Bridge Reeve Forge



The Blacksmiths Forge in Bridge Reeve



My understanding about what used to happen in those days was that blacksmiths moved around from village forge to forge, for whatever reason, and in effect, when the ‘vacancy’ arose at Bridge Reeve, James Ellis (born 1844 or 45 in Sandford, near Tiverton) came to live and work here.


Iron was known as the ‘black’ metal and ‘smith’ is a derivation of ‘smite’ – meaning to hit, and hence the men who worked iron became known as blacksmiths.  Coke was the most popular fuel to produce the high temperatures required in the furnace, which could be intensified with the use of bellows.


Old forges always appeared to be rather dark inside, (as James Ravilious’s photos show well ) but there was a good reason for this.  The dim light within enabled the smith to see the changing colour of the hot rod iron as it was tempered and forged, showing him how malleable it was becoming.  From time to time, it had to be immersed in cold water and reheated again.


The smith would make the tools used locally in the fields, woods and gardens and also repair them, as well as the larger items such as farm implements.  They would also work closely with the local wheelwright to make and fit cart and wagon wheels.  (There was a wheelwright in Ashreigney).  Also nails large and small, gate hangers and hinges, gamekeeper’s traps, and all manner of stuff that could be made of iron.  (No nipping down to the local B&Q in those days!).  Probably not so much in the early days but definitely latterly, blacksmiths had to undergo further training and take extra qualifications in order to become a farrier, enabling them to shoe horses.  This is a specialized job, as it is easy to damage horses’ hooves – not good in those days, as the horse was king.


An unusual aspect of Bridge Reeve forge is that it remains largely unchanged from its working era, although now in a much dilapidated condition.  Many old village forges have been converted into houses, with names reflecting their past history, as in The Old Forge, The Old Smithy, Blacksmith’s Cottage and the like.  There is, in fact, an ‘Old Forge’ at Sandford, situated on a road junction well outside of the village, which is quite probably where James Ellis (and his family?) lived and worked before moving to Bridge Reeve.


If James left school at say, 14 or 15, and then trained to be a blacksmith, (4 or 5 years, or seven apprenticed years?), then we’re looking at him moving to Bridge Reeve sometime in the 1860’s early 1870’s.  We know that his son, Frederick George was born in 1876 in Bridge Reeve, so it must have been before that particular year.


James Ellis – FG’s son, born c1908 at Taw View, Bridge Reeve.  Also became a blacksmith.  He worked at the Bridge Reeve smithy at some point, but then operated out of a forge in Chulmleigh.  The Bridge Reeve forge was then operated by Jim’s brother, also called Frederick George Ellis.


The iron (used for making this knife) was found in the garden of the neighbouring house (my father-in-law), where some members of the Ellis family lived from time to time. It is more than likely that the iron came from the forge at Bridge Reeve, as opposed to being ‘imported’ from another forge elsewhere, and, in all likelihood was forged by one of the above.

Iron found in the garden next to the forge.

Old and new carbon steel blades

Forging the blade at Portland Works. 1095 carbon steel core with the iron forge welded on each side.

Blade forged and ground. Etched to reveal the inner core and the iron on the outside of the blade.

The handle is made from bog oak and ash. The ash came from the same garden as the iron. A truly unique piece. 

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