For centuries, the sounds, sweat and smoke of iron-working were part of life in the Blackdown Hills. The rich iron-working past of The Blackdown Hills was rooted in this area’s geology and, in turn, the iron-working industry has left its mark on the landscape. The aim of the Metal Makers project was to bring to life and increase understanding of the ancient iron-working heritage of the Blackdown Hills.

Start Date: 01/09/2014 End Date: 01/06/2015

An ore-some experience

Metal Makers involved staff and children at Hemyock Primary School and Preschool and All Saints Primary School near Axminster. Children, students, academics and members of the public took part in a variety of activities.

Activities included:

  • An archaeological excavation at Churchinford, targeting an area known for iron-working
  • Creative play sessions
  • Film making
  • The creation of innovative learning materials
  • Special events on an iron working theme for local people of all ages.

Metal Makers website

Visit the Metal Makers website to see how people from the Iron Age to Medieval times used the area’s raw materials to make metal, and find out more about the evidence uncovered in recent years.

You will meet lots of characters with tales of making metal. There are Roaman traders, Iron Age cooks, Medieval shopkeepers and Noni, a little girl on a big adventure!

Learning materials for schools and families

Travel through time with a series of mini-movies that take you from the Iron Age to the Medieval period. Learn how the people of the past made, traded and used iron in the Blackdown Hills with these four, fun films made by local children They come complete with lesson ideas and teachers’ notes. There are learning materials for pre-school children (KS1), school children (KS2) and families.

For little ones – Noni the Blacksmith

Step into the Iron Age with Noni the Blacksmith, by Catherine Farnell, a charming story of one little girl’s quest to be just like her daddy. This beautifully illustrated tale for your children is available as a free online book. A print version of Noni the Blacksmith is available from the Blackdown Hills AONB  office, priced at £5, with all proceeds going to Blackdown Hills Countryside Fund . You can pop in to our office to make a cash payment and collect the book. If you would prefer us to post you a copy, please send a cheque for £6 (£5 for the book at £1 postage) made payable to Devon Community Foundation and write on the back Blackdown Hills Countryside Fund, and post your payment to our office in Hemyock .

Noni the Blacksmith was developed with children at Hemyock Primary School as part of a project teaching children under six about the ancient landscape.


Why did iron working happen in the Blackdown Hills?

Societies in the past depended on iron. To make it, they needed three things: iron ore, clay and wood. All three occur close together in the Blackdown Hills making it an ideal place for the industry to grow. People used the clay to build furnaces, heated with charcoal they made from local wood, the iron ore was roasted then heated in the furnaces, a process called ‘smelting’ When it got to the right temperature it formed ‘blooms’ of iron that could be beaten and worked into weapons, tools, cooking pots and any number of useful items.

People worked iron in the Blackdown Hills from the Iron Age to Medieval times. Today, farmers often find glassy black rocks, the ‘slag’ or waste product from iron smelting. Archaeologists are starting to piece together a picture of just how important the industry was to local people.

Funders and partners

Metal Makers was run by The Carousel Project, The Blackdown Hills AONB Partnership and the South West Heritage Trust. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Blackdown Hills AONB Partnership. Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life and Oxford University provided invaluable support.

This project ran for nine months from September 2014.

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