Blacksmith's Shop, Thorley, 19th century

April, 2003



Bishop's Stortford

This page has been archived - no further updates  - see Mothballed Pages

Christine Ansell (christineansell @t of Northampton writes My elderly mother lives in Bishops Stortford and I have been helping her with her garden. We have found what appears to be an old forge or blacksmiths.  Does anyone know of any blacksmiths around the Thorley area.  She lives just off Thorley Hill and I am assuming that area would have been Thorley rather than Bishops Stortford as it is now.  I looked in the 1881 census and couldn't find any blacksmiths listed in Thorley. We don't know how old the building is and it is about a foot below ground but would be interested to find out more.

First of all, I cannot advise on the archaeology - except to say that there have been blacksmiths in Hertfordshire since the Iron Age!

A check of the 1851 Post Office Directory for Thorley (now copied onto a Thorley page) show that there was a blacksmith called Joseph Joscelyn - not listed in 1866 (or later). You can probably find out more about him in the 1841, 1851 and perhaps the 1861 censuses. There may also be a mention of family events (baptisms, marriages, burials) in the parish registers. It could be worth checking maps at HALS - I know they have a 1825 estate map covering parts of Sawbridgeworth and Thorley, and this might tie down the location of the smithy.

It is important to realise that the role of, and the need for, a blacksmith have changed over the years - and now we tend to think that the word "blacksmith" is synonymous with "farrier". Up to the end of the eighteenth century the blacksmith made many of the iron objects that would be found in a village, including agricultural implements, such as pitch forks and ploughshares - as well as horseshoes. The coming of the industrial revolution, and steam power (from machines made of iron) meant that some blacksmiths became what we would now called engineers. In addition more and more agricultural tools would have been factory made, meaning less business for the typical village blacksmith - particularly when the railways made the distribution of goods easier. There would even be less work with horses as much of the long-distance goods traffic (including stage coaches) switched from the road to rail.

While the coming of the motor car will have reduced the need for the shoeing smith - the need for virtually every village to have its own blacksmith had significantly decreased in the 19th century - which could explain why Thorley did not have a blacksmith in 1881.