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Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths

The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths
First recorded 1299
Incorporated by prescription: King Edward II, 1325
Incorporated by charter: Queen Elizabeth I, 1571

Company History

At the time of its incorporation in 1325, four wardens were appointed to control the quality of ironwork in the City of London and its environs (generally accepted as seven miles). Today the affairs of the company are still governed by four Wardens.
In addition to the right to control the quality and price of ironwork in the City, the Wardens also had to ensure that Blacksmiths did not upset their neighbours with noise and fumes. It was also their responsibility to ensure that apprentices were properly trained and looked after.
A boy would be apprenticed at age 14, usually for a term of seven years. The completion of the apprenticeship would thus co-incide with his reaching the age of majority at 21. The master and Apprentice would sign, or mark, the indenture document which would be in two identical parts. Often this would be on a single sheet of paper to be cut to create a unique indent.
They would come before the Wardens when the Clerk would read the terms of the agreement to them. While most people can now read, this practice of reading the terms is still carried out when an apprentice is taken. The master and Apprentice would then go to the City Chamberlain's court for the document to be recorded, in case of future dispute.
Upon completion of apprenticeship it was necessary to appear before the Wardens and make an "apprentice piece". If satisfactory the apprentice would then be declared "free" of his Master and given his Journeyman's certificate. This meant that he could work for other Blacksmiths.
After a period of time he would come before the Wardens again to make his "masterpiece". If satisfactory he would then be declared a Master Blacksmith and would be invited to join the Livery of the Company. He was then entitled to take apprentices.
While the strength of the Company varied over the Centuries ( a detailed history is on the company website) the awards that are today given to working blacksmiths by the company have their origins in these medieval practices and customs. The Company still gives Journeyman certificates to successful students at approved colleges and has developed a series of awards in conjunction with working Blacksmiths.
The skills that have to be demonstrated to win an award are detailed on the company website and provide a logical progression as skills are developed. The principal awards are: Diploma of Merit, bronze, silver and gold medals. The current holders are also on the website.
While all the applicants are assessed by working Blacksmiths who make their recommendations, the final decision rests with the current four Wardens. This provides the historic link with the origins of the Company and the ancient art and mystery of the Blacksmiths.

As well as "career" awards the Company supports Blacksmithing competitions at County shows nominated by the NBCC. These are National Champion Blacksmith and Best Blacksmith. The Champion Blacksmith is the Smith who wins, or is runner-up, at a maximum number of competitions. The Company presents to the winner the National Championship Blacksmith cup, a certificate and a cash prize. The Best Blacksmith award is given to the Smith who receives the highest total of points from all the County shows which run a hot, or"live" forging competition. The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths presents to the winner a plaque and a cash prize. The reserve (runner-up) also receives a plaque and a cash prize.

All liverymen are proud of their association with an ancient craft that still has so much relevance today and the fact that the Worshipful Company can still support and recognise those skills.

Martin Heath
( Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths)

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