Meet our blacksmith at Patterson's Spademill

Meet James, the blacksmith at Patterson's Spade Mill

Patterson’s Spade Mill is the last working water-driven spade mill in daily use in the British Isles. The Patterson family started making spades in 1695. The skills were passed down through generations until 1990. When the last of the Pattersons spade makers passed away, the Mill was taken on by the National Trust. The spade mill offers tours that take you back in time. Visitors will see a block of steel exposed to immense heat transforming into a spade of the highest quality. A spade, that will last a lifetime.

Meet the Blacksmith, James McCullough

James started as volunteer at Patterson’s Spade Mill. His interest in the art of the spade maker, and blacksmithing was fuelled by giving tours.  James worked at the mill as a spade maker with fiery passion for many years. With the support of the National Trust, he became an apprentice blacksmith. James has a deep rooted appreciation of the old art. His passion has burst into flame.

“From that point on my skills and interest in the art of blacksmithing have developed to a point where I now feel that it is time to spread awareness of the art and pass on skills learned over the past seven years.” James McCullough, Blacksmith and Spade maker.

Patterson’s Forge at the Spade Mill

With the support of the National Trust, James began offering blacksmithing classes at Patterson’s Spade Mill. Under the name, Patterson’s Forge Hammer and Tongs, James began sharing his skills and knowledge. The forge offers day, evening and weekend courses. They are available for individuals, groups, team building days and parties. Discounts are available for groups.

"Our aim is to primarily have fun, whilst encouraging people to learn new skills and make new friends." – James McCullough, Blacksmith and Spade maker.

Meet James, our blacksmith at Patterson's Spademill
Feel the heat at Patterson's Spademill
Meet James, our blacksmith at Patterson's Spademill

What is your role at Patterson’s Spade Mill?

I am a spade maker and blacksmith at Patterson’s Spade Mill. I give public tours of the mill and work on paid commissions. It is a very enjoyable and satisfying job. I am lucky to be doing something I love and I am very grateful for the opportunities the National Trust have given me.

When and how did you get into Blacksmithing?

I acquired a brain injury after an accident at work in 2005. Before the accident I was working as an HGV driver for 22 years. It was a well-paid job. I was faced with the prospect of having no job and no income. I found this very frustrating because in my own mind I was capable of all these things, and I still wanted to do them.

In 2006 my family got in contact with the community brain injury team. After two years, in 2008, I was referred to the Cedar Brain Injury team where I met Rhona my case worker.

I was encouraged to get qualifications in Maths, English and IT, while trying out different work placements as I had realised that I was unable to return to lorry driving. During my time with Cedar, I started to volunteer with the National Trust at Patterson’s Spade Mill. This was the beginning of a new chapter for me.

My first experience of blacksmithing came was as an assistant spade maker at Patterson’s Spade Mill. This came after volunteering on site doing ground maintenance. As my confidence grew, I started working for the National Trust as a tour guide. In 2015, I became an apprentice in spade making and blacksmithing.  It fired me up inside in more ways than one, driving my passion further.

What do you enjoy most about it?

I enjoy teaching people. There is something special about watching people hammer and forge something that’s useful or meaningful to them. 

Patterson’s Forge has been up and running from March 2019. I really enjoy leading blacksmithing classes at the Forge. I teach people the art of forging. They will learn how to heat metal, and make anything from a hanging basket to knives.  

What is the most interesting thing you have learned during your time at Patterson’s Spade Mill?

You learn something interesting every day. I am always developing my craft. Blacksmithing fuels my creativity. When I get the forge lit, and the hammer in my hand, who knows what I’m going to make? The endless possibilities drive my passion for the art of blacksmithing. There are always more interesting things to learn.

Do you have a favourite thing that you have made?

I have recently made large scale trellises for the BBC Gardener’s World in the NEC, Birmingham. This is the most interesting piece I have made to date.

What are your creative goals for the long-term future?

My goal at the moment is to give other people the sense of satisfaction that I feel when I’m blacksmithing. I want to see people leaving Patterson’s Forge with a smile on their face. I hope they will have learned something special, and leave satisfied by making something with their own hands.

You offer Blacksmithing classes at Patterson’s Spade Mill. Tell us a little about that?

In 2018, I got in contact with the Go for it programme. They helped me develop a business plan to start my own blacksmithing workshop. I brought my ideas and business plan to the National Trust. They have been so supportive in every way.

Patterson’s Forge is the most incredible place to work. With a rich history behind it, being able to teach in this wonderful place gives you such a buzz. Patterson’s forge offers classes and workshops during the day, at evenings and weekends. I cater for individuals and groups.  I often run classes for special occasions like birthdays, Father’s day team building exercises and the occasional stag/hen party. I also take commissions and offer outreach demonstrations off site. It is not easy but the National Trust provides excellent support and with the right attitude and drive it is possible to offer a great experience for anyone who is interested. Classes are designed for all abilities and everyone is welcome.

Why is it important that Blacksmithing is kept alive for future generations to enjoy?

Blacksmithing, for a lot of years was a dying art form. If it wasn’t for organisations like the National Trust keeping places like Patterson’s Spade Mill alive we could have lost a lot of valuable knowledge. Spade making is heating metal up and forging. It goes far beyond just forming metal into shapes with a hammer.  You must use organisational skills, physics, good time management, a range of tools and a great deal of pride in your work. There is job satisfaction in mastering the processes, and in seeing the fruit of your own hand. The look and feel of hand forged iron pleases both the eye of the beholder and the soul of the creator. I am passionate about teaching these skills to future generations.

Why do you think it’s valuable for people to visit sites like Patterson’s Spade Mill?

A visit to a special place can ground you. It can be inspiring to witness the Spade Mill come to life. Visitors are invited to step back in time and experience the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional Spade Mill in action. An awareness of our shared history is important. I feel that sites like Patterson’s Spade Mill provide a valuable window into the lives of those who have come before us. Learning about, and appreciating how people used to live is an important part of our culture. The National Trust’s ongoing work to promote and protect sites like Patterson’s Spade Mill make it possible for people to access experiences that they may not  have otherwise.

James, our blacksmith hard at work
James at Patterson's Spademill
James, our blacksmith hard at work

James has now got his Blacksmithing workshop up and running. He can’t thank everyone enough for all the help and support that he has received on his journey through brain injury. He is looking forward to continuing bring forging to all members of the public.