certainly had tremendous fun, however difficult the situation!
Wortley Top Forge was put up for sale in 1951 and was acquired on behalf of Sheffield Trades Historical Society in 1953 by four trustees, Edwin Walker, Denis Bradbury, Oliver Inman and William Bolton. William Bolton, the Secretary of Sheffield Trades Technical Society (before amalgamation) was the instigator of the purchase.
Oliver Inman was the Chief Engineer at Samuel Fox (United Steels). The Society owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude, because with great foresight he had some enormous props (12' square timbers) installed; one prop under the roof near the foreman's office, the second supporting the wall near No 2 Hammer, so that the building wouldn't collapse. The props did their work for about twenty years.
He also had a strong chain link fence built round the forge to keep out vandals.
The 1953 purchase was the forge only: not the cottages or maintenance buildings (they were acquired later). The dam, but not the dam wall by the forge, is owned by Bramalls.
There were various plans for restoration but nothing happened for thirteen years.
There was an Open Day annually in July, when S.T.H.T. members could look around (at the decaying premises!) and be provided with tea (made by Mrs. Frances Shore, Mrs. Margaret Bailey, Mrs. Elsie Jeffery and Mrs. Emily Hawley at different periods. Except for Mrs. Shore they had to prepare the food at home and transport it, i.e. in the early days when the cottages were lived in.)
Ken Hawley - the Custodian - had a business (a tool shop) on Button Lane between 1959 and 1961. Some time during that period he had a special display of old tools in the window. Bill Bailey (the Secretary of S.T.H.S.) heard about the display and went along to view and discuss. He asked Ken to Join the Society and soon afterwards invited him to be on the Council.
There was a leak in the wall near the Blower Wheel; the cause was believed to be a huge tree trunk, 12' - 18" diameter, which was jammed on top of the Weir. It was thought that this caused a build up of water in the dam creating pressure causing the leak. This report was taken back to the Council.
As Ken was the youngest S.T.H.S. member (at that time it was a Society of old gentlemen), he decided that it was up to him to go and investigate the situation. He went up there with his two young sons on the last Sunday in January 1966 (exactly twenty-five years ago!). He was 'armed' with a rope, a spade and a felling axe and was prudently wearing wellies!
There was a very deep-looking pool of water - impossible to gauge the depth, but there was a narrow ledge on the side. He gingerly proceeded along the ledge and to his great relief touched the bottom of the pool with the axe handle. He waded in, waist deep, to clear as much of the debris as possible - there were branches, oil drums and even a decomposed sheep.
He returned the following Sunday with John Proctor (from the shop) and a neighbour, Michael Andrews. They did manage to move the tree trunk.
This was NOT the cause of the leak; there was an overflow in the dam to take off the surplus water. The real cause was a leak in the culvert to the Blower Wheel, which was about 10ft below the road surface.
Mr Spencer from the Grange opposite Wortley Top Forge then asked if Ken would clear the prolific willow herb from the grounds, so he borrowed a flame gun and with Mrs. Hawley (Emily) spent several Thursdays (his day, off) there. The patch stretched from Forge Bridge to the Blacksmiths.
About this time there was an article about the forge and Ken's involvement in 'The Star'. About six weeks later, David Jeffery phoned and said that he and his wife Elsie would like to help. David carried on helping and was very involved almost until he died.
Other people came along; the regulars were Derek Greaves and Alf Judge (a forgeman from Daniel Doncasters) with others coming and going. Ken had been working on his own for about three months before the others came.
The lean-to shed in the forge had lost its roof and collapsed generally so there was a huge pile of debris to be cleared to get to the back wall. It was a very exciting moment when they reached the enormous bed stone of the blowing machine.
The arch over the Blower Wheel was very precarious. Charlie, a bricklayer, filled in the gaps. It took two Sundays to repair and point the arch. If it had given way it would have been almost impossible to put it back together again.
Brian Radley, an assistant architect at Stocksbridge Works, did the first restoration on one of the stone columns. He cut the stone, prepared it and replaced the crumbling column, which could have collapsed. Brian was suffering from cancer, he had had a leg removed at the time!
The next undertaking was to clear the tail goit. The 'island' was intensely overgrown. The cottages were invisible from Forge Bridge because of 101 high nettles, etc. Groups of three worked systematically to cut it down; Derek Greaves was thereafter known as "Slasher'.
Clumps of enormous ferns, which had very solid roots, 18" in diameter were growing all the way up the goit. The men cleared them out, then all the muck had to be shovelled out. About twelve people were helping at this time. It took a few weeks to clear this. It was really silted up and 'enhanced' by the fact that two cess-pits higher up were emptied into the goit!
The tail goit clearance led to the thought that it might be possible to tackle the leaking culvert. To save closure of the Access Road whilst the trench was being dug on the forge side, a temporary bridge consisting of steel girders supporting railway sleepers was built over the site.
It was difficult - everything had to be hauled out. A 'Three-Legs' had been given by Edwin Walker (very precarious as there were two rights and a middle) plus chains and blocks.
When the men had dug through 3' of soil they came to nine enormous stones over the culvert. They were extremely heavy - 18" square and S' - 6' long. Ken, Derek Greaves, David Jeffery, Alf Judge and one or two others were working on this project.
They had to put chains round the stones and pull vertically with the blocks; two men stood on a plank across the trench and pulled at the chain. They were very raw at this stage, everything had to be learned the hard way by experience.
The dam was more mud than water - 1 ft of water and 5-6 ft of black, slimy, horrible, stinking mud!
The old-time forge workers had strengthened the roadway (at that level) with iron slag 18' deep, almost impossible to penetrate. (The road had to be strong enough to bear the weight of heavy carts full of railway axles).
A borrowed Bosch demolition hammer was very much worse for wear after it had cut its way through the ironstone slag!
To remove the silt from the culvert they borrowed a sling chain and used it to haul out a barrow. This process was very slow so they also reverted to throwing the mud up over their shoulders to a higher level from whence it was thrown up again to the road. They were working 10ft below road level.
John Cooper and his father, Albert (Toby), of whom much more later, came to help at this time. This was a real bonus as John is a Civil Engineer and knew how to deal with the complexities of the task in hand.
Once, when Ken was working 10 ft down, the barrow was being hauled up so enthusiastically, by John and Toby, that it overturned 5 ft in the air! Ken had a very lucky escape - it all missed him!
The clay lining behind the dry stone wall in the culvert had been eroded so they really were in trouble. The clay was used as a seal, as was the dam lining.
The deep water shuttle, which emptied all the dam into the river (the direct route to the river) was STUCK. Using a battering ram of sorts to hit the shuttle, it was eventually loosened. As there was more mud than water, they learned to close the shuttle; let it fill with water; then open it to wash away the mud; then close it again. This cycle was repeated until a 10 ft radius of mud and water started to slump.
They dug out about one thousand tons of mud by hand. It was an enormous undertaking to clear the dam - there was no money to pay for mechanical help.
The old forgemen would clear out the dam regularly but with only two feet of mud. This was called "feighing".
The restoration team learned to let the mud out over a period of time - perhaps two tons over two hours. It didn't clog the river. They dug channels to encourage the direction, starting at the shuttle and working back. They learned to dig the bottom foot of mud so that the upper 31 to 41 would slump. (It would now be illegal to let mud go into the river but it wasn't then).
There were huge clams 10 or 12" long in the fresh water dam. T
he original source of water to the hammer pond was the head goit from the river. Ken asked Mr Bramall, the owner of the big dam, for permission to fit a 12' bore pipe from the big dam so that another source of water was available.
The two jobs - dam cleaning and culvert repair were going on at the same time.
The men decided to make a reinforced concrete trough between the forge wall and the dam wall; it was designed by Harry English of Husband & Company. Before they made the trough they dug a drainage channel to the wheel pit; it was through 5 ft of solid rock. This was so that the water would not build up and cause undue pressure.
They were given some reinforcing bars. There were hundreds of joints and they all had to be tied with wire. They needed 12 tons of sand and 12 tons of gravel for the concrete (total cost £25). They bought a second hand mixer and poured in the concrete. The trough had to be tested for water tightness.
They put the capstones back and it is now sealed up. It was a MAJOR JOB which took nearly three years to complete.
The volunteers were only able to work at the forge on Sundays and Tuesday evenings.
This is just the beginning of the story, there is much more to follow. The next stage was another very major task, the restoration of the derelict maintenance building.
There had been baptism by water, fire and earth (mud) air was to follow!
The Cutting Edge - No.7 - 1991
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