Meet Chris Danby – Blacksmith and Owner of Coach House Forge

Meet Chris, he’s a 21st Century Blacksmith, a father of three boys and husband to Amy. Chris wasn’t always forging metal, in fact, he was an environmental water officer for the best part of his adult life until he discovered something in his garden in 2014.

“I was sure I wanted to be self-employed and at one point I thought about making sourdough bread for a living, or making stained glass, or even stonemasonry!”

Finding archaeological artifacts at the bottom of your garden isn’t an everyday occurrence, let alone that the discovery of them changes the course of your life forever, but this happened for Chris Danby.

The Coach House Forge company is named because, or should we say ‘directly caused’, by the remains of a coach house at the bottom of the Danby’s garden. Knowing this fact isn’t wildly interesting in of itself, but when we look deeper into the story of how Chris found historical evidence of a forge in the grounds of the dilapidated building in the family garden in Nantwich (Cheshire, UK), Chris very quickly realised that the site was once home to a blacksmith and became entranced and wanted to connect with the history.

“I found a bunch of stuff in the back of the coach house there used to be a forge there, because there was a stables, it (would have) literally housed a coach in it, a horse or horses and a family who lived upstairs and at the back I found a little farrier’s area because I saw lots of metal clinker, which is the stuff when you burn lots of coke, all which tells me a forge was there… horse shoes, little bits of half-finished ironwork and nails, which we now just use as garden stakes and stuff, there was even a crow-bar that I still use today… all the iron stuff that’s in our house was probably made by them as well. Probably Victorian.”

After the discovery of the blacksmith’s site, Chris’ imagination very quickly sought-out more about the life of the former occupant; wondering what being a blacksmith was really like. Little did Chris realise that, within 6 months, he would come to know it very, very well.

“It’s big business and not something you can easily do unless you’ve got a bit of isolated land like a farm.”

Chris took to the internet, researching how-to videos, what Blacksmiths did and even got in touch with a local sculptor David Freedman with whom Chris visited at their forge out in Church Minshull. David encouraged him to book himself on an ‘experience day’ and to be the guy who asks all the questions!

As though by fate, the program Mastercrafts, hosted by Monty Don, was serendipitously aired around this time – March of 2015. Chris saw how the participants, who had never before done any metal work, produced perfectly good finished pieces, and this was the final motivation that Chris needed to push him towards trying it himself, so he booked himself on a blacksmithing day course at Acton Scott; an Historic Working Farm located across the border in Shropshire, where Blacksmith, Frazer Picot, ran workshops. Chris did indeed ask lots of questions and even purchased a few key tools to get him started.

“And when I brought my poker home, I assumed the position of a man accepting high praise.  But Amy wasn’t very impressed. HAHA! I remember driving home thinking how brilliant my poker was looking at it on the seat next to me; it had a scroll, and a twist, and a tapered end – I felt like I won the course that day!”

Even though Chris didn’t receive the glory he had hoped for his scroll poker, he remained undeterred and had been truly bitten by the blacksmithing bug! He carried on with his new hobby within the walls of what was left of the old garden coach house, hammering there as often as he could, thus announcing to his urban neighbours of his presence, “I’m back from my day-job!”.

“…within 6 months I was up until midnight  wrapping pokers in paper, and nipping down to the shop before work to post them… queuing up like this before work, I knew I had to make a decision.”

Chris connected himself to the place where he lived and its history through Blacksmithing, finding himself inspired by a number of notable Blacksmiths from all over the world, including  The Dirty Smith (MO, USA), and The Happy Smith’s (Raseborg, Finland), Nate’s Forge ‘The Wandering Blacksmith’ (Scotland, UK) to name but a few.

“I like fire, it’s so exciting, I love working with the elements.”

Within a few short and busy years, Chris was able to go part-time at his job and eventually quit so he could work full-time on his new business, aptly named Coach House Forge. There are, due to the historical importance of the blacksmith in everyday life, many places dotted around all urban, sub-urban and country dwellings that reference the local ‘smithy’. In fact, the office from where Coach House Forge Ltd. is now run is a place named The Coach House where, no doubt, a hundred or more years ago a blacksmith would have known well.

“I like the fact that someone 2000 years ago would have understood what I was doing.”

Chris’ advice to anyone thinking of starting up their own blacksmithing hobby is to learn as much as you can before you go on an experience course and YouTube is such a rich source of information. The person who got Chris really hooked was Alec Steel who was only about 16 when Chris started watching him, a total inspiration for Chris at the time, with a real ‘Can Do’ attitude even without a blacksmithing qualification, so Chris really felt that he could try and do the same. Also, there are some great discussion forums around too if you’re working through any glitches or even just looking for a second-hand anvil!

The future of Coach House Forge as a business could easily go anywhere and Chris would love to see the workshop expand and diversify into other materials, creating sculptural and decorative pieces just for beauty’s sake. Chris would also love to create a hub for creativity and be a place where the next generations could come to train and find a love for the traditional mastercrafts!

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