- Original design
- Unknown, 1860
- Emrys Architects, 2017
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
This magnificent former forge, listed Grade ll in 2003, was virtually empty for many years while its various owners tried to find an economic use. Recently developers sought planning permission to turn it into a convenience store which was rejected by the local authority on appeal.
In 2017 it was adapted to provide a new home for Craft Central (Clerkenwell Green Association). Established by working craftspeople and supporters of fine craft in 1970 we work to maintain, develop and promote fine craft and design. We provide studios and other working spaces, organise exhibitions and events and promotions and provide development opportunities through our member network.
In the nineteenth century the area on both sides of Westferry Road round The Forge was a mass of workshops associated with shipbuilding. The Forge is the only surviving mid 19th century iron shipbuilders' forge in London, and possibly England, outside the Royal dockyards. It was built in 1860 for C J Mare and Company, engineers and shipbuilders, on the site of a workshop of 1854. This had been owned by J Scott Russell and Company, builders of Brunel’s Great Eastern, whose main yard was immediately across Westferry Road, `Burrell’s Wharf’. Charles Mare had come to prominence as the principal contractor for Stephenson's Menai Straits Britannia Bridge and the wrought ironwork for Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge.
In 1863 The Forge contained six steam hammers, powered by high-pressure air from a steam blowing engine. The forgings, plates and angles were made from scrap iron and puddled iron bars obtained from London's vast scrap market. One of the earliest and most important tasks was the manufacture of the stem frame for HMS Northumberland, one of the first ironclad battleships.
Forging ceased in 1872 and in 1889-94 The Forge was converted into a workshop for Joseph Westwood and Company Limited, structural engineers and bridge builders who built everything from airship hangars for the army to internal steelwork for buildings and railway bridges exported across the world. It was used for the manufacture of iron and steel girders until around 1951 and occasional storage since until the new fit out in 2017.
Although there have been major alterations, a number of historic features remain. The English Heritage listing of 2003 makes particular reference to:
• the central arcade of six cast-iron columns joined by cast-iron arched beams. Rainwater drains through the columns from the gutters above.
• eight former furnace chimney breasts and associated furnace crane piers, truncated at the top where they originally projected as small stacks and with adjoining piers that took the furnace cranes.
• two listed gantry frames, one of timber now supporting an early C20 electric traveller. The other is an unusual and probably rare early C20 suspended gantry with electric traveller.
• six keyed semi circular arched recesses, subsequently converted to large recessed windows.
(source: English Heritage List entry Number: 1096069)
Craft Central approached Emrys Architects with a brief to create a collection of studios, workshops and an exhibition space. The design was a free-standing two storey timber structure that, by not touching the original building, maintains its heritage value and integrity while permitting contemporary new use within the immense internal space. The structure provides a series of self-contained studios, meeting rooms, and a full height exhibition and event space at the front of the building. Bleacher seats provide a strong design statement and additional usable space.
Emrys Architects’ design has been developed and constructed by iSpace Corporate Interiors who refined the design for a quick, very cost-effective construction using birchwood ply. The team sought to realise Craft Central’s vision of supporting local micro-businesses and establishing a sustainable foothold in which they could flourish. A design decision to expose services and structure further celebrates the host building’s heritage and character, and the choice of birch plywood and galvanised steel as part of an industrial material palette complements the historical language of the former ironworks.
Alongside creative businesses, the project also facilitates a public programme of craft workshops, exhibitions and other community-focused activity.
The Forge has been featured in architectural journals, entered for major architectural awards and reached the shortlists.
Nearby surviving buildings opposite The Forge are now largely residential and include the chimney shaft of 1836-7, designed to draw smoke through underground tunnels from the furnaces, and the Plate House of 1853-4, built as the erecting shop for the Great Eastern's 40-ft high paddle engines. Scott Russell's Counting House and his private house of 1854 still stand. The slipway down which the Great Eastern was launched sideways into the Thames is nearby down Napier Road.