Hackney man happy to forge ahead with traditional skills

Neil Stuart

Neil Stuart - Credit: Archant

Representing the last bastion of true tradesmen in the city, Neil Stuart is keeping his vocation as a third generation blacksmith alive.

As well as being able to recognise his work all over London, his 50 years of experience has taken him around the world.

The South Hackney resident said: “I worked in New Zealand where I was forging parts for yachts. Just about everybody there owns a yacht, whereas some people don’t own cars.

“We also put up a winery in Fiji. We built the parts in Auckland and spent six months putting it together and that was pretty fabulous.”

He added: “A few years ago I built a bridge in Auckland which was 60 metres long, curved like a snake over a ravine on precast concrete.

“It fit instantly and that was a wonderful feeling because none of us knew whether it would.”

Mr Stuart started working at 14 as an apprentice for his father, who learned from his father before him.

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Like many tradesmen he has had to adapt to the dramatic drop in blacksmiths after the deindustrialisation of the 1970s.

He practises as a design blacksmith, at odds with his father’s general smithing work, and that of his grandfather, who shod cavalry horses in the First World War.

From his forge in Stepney City Farm, Mr Stuart meets the varied demands of work in the area.

He said: “We’ve just finished some railings for a church in Dalston and we do many local jobs – everything from putting a handle on a shovel to church repairs.

“A lot of people think the days have gone when people will repair things but if it’s worth repairing, we will.”

Despite the many dangers involved in the job, Mr Stuart is filled with a passion for his work.

He added: “I love the job because it’s basically very creative. I have a very, very strong creative streak and this has filled that for me all of my working life.”

At 65, he is now keen to preserve the dying trade through courses offered at the forge.

These vary from taster courses to advanced workshops including theory and practical elements.

He said: “Patience is one of the first things you need to be a good craftsman, which is different to being a blacksmith. You also need good hand to eye coordination, and to learn the technology behind the hammer which is basic to a blacksmith but not to the average person.”

n To find out more about the trade and courses, visit stepneycityfarm.org.

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