Churchill Forge has a long and illustrious history spanning over 800 years. From the mid 1200s to the present day, the Forge, and the site that it occupies has been known for quality metal work and providing the people and factories of the West Midlands with tools to survive and thrive over centuries.
Although the Forge no longer turns in anger, it turns for the historical importance and enrichment of the area, and now welcomes visitors who wish to take a step back in time and experience a flavour of the industrial heritage that made the West Midlands and Black Country famous the world over.
Churchill Forge lies in the valley of the Ganlow Brook which rises in the Clent Hills in North Worcestershire, and flows down to meet the River Stour, which itself is a tributary of the Severn. Churchill Forge is the last many water powered forges that could once be found in this area. It has, for many years, been in the hands of the Bache family, a family that has had many connections with the Forge over the years.
The two waterwheels at Churchill Forge
The power for the Forge is provided by two water wheels. The water to turn these wheels is stored in “Hammer Pond” a pool, some two acres in extent, which was formed, probably as early as the 13th or 14th century, by damming the Ganlow Brook, the embankment thus formed now being the approach road to the Forge. A sluice gate allows water from the pond to enter a culvert under the footpath and into two header tanks from which it can be released when the wheels are required to turn.
The main wheel, which drives the machinery in the Forge, has a diameter of 17 feet and is 5 feet 3 inches wide. This has been carefully restored to its original condition. The spokes are of oak with steel buckets and it is mounted on a hollow cast iron axle, 18 feet in length. The axle carries two of the original flywheels which have projections which operated the tilt hammers which (unfortunately) no longer exist. The axle now has a spur wheel which meshes with a smaller one on a counter-shaft which in turn powers, via a flat belt, overhead shafting for the various hammers, presses and other machines. Outside on the axle of the wheel can be seen a crank, which, when connected by a long rod to a crocodile shear, is still capable of cutting mild steel 4 inches by 1 inch, cold!
The crocodile shear, and the hammer and anvil inside the workshop
The older wheel is also 17 feet in diameter, but only 2 feet 3 inches wide. The spokes are also of cast iron and are unusual in that there are seven. The axle is of oak. This wheel was used to power the furnace blower for the forge and two wet grindstones. Alas, the machinery is long gone and the wheel now turns for effect only.
In the same building as the Forge, on a higher level, is what was the grinding shop, but is now utilised to house an exhibition of former products and historic photographs.
The Forge produced what falls into the category of edged metal tools. From 1700 onwards the principal items made were spades, shovels, forks, rakes, hoes, cultivators, salt skippets (special shovels for the salt industry at nearby Droitwich), and ladles, which by 1960 were the main product and were used in the Stourbridge glass industry and the metal refineries of the West Midlands. The ladles were produced from one piece of steel and were considered to be of superior quality due to the very good design of the pouring lip.
A display of some of the tools that were made at Churchill Forge
Early in man’s history, the only power he possessed to motivate the primitive tools he required to carry out tasks such as grinding corn into flour for his bread was provided by his own arms or the somewhat greater strength of some domesticated animal.
It soon become obvious to him that Nature herself provided him two great sources of energy in the elements, wind and water. Both were violent enough to be enemies at times but if harnessed could serve him with unlimited power. Man saw that where streams ran down from the hills to join the large rivers on their way to the sea, the water could be made to turn a wheel.
The wind could be used to turn the sails of a mill, but where the wind was fickle in that it could not always be relied upon to be there when it was needed, water was more constant in its behaviour and in any case it could be stored in a dam that allowed it to be released to provide a flow as and when needed.
A medieval water mill from the Luttrell Psalter 1320 – 1340
The Ganlow Brook rises in the Clent Hills from whence it flows down to meet the River Stour. The brook moves fairly fast through a narrow course and so it became, over a period of time, the prime mover to manufacture the tools necessary to the rural community of the area and later to the growing industrial area.
Within a mile of Churchill station there is evidence of there having been ten water mills and a windmill, some dating back to Saxon times. In fact it is thought that there were more water mills in this locality that in any other equal area of England. It is difficult to realise, standing in the tranquillity of this picturesque old mill, that at one time Churchill was the centre of a vigorous industrial area engaged mainly in corn milling and iron founding.
The earliest history of Churchill Forge is given in a Charter granted in the reign of Henry III. This is on parchment in Latin and is in the reference library in Birmingham. The Charter states that in 1238 Robert de Hurcote gave Hugh Drugel “the whole land of Churchill with the advowson of the church and the mill” in the marriage with his sister Margery. Robert paid twenty shillings to the Lord of Hagley for the vill(age) and a yearly rent of six shillings and eight pence to the Prior of Dudley for the mill at Churchill. There were eighteen witnesses to this deed of grant and they were probably the guests at the wedding.
In 1368 another Charter recites a grant from Donimus de Duclent to John de Duclent, son of Edmund de Duclent, and Alice his wife, of “six shillings worth of annual rent from the mill at Churchill”. This deed names one of the witnesses as Thomas Penne of Harborowe. In 1538 a bond was made and endorsed by Bishop Lyttleton whereby Thomas Penn of Harborowe would pay “twenty pounds sterling” to Richard Penn for the sale of Brake Mill. A blade mill and pool are mentioned in another account toward the end of the sixteenth century.
The Bache family have lived in the Churchill area for many hundreds of years and their descendants now sit on the Trustee Board that owns Churchill Forge.
The first recorded Bache from which the present owners can trace their decent is William who was born in 1743 and died in 1817. He had six children and his eldest son William married Penelope Willets whose family, at that time, owned Churchill Forge. The Baches ran the nearby Stakenbridge Forge and by this marriage in 1796 the two businesses came under one ownership. Of William senior’s six children, only William junior and younger brother Benjamin worked at the Forge. William junior had seven children but only one, Henry (1810 to 1870), came into the business, and on his death his widow, Lydia, kept the Forge going for three years until her two sons, William and Thomas were able to take over.
One of Benjamin’s sons, John (born 1827) is on record as being a “spade and shovel plater” and his son, another Benjamin, who had also worked in the profession, for Isaac Nash Ltd of Stourbridge, returned to re-open the forge after it had been closed due to shortage of manpower during the First World War. Together with his son Claude, then twenty one, he commenced trading as “Benjamin Bache and Son, Spade, Blade, Shovel and Ladle Works”.
Benjamin Bache in about 1925
Benjamin worked well into his seventies, but he became blind and died in 1943. However, Claude Bache carried on until he retired in 1969 aged 66, and died only a year later. A short cine file shot in 1964 showing Claude Bache at work can be viewed on YouTube. Click here to go to it.
Benjamin Bache working at the hammer in the Forge
It was Claude’s clear intention that the Forge should be maintained as an historical legacy to coming generations as a working exhibition for education and general interest. Unfortunately, Claude died in 1970 before he could realise his dream.
Claude Bache making a ladle
Since Claude’s death, his daughter, Pauline, her husband Geoff Hayward and her family have acted as custodians of the forge to preserve it and its ancient machinery with implements in various stages of manufacture. However, the ravages of the weather and deterioration resulting from non-use made it impossible for one family, no matter how dedicated, although a few willing friends joined them, to maintain the Forge without further funding.
A busy day in the workshop
Early in 1979, a small group of friends and experts agreed to join the Haywards to form a preservation trust to repair the Forge and mill so that safe working could continue and the working watermill-forge made available to the visiting public. In 1981 Churchill Forge Trust Limited was formally launched. It is a company limited by guarantee and does not have a share capital. It is a registered charity. Restoration work to date has been funded by various grants and voluntary subscriptions. Money and help is still urgently needed to continue the work of restoring this valuable piece of industrial heritage so that future generations may appreciate the legacy left by the tradesmen of the past.
A large number of photos, videos and drawings of the Forge have been created and collected, a small collection of which can be seen in our online media library.
The full collection can be viewed on our open days.