The Village Blacksmith

Annabelle Bradley is the village blacksmith on the Malham Smithy. See inside the 200 year old forge in the YouTube video interview by James Roy from the University of Salford.

Annabelle Bradley

Do you ever begin to dread Sunday nights? Laying awake, your brain whirring, stomach churning, with thoughts of an arduous Monday morning commute to work, rushing to drop the kids en-route, hoping the nursery staff don't notice their breakfast covered clothes until you are safely back in your car. The memory flooding back of the urgent paperwork you stuffed back in your in tray with wanton abandon on Friday evening.

Well for me that sleepless night has gone. Monday morning begins by waving goodbye to my daughters as they set off to the village school at a very reasonable hour. Embarking on my new commute of a fifty metre walk through Malham, one of the most beautiful villages in the Yorkshire Dales, crossing the ancient clapper bridge Annabelle Bradley malham village blacksmith at workover the babbling beck and into the Malham Smithy to begin my days work as the village blacksmith. And as for the piece of work discarded in frustration before the weekend, well that takes on new life as it is reheated in the forge, hammered and twisted into form, each blow on the anvil releasing cobwebs and tensions, bringing the building alive and a spark in my step.

From Tax Accountant to Blacksmith, I guess the contrast could not be much greater. Nor could there be a more satisfying achievement.

I had worked for a multinational engineering organisation preparing group accounts and tax computations for many years, in fact the years just started slipping by with that comfort zone enveloping smoothly round me before I even noticed. With my children starting school, the two hour daily commute was beginning to unravel the practicalities of running a family life and a career and I reached a point where I had to consider rearranging my work life to fit my family. Should I choose to just relocate physical work surroundings closer to home or should I relocate my future, embark upon a new adventure, listen to my creative yearnings?
Sometimes, something somewhere prompts you. Don't ignore it. My push came from the local Parish News, the local church owned the Malham Smithy, bequeathed to them by renowned blacksmith Bill Wild, which had lain unoccupied for several years. The Church Wardens were looking for interested parties to bring life back to the smithy, and who was I to refuse? I hoped to use the workshop for my silver work and craft hobbies, and maybe sell some things along the way. However, as custodians of our village's heritage the Wardens had hopes that the Malham Smithy would remain just that. A blacksmiths for around 200 years, then a blacksmiths it would be. Or should I say, then a blacksmith I would be.

I took on the Malham Smithy in February 2007, and for the first couple of years agreed to share the workspace with David that had taken up blacksmithing as a hobby and showed me the basic techniques to get started. Together we developed our skills, as well as developing our knowledge of what were viable commercial products and opened up the doors of the Malham Smithy to the public in April 2007.
It has been a tough learning curve, I get immense satisfaction from spending weeks creating a dramatic sculptural piece, however I have to carefully balance my time to fulfil orders for the more functional pieces for the home and garden. Fourteen years down the line it is still a balance act! Like that urgent report that only gets completed for the deadline - pieces are being forged right up the the last minute, be it to complete an order or finishing off a sculptural piece for an exhibition.

The appeal of my work to visitors to the Malham Smithy is benefited by the fact that you can watch me work at the forge and see your piece being created, real life ‘retail theatre'. I take part in village shows demonstrating to the public and I am fortunate enough to be invited by the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths to take on the role of Senior Steward and hold blacksmithing demonstrations and courses at the Great Yorkshire Show. The past four years have opened up new opportunities to allow students to come to the Malham Smithy for their work experience week, it's great to see the enthusiasm the students have for learning new skills and getting the chance to create their own pieces.
I now offer the Malham Smithy Blacksmithing experience to all ages for those interested in giving blacksmithing a go. The Blacksmithing for Beginners Day Courses have taken off as a fantastic success, more information can be found about these on the course page.

When I now look to the future, the Malham Smithy is a very integral part of our family life. I cannot see a time that I would be prepared to hand back the keys to the building. I feel proud of being part of the villages blacksmithing heritage, and hope that my children will also continue to enjoy the time they spend there working on the anvil just as I do.

Annabelle Bradley
Artist Blacksmith at the Malham Smithy

Blacksmith Annabelle Bradley is the female blacksmith at the Malham Smithy in the Yorkshire Dales National Park