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Our work at Patterson’s Spade Mill

A blacksmith toils away in the forge
Blacksmith and spade maker, James, toils away in the forge | © Paul Moane

The Patterson family started making spades in 1695. The skills were passed down through generations until 1990, when the mill was taken on by the National Trust. Today, the mill’s blacksmith continues to keep these heritage skills alive by running blacksmithing classes, hosting tours and sharing the history of this traditional craft.

Meet the blacksmith

Carrying on a legacy of hundreds of years of spade making, James McCullough is now the blacksmith at Patterson’s Spade Mill.

Learning through an apprenticship

Starting as a volunteer, James’ interest in the old art of forging and blacksmithing was fuelled by leading tours. He then worked as an assistant spade maker and, with the support of the National Trust, he became an apprentice blacksmith.

Sharing skills

Once qualified, James began offering blacksmithing workshops at Patterson’s Spade Mill to share his knowledge, get others fired up about this traditional craft, and keep these heritage skills alive.

‘I really enjoy leading blacksmithing classes at the Forge. I teach people the art of forging. They learn how to heat metal and make anything from a hanging basket to knives.’

– James McCullough, Blacksmith at Patterson’s Spade Mill

Machinery and spade handles in the workshp at Patterson's spade mill, County Antrim
Machinery and spade handles at Patterson's spade mill, County Antrim | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Keeping heritage skills alive

The traditional craft of blacksmithing was for many years a dying art form. Valuable knowledge and skills were at risk of being lost. However, by running tours and hosting workshops and classes, Patterson’s Spade Mill helps to keep heritage skills alive and ignite a passion for the craft in others.

Additional skills

Spade making involves heating up metal and forging, but it goes far beyond just forming metal into shapes with a hammer including turning wooden handles on the lathe.

‘There is job satisfaction in mastering the blacksmithing processes. I am passionate about teaching these skills to future generations. If it wasn’t for organisations like the National Trust keeping places like Patterson’s Spade Mill alive we could have lost valuable knowledge.’

– James McCullough, Blacksmith at Patterson’s Spade Mill

The fire at the heart of the forge at Patterson's spade mill
The fire at the heart of the forge at Patterson's spade mill | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Sharing the history of traditional blacksmithing

As well as teaching new blacksmiths, Patterson’s Spade Mill also puts a spotlight on the generations of those who came before – those who pioneered, practised and honed their craft, passing their hard-earned skills on to future generations.

The mill provides a window to the past, revealing how things were made and how people lived, and it sheds a light on turning points in history. Tours of the mill invite visitors to step back in time, find out about life during the Industrial Revolution and dig up the history of the humble, but mighty spade.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

The exterior of Patterson's Spade Mill, County Antrim

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