Hector Cole

Hector Cole © Michael Heal

Hector Cole © Michael Heal

Blacksmith Hector Cole, of Great Somerford

by Julie Armstrong     31-12-2014

Britain’s foremost arrowsmith, who lives near Malmesbury, has told of his joy at being recognised by the Queen in the New Year Honours’ list as an MBE for services to heritage crafts.

Hector Cole, 75, from Great Somerford, produced his first piece of ironwork, a pig ring, aged just four-and-a-half.

He spent his childhood learning the skills of forging and fire management from the blacksmith in a small Lincolnshire village.

The father-of-three has since worked to rediscover ancient British metalworking techniques from Iron Age and Anglo Saxon times.

He is now internationally recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on medieval bladesmithing and arrowsmithing.

His pieces feature in museums across the world, with commissions including the main entrance gates at the Prince of Wales’s Highgrove House.

Mr Cole’s hearth is based on those built 4,500 years ago and he hand forges pieces using the techniques of their period in time.

The silver medallist with The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths can make a small arrowhead in just four minutes, though gates take “hundreds of hours”.

He mainly works with modern steel and wrought iron but forged a knife to cut a wedding cake from a piece of meteoric iron that landed in China in 1515.

“It came as a complete surprise to me, completely out of the blue, but I have been awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honour list,” he said.

“At the moment blacksmithing is one of the heritage crafts that is ascending and British blacksmiths are regarded as the best throughout the world.

“We have a lot of very good blacksmiths coming on now and it is a very flourishing trade.

“The most prestigious gates that most people know of that I’ve forged are the gates for Highgrove, for Prince Charles.

“I’ve also made the large entrance gates at Charlton Park. I do a lot of work for museums and I have some of my work in most of the major museums.

“My arrowheads go all around the world.”

Mr Cole studied metalwork at secondary school before deciding to become a teacher as the blacksmith trade was then in decline.

He trained as a handicraft teacher and moved to Little Somerford to teach at Malmesbury School in 1967, where he later became head of department.

In 1969, Mr Cole built his hearth in a workshop in the village and practised there and at school each day, until he left the profession in 1992.

“I was lucky because the forge was on every day at the school, whereas other blacksmiths only had theirs on once a week or month,” he said.

“They were busy earning a living doing other things. I was very fortunate to be able to practise at school and when I returned home.

“I started off doing what I call domestic work, fire baskets, pokers, gates, that sort of thing – but my interest has always been in swordsmithing and I’m a longbow-man so arrows, arrowheads and archaeological work.

“I ended up being a specialist in medieval arrowheads and the way that they forged them years ago.”

Mr Cole also works with archaeologists, who bring artefacts to him to find out what the metal was used for and how it was made.

He meticulously researches the artefacts before making exact copies, which can be used in the same way as they were thousands of years ago.

“The work is very, very interesting,” he added.

“The latest piece of work I finished was for the National Museum of Wales, which was a replica of an early Iron Age cauldron, 3rd century BC.

“They wanted it for their Iron Age fort so they could cook in it. That’s the sort of work that I do now.”

His television credits include Time Team (2004), Beowulf (2009) and King Alfred and the Saxons (2013), as well as BBC’s Meet The Ancestors – for which he made a patterned Saxon sword blade.

Mr Cole also passes on his art through demonstrations and courses across the world, as well as teaching a little closer to home.

He trained daughter Melissa Cole, who is now an artist blacksmith, and his two teenage grandchildren also enjoy using his forge.