Stornoway blacksmith Calum Stealach Macleod is reviving the art of wrought ironwork for Stornoway town centre, using salvaged 19th century iron from the town itself.
Calum has returned to work at his workshop in Inaclete Road part-time, after a period of ill-health, and found himself with time on his hands and materials to spare.
“I don’t seem to be getting the wee jobs that I used to. I think people must think I have retired” said Calum, who is now in his eighth decade working at the forge. He began as his father’s apprentice before he was 10 years old, bringing the dray horses from the Co-op and other town businesses to his father’s smithy for shoeing.
Lewis weavers, fishermen and crofters depended on Calum for decades, trusting his skilled hands to restore broken parts on looms, boats, carts and trailers. Since he could never bear to see anything go to waste, there was always a good selection of scrap metal around that could be turned to suit the job.
And it’s that make-do-and-mend approach which has now allowed him to embark on a new project, using wrought iron fencing which is over 100 years old.
Historic Scotland has identified Stornoway as a unique townscape for decorative ironwork, since the scrap metal collections of the Second World War by-passed many of the town’s railings. In a 2010 report they said: “Today, Stornoway is home to one of the most significant collections of domestic architectural ironwork anywhere in Scotland. The enormous quantity and variety of designs span more than a century of production and are a rare reflection of the diverse tastes of the 19th and early 20th centuries.”
Most of the ironwork in Stornoway is cast iron, but there’s also a local tradition of decorative wrought iron work which includes designs and practical solutions produced by Calum himself over the years.
Now Calum’s started work on a new design of front gate, using the fencing which was removed from Perceval Square in the 1970s. It was due to be thrown away, but Calum stepped in and rescued the valuable metal. “They were just going to bin it,” he said. “What a waste!”
Instead he’s transforming sections of the fence into new gates and setting himself the challenge of a complex design which he calls a cat’s paw knot. One gate has already been completed and was installed on Newton Street. The second is now in progress, with Calum working entirely by eye and memory to recreate the complex twists in the metal.
It’s a time-consuming and meticulous process and there may not be many places that need such a special entrance gate. But the project means the fire is once again roaring in his workshop – and he’s available for a yarn to passing customers once more.