The A to Z of Somerset: B is for Blacksmith

Vik Martin meets blacksmith Jo Williams in our series of A to Z in Somerset

Vik Martin meets blacksmith Jo Williams in our series of A to Z in Somerset - Credit: Archant

With one foot in tradition and one in innovation, how does Somerset inspire its workers? Over the coming months Vik Martin will take a stroll through the alphabet to find out

My next visit is to Jo Williams, a blacksmith living in the Chew Valley, with her forge at the Underfall Yard in Bristol. Blacksmithing is a traditional craft and the atmosphere at the forge is very different to the light, techy office I’ve just come from.

Jo herself is unusual for a traditional blacksmith though. She’s petite, feminine and fine art trained. Originally a sculptor working in metal, she fell in love with blacksmithing while preparing for her final degree piece.

“Ten years later I decided to go back to college at the National School of Blacksmithing, to specialise in forging skills and metalwork. The idea was to gain a better understanding of material and techniques, so my sculptures would be more ‘informed’. After that I was hooked and I decided to stay on for another two years! I was then fortunate to receive a year of training as a conservator blacksmith in heritage ironwork with the National Heritage Ironwork Group and got to work on some amazing projects including the Tijou screens at Hampton Court Palace.”

Jo hasn’t always had an easy ride though, being a woman in what is still a male dominated industry.

“Many people automatically assume ‘Jo’ is a man or that I won’t have the strength or ability to make something big or heavy and that’s not the case. Hot metal can be as soft and pliable as plasticine.”

Jo moved to Somerset from a farm in rural Herefordshire and felt drawn to the local landscape, as the artistic side of her work is heavily influenced by nature. “The balance of city and countryside works well. I can be inspired by the natural beauty of the area, whilst still having the momentum of the city to drive my work. I use traditional forging techniques, which gives the work a very different look and feel to machine made components and modern welded metalwork. It’s much more in keeping with the rural styles of Somerset.”

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So does she dream of one day having a workshop in the countryside where she lives?

“In the future, who knows? Somerset has got everything, hasn’t it? Rolling hills, lakes, coastline, the Levels... It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty and that does suit the organic nature of my work. Combined with the peace and the clean air, well, it’s very inspiring.”