Celia Stone finds out more about John Ward, the blacksmith of Donkeywell Forge in Quenington
John Ward is not only keeping alive the skills of craftsmen, he is also interesting young people to take up and maintain its traditions, by from time to time recruiting new apprentices.
Very few villages have their own forge these days – as they also no longer have a post office, local shop or their own school. Quenington’s forge however differs in its line of work from those of older times, which carried out mainly farriery and the casual odd job of repairs to metalwork.
Although John Ward still carries out farriery, his main occupation is in blacksmithing and creating decorative architectural ironwork. This includes for churches, for private individuals, and at prestigious locations such as Buscot Park, working for the National Trust.
John, who has been at his current base for about eight years, followed an apprenticeship in February at the start of his career, but has always had an interest in the blacksmithing aspect and he now specialises in this.
People walking through the village of Ampney St Peter will be able to admire the new gates he has made for the entrance, and those who attend services at Compton Abdale will be able to have a safe passage up the steep and winding path to St Oswald’s Church with the aid of the handrail which the forge has made.
John works with architects and designers. A recent commission on which he has been working this year is four chandeliers to hang in a new wedding venue at Bolton Abbey, a stately home in Yorkshire.
The chandeliers are described by John as ‘gigantic’, measuring two metres high and two to three metres across. He expected the whole project to take about three months to complete.
Originally from Bristol, he started out in welding and fabricating, then having always had an interest in horses he started at the age of 22 his four-year apprenticeship in farriery, at the town forge in Malmesbury.
This was to stand him in good stead later in his career, when he was doing work for racehorse trainers. He shod a winner of each of steeplechasings most high-profile races, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. His Grand National winner was a horse named “Don’t Push It”.
But while farriery was his main focus during his apprenticeship, he also followed in his own time his interest in blacksmithing.
At the age of 27 he was able to start his own business which in this year of 2018 celebrates its 21st anniversary. He initially based the business in a workshop in Coln St Aldwyn, there concentrating on blacksmithing.
He moved to Quenington about eight years ago, to Donkeywell Farm, which is owned by the Ernest Cook Trust, a well-known supporter of the continuation of traditional skills and crafts.
John has a staff of four, plus apprentices. This is very much a family business, with his wife Fiona dealing with the secretarial side and their two sons and their daughter enjoying helping out after school and at weekends.
John takes satisfaction not only in the creation of his ironwork, but in seeing it in its new setting.
Once a project has been completed, he and his team carry out all the installations themselves. “I like new gates to settle in looking as if they have always been there,” he says.” If a client says that this is how they appear, then we have succeeded,” he says.
“The greatest thing is to make sure that we are proud of what we are making.”