A chat with Steve Hopps, Blacksmith
Three years ago, when we heard that a Blacksmith had bought a house near to us, we immediately envisaged horses arriving in the valley looking for new footwear. We were wrong. Our new neighbour is a Blacksmith and someone who shoes horses is a Farrier.
In the past, the same person could well have carried out these two tasks, but nowadays, everyone is a specialist in their own field, and Steve Hopps is a Blacksmith, and one with considerable talent at that!
Before he moved to the area he operated his business on a smaller scale from home and doing demonstrations on his small, portable forge. He spent a year at Hereford Technical Collage where he qualified with a diploma in Metal Technology.
He and his wife Karen together with their children Josie and Calum, spent four years in pursuit of the perfect place to live and run Steve's business. Their dream finally came true when they bought Sandbed in Fell End. It is handily situated on the A683 between Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen and has an enormous barn.
Steve installed a double forge that he purchased from Altrincham Grammar School. It is fueled with a special fuel called Simthybreeze, which is delivered from Ingleton or Harrogate and can reach temperatures in excess of 2000 degrees centigrade. "Have you ever got hold of the wrong end?" I asked him."Yes" he replied. "One occasion I particularly remember at a public demonstration. My bitten lip was even more painful than my burnt hand!"
We are his nearest neighbours and we can honestly say that his banging causes no more of a disturbance than bleating sheep and certainly a lot less than the low flying jets. Along with the house and barn, The Hopps family also acquired a field full of Christmas trees and have a small, (very seasonal) sideline in supplying most of the neighborhood with trees at Christmas.
Although most of Steve's work is commissioned, he keeps a small stock of his standard items. These include pokers, chestnut roasters, companion sets, decorative mirrors, small hinges, key rings, hoof picks etc. One of the most unusual things he has been asked to make was a chastity belt by a man who's wife was standing next to him. She picked up a poker, threateningly, and Steve never got an order!
Another of his standard stock items is a doorknocker in the shape of a Swaledale sheep's head but he has made doorknockers in many different shapes and forms, sometimes to represent their hobbies, sometimes their family name. One of the smallest items he has made is a snake for his children Josie and Calum to keep them from being bored at a demonstration. However, they didn't get to keep it, someone showed an interest so Karen sold it. Karen goes to all the shows and demonstrations and is generally in charge of the financial side of the business. When Steve is really busy, she and the children do shows and markets while Steve stops at home to make more stock. "She's not good with a hammer", Steve told me. "I'm good enough", said Karen, threateningly.
The variety of articles Steve makes is enormous. Some of the biggest things he has made are church candlesticks, gates and a balustrade for a balcony. As well as demonstrating, Steve runs One Day courses in Blacksmithing and again, Karen plays her part, providing a good lunch for the hungry workers. If they have a course in during school holidays, the children help too, with the baking and the serving.
"Are your children interested in following your footsteps"? I asked. "No, they're going to get proper jobs" was his reply. Steve enjoys forging and demonstrating but really gets a kick out of teaching enthusiastic clients, especially when they finish with an item, usually a poker, which they will treasure for the rest of their lives.
Designing commissioned items is another part of the job that Steve especially enjoys. Very few people know exactly what they want or understand how things are made. He will often spend quite a lot of time talking to customers before committing pencil to paper with a drawing. When he knows that the customers are getting exactly what they want, the banging and bashing begins.
Selling is one aspect that doesn't interest him too much so he is very lucky to have Karen to support him in that department. They are members of 'Made in Cumbria' and have retail outlets at the Rheged Discovery Center at Penrith, and the Westmorland Gazette shop in Kendal and, nearer to home, The Garden Centre at Newbiggin-on-Lune.
Excellent as Steve is at his trade, he stubbornly refuses to move into the 21st century and get computerized. Karen says it's because you can't hit a computer with a big hammer. Well, as we all know, you can, but it won't do much good. Anyway, until the rest of the family persuade him differently, if you want to contact Steve you'll have to contact him on the good old 'dog & bone' on 015396 23327.