A young man on the moors is making his way in one of the oldest rural trades. Chris Berry meets blacksmith Chris Raw.
Years ago, the North York Moors was home to a booming iron ore industry.
Nothing much remains today, but one young man is now making his future out of iron in the traditional way as a wrought-iron blacksmith.
Chris Raw, 21, set up Fryup Forge at Lawnsgate Farm in Fryupdale when he was a teenanger. That was three years ago after he had served his time with another local man and attended Herefordshire Technology College.
Where many of his age are captivated by X-boxes and PlayStations. Chris turned to the forge.
“I used to go and watch this local blacksmith from being seven years old and I knew it was right for me,” he says.
“Going down to college one week in six while I was serving my time with a highly-skilled blacksmith, James Godbold in Egton, taught me a great deal.
“I learned the skills of using the fire. A blacksmith works as much as he can from the fire only, and you learn to fire-weld, how to weld using molten metal.
“There are times when you have to resort to mig-welding but I try very hard not to. I was taught by Paul Allen who is quite simply one of the best.’
The impressive feature in the front garden at Lawnsgate is a wrought iron fountain, which was Chris’ final piece at college. It took him five-and-a-half weeks to make.
“That one piece utilised all of the traditional skills with not one bit of electricity.
“It was put together through fire, coke, metal and by my hands.”
Chris has gone on to make some wonderful pieces that would be worthy of his own art exhibition. This year he took a trade stand at three of his most local shows – Danby, Castleton and Rosedale.
The latter was fitting as this is was the heart of the iron ore industry between 1856 and 1926.
Chris’s unique, highly individual wrought iron chess set sold for £500 at Rosedale Show. I had seen it at Danby Show, along with an ornate and highly impressive music stand.
I had little doubt that both would find homes. Indeed they are the kind of pieces that could see Chris’s business become an international enterprise through internet sales.
“If I made another chess set it would be completely different from the one I sold at Rosedale. I like coming up with one-offs, things that can never be repeated in exactly the same way.
“I can’t sit and draw something but I can come up with things myself – and I can make something exactly to others’ drawings. Sometimes I will go into the forge and just think to myself ‘what would I like to come up with today?’
“It’s a great feeling to then come up with something that other people like and want to pay for. It’s an immensely satisfying craft.”
The business emerged as a result of family requests. “My grandma was always asking for things and it has just picked up from there.
“I now put together all kinds of items from curtain poles to hand rails; sets of gates and railings.
“There are times when you have to get on with regular fabrications work, such as a lockable back for a pickup.
“The jobs I really enjoy are those where you can put your own stamp on them.”
His biggest to date was for his aunt in Helmsley who wanted an impressive staircase feature in a barn conversion. The staircase is his masterpiece and took weeks of work.
“I was given drawings and measurements to make it fit. It had to adjoin three levels in the property, which is built on a slant.
“The bridge in the middle is a main feature and you walk across the bridge to get to the top mezzanine.
“The mezzanine was three and a half metres square and was made separately otherwise everything else was made in one piece.
“It took ten of us to put the two parts into position and as we were putting it in place one of the builders said they thought it was about an inch short. I had spent so much time and effort on making sure that everything was exactly to the specification and when we finally slotted it in, with both parts together there was just a 2mm gap.
“It’s one of those moments when a big smile comes to your face. It was a perfect fit.”
One of the beauties of his business is the location.
“It’s a fantastic part of the world. My mum and dad, David and Elaine, farm 34 acres with my brother Jonathan and me helping out.
“My other brother Michael is serving his time as a mechanic in Danby.
“We have between 50-90 calves on at any time that we rear from three to 15 weeks and we have two pedigree flocks of Texels and Charollais sheep.
“We took over from my grandparents who farmed here since 1957.
“I never really used to like farming too much but it is a way of life. If you want to live in a spot like this, with its fantastic views, it’s what you have to take on board and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The victorian story of Rosedale Iron
In 1853 two local entrepreneurs saw the commercial possibilities of ironstone that was to be found south west of Rosedale Abbey. Three years later two opencast mines were operating and the railway line built to transport the ore to blast furnaces on Teesside and elsewhere changed the character of the dale. A rural population of under 500 in 1861 rose to over 2,000 in ten years as workers in other parts of the country were lured by the top money. The boom years only lasted another 20 years or so. By 1930 the railway track and gear had gone but the industrial scars remained.