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‘Les Miserables’

Shackles for Les Miserables 2012, close up.

Shackles for Les Miserables 2012, close up.

Missed this one! Well I did until today, I’ve just realised we made props for the award winning Les Miserables film and didn’t shout about our involvement, we were so busy in 2012 I totally forgot we had done our bit toward the film’s success.

Barricade Productions approached us regarding a particular scene where they needed a large quantity of authentic ‘slave’ shackles. We had worked with some of their production staff on other films, so were recommended as a safe pair of hands. I have a big problem with anything to do with the word ‘slave’. As a professional, 21st century Smith I don’t do restraint items, arms or weapons (including knives). Barricade were quick to clarify that this was the only description that fitted what they had in mind, the metalwork was to be used in a set dressing context. The production company  was hiring Pinewood Studio’s water tank set for the scene (a big deal apparently, James Bond movie’s use it a lot!)  and to boot it had Russell Crowe as the baddie ‘Javert’; he’s my wife’s favorite, so I had to take on the commission.

In the scene, Hugh Jackman’s ‘Jean Valijean’ lead charachter fights his way on to a dry land, weighed down by his chain restraints, having survived a landing from a stricken ship. Following are many ‘lost souls’ in a similar predicament. Twenty five sets of bindings/cuffs/shackles were needed for the professional actors. We had made some for the ITV series of ‘Sharp’ in the 90’s starring my favorite actor Sean Bean, so twenty + sets was no problem. As usual budget was a problem, but we managed to deliver accurate copies of the production companies historic sample.

Burrows Lea Forge’s blacksmiths turned round the order for 25 sets within 2 weeks of the order being placed and on budget. That’s pretty good as Movie work goes. Especially as we were making pieces for Walt Disney’s ‘Malificent’ at the same time.Thanks to Mick, his industrial Smithing expertise did us proud on this one (as he always does).

Les Miserables shackles 25No. exactly copying Baricade Production's original on right.

Les Miserables shackles 25No. copying exactly Barricade Production’s original on right.

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Not a gate?

Original Arts & Crafts, conserved and displayed.

When is a gate not a gate?

When its a piece of Art?

These lovely gates date from the late 19th Century (that’s Victorian if your British). We conserved these gates for a private client. Luckily for the gates the client is an Art professional, who realized their value culturally and financially. They we’re rescued from a salvage/reclamation yard a few years ago purchased with no provenance. The client wanted to use them as a feature somewhere in the house or gardens of her beautiful Edwin Luytens/Gertrude Jeykell designed Arts & Crafts House.

In consultation with Burrows Lea Forge Ltd. she was only to aware that the first rule of conservation had been broken; moving a piece from its original location. Nothing could be done about that now, but there was an opportunity to embrace another Conservation rule, namely if a piece is in danger in its location, it should be moved to a more suitable (preferably permanent) site.

Detail of Arts & Crafts gate.

These gates are very special, they are in an Arts & Crafts style, expertly balanced  and we suspect they were originally commissioned for a civic building, church or public office. There is an enormous level of detail, demanding top level forging skills. Interestingly and in the spirit of Arts & Crafts, the Artisan was only too aware of his excellent work and deliberately allowed ‘schoolboy’ errors in the setting the piece. As a craftsman I can easily identify what’s going on, the technical execution is so expert, it makes a joke of the deliberate errors, I suspect the Blacksmith responsible, might have hoped a Peer will see through his fakery, as I would in his situation. Well, I have!

Its amazing the time-shift a skill or craft can breach; you can get inside the head and empathize with someone long gone. Conservation and restoration does this, as you look closely, respecting the work of others, you can truely see inside their minds and feel what they must felt as they ‘turned’ a scroll or ‘pinched’ a collar or made a small mistake! Its a marvelous thing.
Back to the job! The client thought about the best use of the gates for quite a while and eventually with our guidance decided for us to install them in the covered arch way to the old coach-house of her property. The bare wall of the inner arch was crying out for some sort of ‘interest’. So we installed the gates on the wall. We were conscious to install them high enough to be aesthetically acceptable and safe from the prevailing weather. We used the original hinge mounts fixing them with stainless steel fixings into the Bargate stone wall. Mindful all the time of reversibility of of our actions.
So the gate went up, they looked great and as you can see there is  as much on show today, no less than there was 100 years ago, with any luck, 100 years from the view will be the same.

THAT”S CONSERVATION! sorry  I meant ART.

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Gallery!

Forged and painted flower, Middle Street, Shere.

In these pages I hope to show you what we’ve been up to over the last twenty or so years.

The pictures in Gallery pages are mostly my own designs and if they are not, the designer is accredited. Where the designs are solely Burrows Lea Forge’s they will carry an Artist copyright and cannot be copied or used without my permission. The work itself is entirely ours, I don’t show pictures of other peoples work! With that said I hope you like what you see and don’t forget to give me a click or call if you want more information.

We’ve done a lot of work for a small company and worked very hard to keep solvent and good humored. I’ve worked with many Smiths, Designers and Architects since 1992 and where possible (and justified) I’ve accredited those involved. Somewhere in the Web process I might have missed someone or another, it won’t be deliberate, so don’t sue me or anything. If you are missing and feel you deserve some credit please don’t hesitate to drop me a line or call and bend my ear.

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Bacchus Gate

In July 2008 the Bacchus gate came to life in a sketch, doodled in crayon (because that’s all I had), in front of the customer on a spiral pad (because that’s all I had).  Ever the professional, I had left my site bag in my other van. I was warned by a very well know Blacksmith friend of mine never to do this as it can look amateur and may commit you to something you might regret. I’m sure he’s right!

But I would disagree on one account, I often find sketching quite liberating and often catches the moment far better than memory ever can. Even a few lines can remind you later of what was happening at the time. I have to work very hard when it comes to sketching, I can technically draw very well and I can do formal drawing without to much trouble, but to do ‘off the cuff’ doodles I have to be careful. But this time it was like a dream, it flowed and as the client described what he was trying to achieve for his home.

Bacchus gate detail.

We discussed Bacchus, the god of indulgence, the Horn of Plenty, grapes, fruit and what too many good times can do to you. So a Horn of Plenty Gate adorned with vines, fruit and a bit wobbly was the result…… perfect as the gate was to be sited at the head of a narrow stair to a wine tasting cellar, against a rustic brick wall and to be seen from a French Provence inspired kitchen.
So I scaled the design up from the folded paper to full size and handed it over to the workshop. They did a brilliant job. It was one of those jobs that everyone enjoyed, the money was right, the design was perfect and there was plenty of scope for free form interpretation. The gate and a small panel were finished in a Slate grey finish that my Friend Andy Quirk showed me how to make up and apply.

I wish that so many other jobs went this way…… the client was also delighted!

Bacchus Gate and Panel

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Restoration of ‘Tijou’ Gates at Petworth House.

Acanthus Rosette

Acanthus Rosette on existing Gates in need of Conservation

September 2012 Burrows Lea Forge Ltd. won the tender commissioned by The National Trust to Restore the ‘Tijou’ Gates at Petworth House, West Sussex, England,

The Contract is signed and the Purchase Order complete. This is a dream job for us and probably most British Blacksmiths (the ones that actually hot forge their metalwork that is!). The Gates need Conserving and Restoring to their former glory.

Tender test piece 200 x 200mm x 12g, mild steel, Acanthus Rosette made by Nick Bates

Despite being known locally as the Tijou Gates, they are in fact Victorian opposed to early Georgian. That doesn’t mean they are any less in character or quality. In fact I believe Victorian Acanthus Work of this quality is in a league of its own, being almost perfect in charachter and execution, without the wasteful  excess of the Master Ironworker ,Jean Tijou.

The reason they are known as the ‘Tijou’ gates is that they are based upon his design, a design the man himself used on three occasions at Hampton Court Palace. The most notable is the last incarnation, commissioned by George I, known as the Lion Entrance Gates facing Bushy Park.

This a big job for us, at least 30 weeks. So my Blogs from now on will consist mainly of notable previous work, no less interesting though. There are still a few new things in the pipeline, namely our Conservation of The Durdan Gates at Epsom, UK and our latest Public Art commission for Guildford Borough Council. at Burpham, Surrey, UK.

I’m writing a separate Blog for the ‘Tijou’ Gates as it will take up so much of my time, please take a look though if you are interested Petworth Gates.

‘Tijou’ Gates Circa 1900

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Manor House Balustrade

The Manor House balustrade

We like a challenge… and with the largest one yet on the horizon (watch this space), I was thinking about some of the ones that have tested us over the years, well the ones I want to remember that is!

We just called it the Manor House balustrade, as I do now, as so not to reveal the site or the client, I had to sign a bit of paper you know! The job entailed making a new balustrade to replace and existing, but to reuse the Cuban Mahogany handrail. How difficult could that be! As it turned out, VERY. The warning signs were there, the previous contractor had walked off, the House

Manor House balustrade corner wreath

refurbishment was nearly complete and the commissioning agent jumped to accept what I thought was a slightly expensive quote, but we carried on regardless.

I’m not going into the surveying or manufacture process we employed because this is a Blog not a technical publication, but in short we had to admit to  learning lots of lessons. Blood, sweat and tears (a lot of tears, yes, blacksmiths are allowed to cry too), we worked though until spring 2004. The gilder had finished. The money had run out, patience and goodwill too! The last screws went in…. and finally it was installed and looked fantastic!

To any young crafts/business person reading, I’d like to reassure you that the saying ‘What doesn’t kill you… makes you stronger!” is true, however in my experience it’s best not to try it too often. I’ve found that no matter how bad it sometimes seems, or you wish you had never started a job…. all things come to an end and reward is often found in unexpected places.

With the latter in mind, the picture (at the top) has endorsed Burrows Lea Forge’s capability and skill to new clients greatly since 2004, so much so the losses of that project have been negated and that single picture still earns us prestigious commissions to the present day.

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Ironmongery for ‘Malificent’ film.

A selection of Ironmongery for ‘Malificent’

Late spring 2012 we were approached by Briar Rose Productions to make some set decorations and props for a Walt Disney Productions film titled Malificent (the wicked witch/Queen in Snow White) played by Angelina Joli, the film was directed by Robert Stromberg.
As usual we were approached because the production company wanted accurate, quality reproductions and interpretations of their designs, hand forged by Artisans and delivered in the time restraint that film production demands. Its a credit to Disney and Briar Rose that our traditional craftsman skills and authentic product we offer  are valued over fake or CGI decorations.
The picture above shows a small example of what we made hopefully you might see our small contribution in context when the film comes out in March 2012. Just in case you wish to commission copies of this ironwork…. you can’t, I’m afraid. We made these items exclusively for Disney, so you’ll have to talk to them first!
If you’re interested in this type of work, take a look in the ‘The Movies’ section of this website for more examples.

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The Batsman Gate and Railing, Guildford, UK.

The Batsman gate and railings was commissioned by the Radian Group in early 2012 and installed at the end of June 2012. The Public Artwork commission made up Radian’s S106 planning obligation linked a new housing development opposite Surrey’s Cricket Ground in Guildford, Surrey. Radian had the foresight and trust to offer us an open brief regards to design. Radian gave us a sensible completion date which we dutifully met with time to spare. I’d like to thank Radian’s senior project manager Rob Cummins for the opportunity to create this work and their builders Leadbitter Ltd. for their support enabling us to deliver the project on time and within budget.

I chose to tell a story with our Artwork. The Artwork imagery compromises of a Cricket Batsman caught in the act of hitting a ‘six’. The sculpture tells the story of an incoming fast ball, the skill of the batsman converts the fright of a  fast bowled ball into the delight of a hard hit ball that no-one can field to safety.

The hope was that children and inevitably adults will want to touch and try to ‘pluck’ the ball from it ‘final resting place’ buried in the ‘damaged’ the railing (they won’t be able to of course!) The intent was realized within minutes of the work finally installed, when a member of the public patting the ball ‘lodged’ in the railing as they passed by. The Batsman and stylized cricket balls have a lot of suggested movement in their forms, although I designed the structure to be totally rigid and tamperproof.

The contemporary styled sculpture is made from hot forged mild steel and is reasonably ‘heavy’ in appearance. Hot forging by its nature imparts life, and suggests an organic and natural feel to what is otherwise a dead metal. There’s a contrasting surface textures, smooth rivet heads, heavily mottled textured bars etc. The sinuous, twisting body of the Batsman is at the foreground of the gate, fixed to the front of the gate frame, behind him are (intact) cricket stumps and behind that is the outline of a giant, stitched seam cricket ball. The gate frame copies the twisting action of the Batsman. The layering does not add up much depth, perhaps only 100mm, but compared to an ordinary gate it will appear deep and rich.

Material density also varies, the ‘balls’ (which are hollow spheres) will sound hollow when rapped with knuckles, whereas the batsman and stumps, rigid and unyielding. The artwork is viewed mainly from passing traffic and pedestrians walking past on both sides of the road, so a substantial build is desirable.

The steelwork is hot dipped galvanized and treated with Phosphoric acid, the surface is then cut back with a light abrasive. We then sealed the resultant effect with a hard wax. This is not a permanent process, just one that speeds up the final effect.

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Tree Seat.

Tree Seat

Tree Seat looking out onto the Surrey Hills

Timber and Iron always compliment each other well.

Furniture is the obvious choice for mixed media items, although it works well in gates and fencing too. The Tree seat featured in this article is one we designed , made  and eventually fitted in June 2011. The brief was to design a light looking seat (‘As if floating!’ I think the client said) but to use wood as the seating material, that’s not an easy trick to pull off, timber alway adds visual weight, so you have to offset that with good detailing and light colouring. The Ironwork is fairly simple as is the timber slats that make up the seat and back rest. The seat slats are tapered to match the radial development of the circular bench. The timber was selected and machined perfectly by my good friend James Steer, from Oram Joinery.

As with the Sime Memorial Bench we installed last month, the timber we chose is a tropical hardwood called Iroko, which is a bit like teak. It is very stable and looks great when it is oiled. We use a horribly expensive product called Osmo oil which is organic, so its impact on the environment is minimal.The oil does the job well, although it does take 4 -5 days to dry properly when you first apply it. The metalwork was galvanised and phosphate washed, as a lot of our outside work is, giving a maintenance free finish. The timber will have to be cared for and recoated in the Osmo oil from time to time but thats the difference between wood and galvanised metal!

Tree seats always offer great photo opportunities as you can see, despite being in the shadow of the tree and on an overcast, showery day,  the beautiful coloured timber sets it off a treat. Here’s a photo of the whole thing.

Full view of Tree Seat

Full view of Tree Seat

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Fire Dogs & Baskets

Norman Shaw Repro Fire Dogs

Reproduction Fire Dogs – Richard Norman Shaw

We design and make a lot of Fire related Ironwork.

Straight away we need to discern the difference between Wrought Ironwork and Cast Ironwork in this article. We at Burrows Lea Forge work in the medium of Wrought Iron/Mild Steel, which can be forged, bent and generally manipulated by heat in a Blacksmiths Hearth, it is ideally suited to ‘limited batch’ production and ‘one off’ bespoke items. Cast Iron like the name implies, is cast. In a Foundry molten Iron is poured into a pre-formed sand or ceramic mould this process lends itself to be ‘batch/semi mass’ market. Confusingly hot forged Mild Steel is often referred to as ‘Wrought Ironwork’ even though it is Wrought Iron-less…… its very confusing I know, I have to explain it all the time, sorry for that!

Fire dog & basket

Hand forged fire dog and basket.

With that over, back to my Blog, the most obvious Wrought Ironwork fireside items are Fire Baskets and Dogs. The ‘Dogs’ are traditionally separate to the Basket and can be used to support/position large logs while they are burning in the fire, but they can be used in conjunction with the Basket to burn a more wide variety of combustibles. Quite often we have orders for ‘statement’ Fire Dogs, just to create a fire place setting even when there is no intention of using a Basket or ever lighting a fire in the hearth. Fire Dogs and Baskets need to be heavily made; they have to withstand the rigours of heat, weight and the caustic conditions the fire’s ashes create.

We like to design specifically for each Hearth; every fireplace has an individual character and it’s a shame to just put in any old grate you find. Good quality Fire Baskets don’t come cheap and should be seen as an investment. A well designed, solidly made Fire basket will last a lifetime and should have an heirloom appeal. At Burrows Lea Forge we always design in serviceability to our work, so you can be sure no matter the use/abuse your Ironwork suffers we can always fix it.

Period Wrought Ironwork Fire Dogs & Baskets are now in great demand as authentic items are scarce on the open market. Period styles fetch high prices, Gothic Revival, Arts & Crafts, Art Deco and Art Nouveau in particular. We like to replicate these styles as they are interesting from a historical point of view, they were designed to look good first…. And fulfil their function second. Before these historic period styles, Fire Basket and Dogs tended to be more functional units as they tended to be used in working (cooking, cottage industry etc.) environments where looks came a poor second place to getting a job done.

The other classic and distinct styles are Medieval Gothic, Tudor, Stuart, Baroque and Rocco (There is of course as everything before and in between, but that’s quite subjective). We have never been restricted to period styles and are quite happy to design and make contemporary fire furniture and in the spirit of 19th/ 20th century styles, looks are the priority.

Contemporary designed free standing Fire Basket

Contemporary designed free standing Fire Basket