In 1736 we find the Hedges family running a blacksmith operation in Bucklebury on the site of their later foundry where unpublished records show they were employed up to 20 people. It was owned and operated by blacksmith John Hedges. The foundry side of the business started around 1820. It was one of several small iron works that served the agricultural community in Berkshire.
Hedges Old Foundry - Waterwheel
The Foundry was sited in a stone building beside the River Pang which powered much of the machinery used. The Pang formed the northern boundary of the complex, though the cottage on the north bank of the Pang was at one time attached to the foundry. On the west of the lane to the cottage were workshops associated with the woodworking and the wheelwright parts of the business and to the south was a trying furnace and the cast iron trying plate.
On the east of the lane was the original smithy which was absorbed into the foundry and behind that by the stream was a large workshop dated to 1844. Inside were hearths and benches for making and repairing agricultural machinery. To the south of the workshop was a parallel building, perhaps of the same date, where pumps and engines were made or repaired. The southwest corner of this workshop was the engine house to which a chimney, dated 1876, was attached. Some form of horizontal steam engine existed to drive the lathes and other machinery.
The two workshops were around 15 feet wide and 60 feet long, with a large double door in the centre of each main wall so that large vehicles, such as steam engines, could enter for repair. To the east of the northern workshop was a small compartment housing the two furnaces. When surveyed it was seen that one cupola furnace had been used only a short while before 1970 although it was almost certainly the one first used by the business in the early 19th century. It was made of cast iron segments about 7 feet high built up like the staves of a barrel. The second cupola was a standard furnace. The air to the nozzles of both furnaces was provided by a series of channels fed by a fan, the power for the fan coming from the waterwheel in the river. The wheel was an undershot wheel cast in the foundry in c1875. Power was taken from a water wheel by a lay shaft into the main building. From there it was distributed by overhead drive with belts taking the power to the machinery.
Hedges Old Foundry - Waterwheel
Elsewhere was a pattern shop and pattern store, further sheds and stables as well as a frame for tethering oxen when they were being shoed. A more modern brick office block and washroom served the petrol pumps of the garage forecourt. Planning permission was granted in the 1980s for the conversion into dwellings of the western filling station and smithy, and eastern foundry and it is unclear how much original fabric was retained. The furnace from Bucklebury Foundry was apparently sent to Ironbridge Museum. Some wooden patterns are in the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading.
Most of the output from the iron works was used in the local farming community. Other items made include churchyard railings at Bucklebury and Frilsham, the pyramid tomb for the Lousley family in Hampstead Norris, waterwheels for mills at Woolhampton, Marlston and Bucklebury Manor Farm and a pump on the A4 Bath Road at Thatcham. They also produced local grave markers and a number of head and foot markers can still be seen.
Hedges Grave Marker being restored at Berkshire Record Office
Hedges Cast Iron Grave Markers Bucklebury Church Graveyard (BIAG)
The Foundry remained in the Hedges family until 1908, when it was taken over by David William King, who became a big employer in the area. In 1946 they were producing castings for agricultural machinery as well as road gratings, manhole covers and meter boxes for Newbury Corporation. The Whatley brothers took over in 1947 and ran the foundry until it closed in 1986. In about 1970 the group of buildings was used for light engineering, garage work and sheet metal work.
Bibliography and Sources:
- 1882-1890. Records of Hedges’ Foundry, Bucklebury (unpublished document)
- Association for Industrial Archaeology: AIA Bulletin v15 No 3 1988 – Cast Iron Gravestones
- Berkshire Archaeological Society. 1970. Berkshire Archaeological Journal 1970 (pp49-51 A Berkshire Foundry by Kenneth J Major)
- Berkshire Industrial Archaeology Group: BIAGScope Issue 37 McCombe, C
- Berkshire Industrial Archaeology Group: Gazetteer of Industrial Sites & Monuments 1966-1991 (unpublished document)
- Berkshire Records Office – Records of Hedges’ Foundry, Bucklebury (D/EX 1643)
- Buildings included in the statutory list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest, pre Review 8/5A (unpublished document)
- Council for British Archaeology 1970. CBA Group 9 13/07/70 Bulletin of Industrial Archaeology pp6-7
- Ditchfield and Page 1906. Victoria County History (VCH) Berks I 1906. Vol 1 p385
- Greenaway, D 2007. Around the Valley of the Pang
- Greenaway, D and Ward, D 2003. In the Valley of the Pang
- National Record of Industrial Monuments. Record No. BK39 and BK40 (unpublished document)
- Newbury District Council Planning Applications (1974-2000) – 121865
- Newbury District Council Planning Applications (1974-2000) – 124490
- Newbury Museum Accession Records (West Berkshire Museum since 1998) NEBYM:1992.30.1-3 (unpublished document)
- Newbury Weekly News. 1985. Furnace finds a new home
- Palmer, F A. 1970. The Blacksmith’s Ledgers
- Storey, C et al 1999. Bucklebury in Focus pp1-7
- Tyack, G, Bradley, S and Pevsner, N 2010. The Buildings of England (Berkshire) p218, 220
- University of Reading. Archive and Museum Database. For example, object number 2006/47/1
- West Berkshire Heritage: Site of Bucklebury Foundry (MWB4122)