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The Old Forge

The Old Forge has developed from a medieval Hall House. It has been altered and added to over the last six-hundred years, but not drastically modernised. The medieval Hall House had an open hall with a fire in the middle of the floor with vents in the roof to remove the smoke. There would have been service facilities at one end and sleeping quarters (the solar) were at the other end of the hall. Later, cross wings were added to afford privacy and additional accommodation, and later still chimneys were added to remove the smoke.This house followed this classic example. The original hall was built in 1375, and the restoration by Essex County Council revealed smoke-blackened timbers still thick with soot from the central open fire.

The north wall still has an original window including the grooves for its sliding shutters. All chimneys were added in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when an additional floor was added to the hall. After this the farrier's shop was added to the end and rear. No decorated beams have been discovered but the carpentry is mainly original and in very good condition. Although now a private residence the farrier's shop and smithy remain and have an atmosphere of a workshop where the trade has been plied for many years, the earliest reference to it was in 1603.

 

When the property was acquired by Essex County Council for repair it was divided into two dwellings. The incumbent blacksmith was Melvin Baker, a tenant of the forge since 1971, and he became the new owner. He had as many as one thousand horses on his books at the one time, shoeing sometimes twelve per day at the forge. However, due to the increase in traffic in Chipping Hill and access problems, horses are not shod at the forge any more, instead the work was done on site in their own stables.

 

The business then became mainly ornamental and industrial ironwork. His predecessor, Henry Dorking, and, before him, Mr. Quy, were the subject of many picturesque scenes of old England, which decorated such things as biscuit tins and porcelain. The business continued until the untimely death of Melvyn Baker, and a decision was taken to continue the business in a unit on the industrial estate. The house and smithy then became a private residence, but the old forge still remains generally intact.

The old postcard view below shows how little the view has changed over the last hundred or more years.

Sources: Janet Gyford; Essex County Council; Witham & Countryside Society.

Text and Photographs: John Palombi and Cyril Taylor unless otherwise accredited. Illustrations: John Finch and Julie & John Denney. Translations: Google.com. Original Concept: Joy Vaughan, Witham Town Centre Strategy Group. Narration: John Rhodes
 

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