Mike has been wanting to go to this place ever since… oh, the day we came down here. And every time we see the brown signs off the A30 I am ‘reminded’ again. So, to kick off this year’s round of summer outings, we thought we’d give it a go.
Located in the village of Sticklepath, near Okehampton, The Finch Foundry originally served as a woollen mill, then a grist mill, before being altered to a forge, saw mill and wheelwright’s shop. It is one of the last water-powered forges in England. At its peak the foundry crafted 400 tools per day, including shovels, scythes, and sickles for miners and farmers across Dartmoor. It remained an active foundry until 1960 when the roof collapsed without warning and has been a National Trust property since 1994.
One of the two working water wheels outside the building.
It turned out to be a fascinating place.
Every hour during the day an NT volunteer brings it all to life with information about the history of the building and a demonstration of the equipment, including the massive hammer above.
The hammer is powered entirely by water. The water wheel drives a second wheel, inside the building, which has protrusions at intervals around its metal outer rim (just out of shot). Every time one of these protrusions comes into contact with the hammer it forces it to lift slightly before crashing back down. The volume of water turns the wheel at a quite staggering pace, producing a stamping motion at the business end of the hammer. Maybe not quite the dramatic scale of movement I’d been anticipating but all the same I’m grateful my fingers were nowhere near it at the time. It had no difficulty bending and flattening the red hot shaft of metal proffered by our guide.
The scissor like piece of kit bottom right is exactly that. Hooked up to the water wheel we watched its jaws open and close and another piece of glowing hot metal was neatly sliced in two. It would be a wonder if the original workers had any fingers left.
You have been warned.
Evidence of the building’s age can be seen all over, just look at those beautifully worn steps.
I was grateful to re-emerge into fresh air, the fire does create a bit of smoke, but I can only begin to imagine what conditions must have been like when this was a real working forge. Our attention was drawn to the original ceiling beams, only just above my head and I’m not tall by any stretch of the imagination.
In the Carpenter’s Shop, a range of tools made and used.
The Grinding House
Workers would lie down on the plank, almost on top of the grinding wheel, to better control the edge of the tool they were making. Their heads were so close to the grinding wheel they were literally putting their ‘nose to the grindstone’, hence the expression.*
*info from Britain Express. There’s a fascinating article here, should you be interested in finding out more about the foundry.
Outside there’s a small but pretty cottage garden..
And a riverside walk which we saved for another time. It was threatening rain.
But speaking of plants, Mike didn’t get the trip all his own way. As we’d been driving into the village my sixth sense had started to twitch. It was a small sign by the side of the road but not one I was ever going to miss. Bowden Hostas. Chelsea gold medal winning hostas no less. And as we would be returning home again by the same route it could hardly be denied we were passing. No navigational skullduggery required.
Now, I haven’t bought any hostas for years. They always go the same way and frankly I had given up. But if anyone is going to know how to defeat those wretched molluscs it will be someone who grows hostas, yes?
Only two. (Plus an opportunistic fern.) Strictly for the purposes of scientific research you understand.
The answer, apparently, is garlic. And I have the recipe. Stay tuned..