The Iron Man of Sturminster!

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‘Forging ahead to restore the past’ seems a good motto for Ian Ring, who owns Newton Forge, the Sturminster-based World Heritage business, whose work is in demand across the UK. Tracie Beardsley reports in A Country Living.

At the age of 11, Ian Ring was ‘mucking around with metal’. He now runs a world heritage ironwork business in Sturminster Newton
image Courtenay Hitchcock

At the age of 11, Ian Ring was ‘mucking around with metal’. It was time well spent he’s now running a world
heritage ironwork business in Sturminster Newton.
As Managing Director of Newton Forge, Ian Ring would be the first to say he’s still happier in the workshop with hammer and anvil than in front of his computer.
When we meet, his hands and sweatshirt are covered in carbon iron dust. He’s just finished helping his team
constructing a stunning iron spiral staircase for a private client in London.

Shed full of ambition
Newton Forge began life in a chicken shed in 1980 on Ian’s uncle’s farm near Newton Hill and now has a portfolio of clients which reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of historical buildings. They include: The Royal Courts
of Justice; The Langham Hotel; Hotel Café Royal; Berkely Square; Blackfriars Bridge; Kingston Lacy and numerous other National trust properties. Ian’s about to tender for roof restoration on the Houses of Parliament and the famous glasshouse at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh.
Many projects demand non- disclosure and confidentiality agreements – Ian has worked inside some incredible palaces and magnificent mansions – but he must remain tight-lipped about them.

As Managing Director of Newton Forge, Ian Ring would be the first to say he’s still happiest in the workshop with hammer and anvil.
image Courtenay Hitchcock


Despite all the grandeur of these huge historical assignments in glamorous cities around the UK, his favourite project is just down the road in Sturminster Newton! The Mayor has just unveiled the restored town pump. A car ploughed into it and the pump, which dates back to 1908, was smashed. “It was a bit like putting Humpty Dumpty back together,” Ian explains. “It was very rewarding as it’s an historical landmark
for the town. Being local to our offices, I see it every day.”
As an apprentice blacksmith straight from school, Ian exhibited at local country shows, selling handmade fire baskets and wall lights. Six years later, the master blacksmith and his wife Karen started their own company which progressed from chicken shed to a barn in Stalbridge Lane, then to Manston and finally Butts Pond
Industrial Estate where it’s been for the past three years.

Even with advances in technology, many of the earliest techniques and tools are essentially unchanged in
modern blacksmithing. Blacksmithing hammers come in various shapes, weights, and head styles that perform the different
techniques of manipulating metal – Image Courtenay Hitchcock

Training new ‘smiths
The 22-strong team has more than 200 years’ experience between them. There’s also keen support for future generations. Students from Kingston Maurward college learn metalworking skills on day-release and some former students are now on the Forge payroll.
Ian’s passion for his trade is obvious. ‘’I always knew I wanted to do traditional high-end metalwork,” he recalls. And he’s true to his word. The company’s symbol is an old blacksmith’s hammer and most
of the work is done by hand, although the forge also has state-of-the-art equipment.
“We do get some work engineered or laser-profiled. Sometimes we may need 3D models which is where the
modern side kicks in.” Restoration is now a high proportion of the work in the forge alongside reproductions
matching original historical ironwork.

“We’re about to start work on some damaged gates at Hyde Park. That’s a big job in itself, but we’ve also got to work out the
logistics of getting the gates back to Dorset for repair”
Image Courtenay Hitchcock

“We’re about to start work on some damaged gates at Hyde Park. That’s a big job in itself, but we’ve also got to work out the logistics of getting the gates back to Dorset for repair and work out what we can do safely on-site in London.” It’s no surprise Ian’s not a great sleeper. “I do a lot of problem solving at night,” he
admits. “How to crane huge iron railings over the top of a skyscraper when you’re installing balustrades at the Royal College of Surgeons – that sort of thing keeps me awake at night. I’ll come into the office next morning, admittedly a bit sleepy, but I can tell the team – ‘this is how we’re going to do it’!”

-“When I handle ironwork that’s been created hundreds of years ago, I can’t help but think about the boy or man who held it first. Was it the apprentice in his shiny shoes and apron?” – Image Courtenay Hitchcock

Quick-fire questions with Ian:

A-list dinner party guests past or present?
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Muhammad Ali and Winston Churchill. I’d also love to talk to a blacksmith from the past.
I write poetry (it’s not very good!) about the ghosts of blacksmiths. When I handle ironwork that’s been created hundreds of years ago, I can’t help but think about the boy or man who held it first, was it the apprentice in his shiny shoes and apron? I love to envisage the back story behind the historical object.

Books on your bedside?
I’m an audio book fan. I struggle to get to sleep. I can tune in and may eventually doze off. It’s easier than sitting up and reading a book in bed. I get through dozens and they’re great when I’m on the road working on projects away from home.

Favourite TV show?
I don’t get much time to watch TV but I do like the Repair Shop. In fact, I’d love to be on the team!

Newton Forge www.newtonforge.co.uk/

by Tracie Beardsley

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