What happens when a bunch of re-enactors are let loose in a forge for 3 hours? Lots of fun basically.
I kept seeing a Groupon deal for a forging experience at Oldfield Forge in Hereford. I’d been tempted but hadn’t signed up immediately due to the Covid situation and it being a long way to travel, but then I received a discount code which made it just too good to resist. It was such a tempting offer that we ended up with four members of Odin’s Aett Viking Re-enactment group making the long three and a half hour treck from Peterborough to Hereford, or five if you count Einar who insisted on sneaking in to the car. With no reenactment events happening this year this was a fabulous substitute to keep the enthusiasm going.
The forge experience was 3:30pm – 6:30pm, which it said was enough to make an item of your choice from a short list. The options listed were, Fire poker, Candlestick holder, Bottle opener, Spoon holder, Pen holder, Key ring, Letter opener, Cheese Knife, Toasting fork, Rose – between two people, Garden snail, Towel rail, or Small Bell. Inevitably we all wanted to make things that we could use for re-enactment events. We had more than a few ideas before we arrived.
We arrived early, even after stopping for a very nice lunch at a village pub. It was cold and raining but we were still quick to jump out of the car to get our first view of the forge. What a place it was, a large open fronted barn with maybe a dozen forges all roaring away, all spaced out so there was plenty of room to work. They all seemed to be dual forges so a person could work from each side, each with their own anvil and an impressive assortment of tools.
When we arrived another group were just finishing their session, these folks had been on a two day course making fabulous pattern welded knives, they were seriously gorgeous and everyone seemed very pleased with their new blades. We were just a little bit jealous.
We were shown through to the showroom where we were pointed at a table covered in all the different things we could make in our three hours, it was like letting a bunch of kids loose in a candy shop especially when it turned out the list had been missing a whole host of options, including a spear head and a simple knife with a blacksmith handle which Ben, the head smith, said could easily be made as a seax. It turned out the Ben and several of the other smiths who were leading the session were reenactors too, members of Historia Normannis Hereford, so they totally understood what we were hoping for. Gary opted to make a spear head, James the seax, Lisa went with a toasting fork to use in living history and I went for a lucet, aka a mini toasting fork.
Once our choices were confirmed the team gathered together the materials we would need and while they got things ready we went through to the forge to be kitted out with safety gear and given the health and safety briefing – which of course included things like social distancing and wearing face masks while moving around.
From there it was totally hands on, the smiths would demonstrate on a sample piece and then we went to our own forge to do the same on our piece. This continued step by step through the whole process until we’d made what we wanted. There were people making different things all around the forge each given one on one tuition when needed but left to get on with it wherever possible. We were free to make any changes we wanted to get something truly unique and personal.
It was an amazing experience, hot, noisy, dirty, and quite exhausting but so rewarding seeing things take shape. There was definitely something exhilarating about heating the rod of mild steel until it glowed and then bashing it into shape. My favourite part was twisting the handle into a spiral, it was such a quick transformation and then in an instant it was once again cool and far too solid for me to bend even slightly. Strangely primal. It really felt like we were doing something historic, that our ancestors would have done.
The team at Oldfield Forge were clearly passionate about what they do and made everything seem easy. “Get it hot and hit it hard” as their how to sign said. They were willing to step in any time help was needed but didn’t intrude if you were happy playing with the fire on your own. Mistakes weren’t a problem, they just helped you start over and if you wanted they helped get you back to where you were before things went haywire quickly. We had a few fumbles where the metal got too hot and melted but nothing that couldn’t be fixed. We never felt like we were being rushed, in fact we over ran our three hours because we were happily chatting re-enactment and generally having a great time, but rather than hurrying us up they happily showed off some of the other cool things possible, even letting James quench his blade for that forged in fire experience. Ben rounded off the day for us by giving a quick demo of how to make a bodkin arrowhead, and I do mean quick, we timed him at 46 seconds!
At the end of the day we all came away with something we’d made that we could be proud of and with some excellent memories of a really good and fun time. There are quite a few other experiences available and with such excellent facilities and teaching I’m sure it won’t be long before we go back to try another. Even better, it’s given us a little bit of know-how and the confidence and enthusiasm to give it a go at home so the forge that has been laying idle in our workshop for far too long is going to be fired up soon.
At the time of writing, the 3 hour deal is still available on Groupon either solo or for couples and we totally recommend it. It’s excellent value as the items you make would cost more to buy than the experience costs, and you get the great memories and that little bit of pride at having made it yourself. Huge thanks to Oldfield Forge for giving us such an amazing day.