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A cast iron Masterpiece from the Forward Foundry

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 03, 2014

  • The recently discovered manual for the Forward Foundry Masterpiece

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THIS is the sort of thing that the Black Country built its reputation on – solid, heavy and extremely practical.

Very few people cook this way today, but as recently as the middle years of the twentieth century, it was quite common to have a combination grate such as this, where an open fire supplied the heat to an adjacent oven, and the coal that kept you warm could cook your tea at the same time; as well as heating the water for a bath or a quick stand-up wash.

The pictures shown here are taken from a four-page instruction manual for the Masterpiece Patent Combination Grate, which was found some months ago during a house demolition in Telford, and kindly put our way by Norton reader Denzil Langford.

Denzil asks if anyone knows where the foundry, whose address is given as Blackheath, was located. We know from past research that the Forward Foundry was the works of Benjamin Hobbs, and all manner of cast iron items issued from it over the years. Many a drain cover still bears the name and continues to do its job to this day.

A directory from 1900 gives Benjamin Hobbs' address as an ironmonger as Blackheath High Street, though whether the foundry was at this location we don't know.

The instructions are for both the user and the installer, and installation was quite a job. Aside from the manhandling of this huge cast iron contraption into position, there was brickwork to do before the grate was even placed in the fireplace, and then concreting to be done between and around the various parts.

As you can see from the diagram at right, heat from the open fire was diverted around the oven, through channels left in the concrete, and across the top to warm the hot plate, before entering the chimney directly above the fire. But by positioning of a canopy, the heat could also be diverted directly behind the fire to where a small copper boiler was sitting, with pipes to send out hot water.

The grate would have been regularly black-leaded once installed, though the model pictured had tiles as part of its finish.

A quick internet search, by the way, revealed a Forward Foundry comkbination grate up for sale on a well-known auction site. For an asking price just shy of £3,000 ...

Can you tell us anything more about Benjamin Hobbs' Forward Foundry? Write in to us at the usual address, call us, or send an email to gjones@blackcountrybugle.co.uk.

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