Words & images: Jo Fiddes
The organisers of the Kirkstall Forge Heritage Day really pulled out all the stops to host a day of events celebrating the forge’s past, its people and its future.
What was clear from the outset was the pride they have in its history, and the seriousness with which they take planning its future development.
CEG currently own the site, and their project manager, Howard Metcalf, led a talk on the history of the site from 1200 to the present day. He explained that there is a significant body of evidence that indicates Kirkstall Forge is the longest continually used industrial site in the UK.
Initially under the ownership of Kirkstall Abbey, the dissolution of the monastries saw ownership transfer to the crown.
Coinciding with the industrial revolution, the foresight of the formidable Betty Beecroft saw the forge move into private ownership in 1779. From a family of farmers selling butter and bacon, she oversaw a huge growth in the Forge’s fortunes.
Her key role was recognised during the heritage day with the unveiling of the onsite Betty Beecroft mural by Kirkstall councillor Fiona Venner.
The forge remained at the forefront of innovation in the iron industry for the next couple of hundred years, producing heavy machinery, railway turntables and heavy goods and train axels, as well as diversifying into forging munitions cases during the wars.
In the fifties and sixties, the forge was working 24 hours a day – around 5,000 people were on site each day, making Kirkstall Forge one of the biggest employers in Leeds.
The forge’s heyday was over when work was transferred abroad in the late nineties and early two thousands, and CEG bought the site in 2003. They have already undertaken several archaeological surveys which have further added to the knowledge and understanding of how this site was used in the past.
Other attractions during the day included a display of objects from the Abbey House Museum, a treasure hunt, children’s activities and music from several performers, including local band Music From The Attic.
Creative attendees were able to add lines to a Kirkstall Forge-themed folk song, being written throughout the day under the expert eyes of the Archipelago Theatre Collective.
The heritage-themed menu served in Butler’s café did not disappoint, and there was more creativity in the form of local group Hookers and Clickers, who were crocheting poppies for charity.
Lucinda Yeadon, CEG’s community liaison manager, said:
“We are proud custodians of this amazing site. Getting a chance to share the industrial heritage and history of Kirkstall Forge, and also to show the community our future plans, is a real privilege.”