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Blacksmiths Celebrate St Clement’s Day at Okehampton’s Finch Foundry

Join Westcountry blacksmiths and metalworkers celebrating St Clement's Day on 22 November at the Finch Foundry. This ancient celebration includes working demonstrations and creative ironware on display as part of a national competition.
We all know about the bells of St Clement’s from the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons“, but St Clement’s Day itself is much less well known. November 23rd is the actual date of St Clement’s Day and the day is closely associated with the work of blacksmiths. Why not visit Finch Foundry near Okehampton and join in the celebrations which will take place a day earlier, on 22 November 2014?

Celebrate St Clement’s Day at Finch Foundry

still hosts an annual gathering of blacksmiths from all over the Westcountry on or around St Clement’s Day. This unique gathering includes blacksmithing competitions for these skilled artisans to show off their talents in what is a dying craft.

Part of the St Clement’s Day event is the traditional “anvil firing” which is well worth seeing. The ritual creates a shower of impressive sparks and a massive bang which marked the commencement of celebrations on “Old Clem’s Night”. This involves stacking one anvil on top of another and sandwiching an explosive charge in-between. When ignited, the top anvil shoots high into the air and lands with a huge crash – quite a sight for such a sizeable piece of solid iron!

Other blacksmithing traditions that remain part of the St Clement’s Day event include live demonstrations of their metalworking skills. There is also a display of decorative ironware which is part of a national competition.

Another event to look forward to on St Clement’s Day at Finch Foundry is Morris Dancing. The traditional seasonal refreshments of mince pies and mulled wine can also be enjoyed in this pre-Christmas event.

The History of St Clement

St Clement () is the patron saint of blacksmiths and metalworkers. Legend suggests that St Clement was the first person to refine iron out of ore and he used it to shoe a horse. What is known for sure is that St Clement was martyred, ironically being tied to a heavy metal anchor and tossed into the sea.

Historically, towns would celebrate St Clement’s Day as a holiday with a parade by members of the Guild of Blacksmiths. This was to honour the saint on his feast day, November 23rd.

In some places the smiths would go door-knocking to collect funds in an iron pot (of course!) which would fund an evening of booze and celebration at the local pub. This begging custom became known as “clementing” and evolved into children singing seasonal songs in return for apples, pears and other sweet treats of the autumn season.

Apart for horse farriers, blacksmiths are now few and far between so the St Clement’s Day celebrations largely died out in the 1940s. However, the practice was revived sometime in the 1950s at the Finch Foundry. This industrial heritage gem is where the last water-powered forge still remains in working order, thanks to the .

A visit to Finch Foundry

Finch Foundry is a unique National Trust property as it conserves an important part of Dartmoor’s history. Located at Sticklepath near Okehampton, this restored working foundry is still driven by three thundering water wheels powered by water from the River Taw.

The water wheels power an impressive array of hammers, shears and sharpening stones in what was once a successful tool factory. Just listening to the roar and clanging noise makes you appreciate just what it would have been like to work for 10 hours a day in a Victorian foundry or workshop.

At its zenith, the Finch Foundry produced 400 tools a day, hammering them out of iron. It remains the last remaining water-powered forge in England and makes an interesting day out at any time of year. However, the St Clement’s Day celebrations are particularly worth joining in. The whole event is extremely interesting and educational for everyone, so make sure you take note of the date and support the event.

Have you visited Finch Foundry? It operates several times a year and apparently is an amazing and noisy operation. Please enhance our article with your personal experience of this industrial heritage.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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