As the forge comes to life, licking flames chase the shadows to the furthest corners of Angaston’s historic blacksmith shop.
This time-honoured ritual is reprised every weekend as passionate volunteers like Leo Leggett open the A&H Doddridge Blacksmith Shop and museum to the public for guided tours.
“It’s a pleasure to open up, light the forge,” says Leo.
“While to locals it’s just the blacksmith shop, we have people from all over Australia come through here.”
Now a heritage-listed site at the top of Angaston’s main street, the blacksmithing trade spanned 130 years and three generations of the Doddridge family in its current location.
Leo, who was raised in a blacksmiths at Wilcannia, describes the original village blacksmith as both “engineer and craftsman”.
“The blacksmith was a jack of all trades. He was the farrier, to shoe horses; the wheelwright, to make wagons and carts; and the blacksmith for general tools, ploughs and equipment,” says Leo.
“People went to the blacksmith for everything – they were the hardware shop of the community.
“It was hard work, from daylight to dark, but they had time and patience.”
However, while the blacksmith was as important institution in the nineteenth century, it was also an undervalued one.
Blacksmithing was dirty and potentially dangerous work, with only a leather apron shielding smithies from severe burns as they manipulated metal at a yellow heat.
“In terms of status in the town, if the doctor was up there, the blacksmith was down there,” says Leo.
“His work was vital, but he was just the blacksmith and there was no glory – even the publican was higher up.
“This is the only blacksmith I know that was not also the undertaker.”
Established in 1873, the shop survived two World Wars, a Depression and countless technological advancements.
Leo says the Doddridges showed remarkable ingenuity, continuously adapting in the face of industrial modernisation.
Third-generation Hardy Doddridge shod his last horse in 1965, and at the age of 90 was still pottering around the smithy.
“When the last Mr Doddridge retired, they were told to knock it down,” says Leo.
“The Angaston and Penrice Historical Society stepped in and raised over $100,000 in six weeks to save it, and built a museum out the back.”
Today, the shop remains a wonderful working example of the trade, with many of the original tools and equipment on public display, including a forge, anvil and cow-hide bellows shipped from England that span over two metres in length.
To the rear, the museum is home to a remnant collection of historical artefacts.
Doddridge ledgers dating back to 1883 record everything from monthly shoeing of police horses and iron work on butter churns, to chisel sharpening and coach repairs.
The museum also houses an impressive collection of vehicles including a 1925 Dodge buckboard, fondly remembered as Turners Butchers’ vehicle.
Also on display is a circa 1890 English wagon from Linke Blacksmiths of Moculta, which was used by Colin Angas on his Hutton Vale property.
Visitors to the museum can take home their own piece of local history with handcrafted items such as horseshoes, candlestick holders and garden ornaments made on-site by volunteers.
Leo and his fellow volunteers describe it as “soul work”.
“I’ve been lighting the forge since I was a kid – that was my favourite job when I was young, playing with fire,” Leo laughs.
“They would have used charcoal years ago, but today we use coke, which is coal with the gas burnt out.
“The reason we keep the lights dull is so you can see the colour of your iron; you know what your fire is doing with your eyes.”
For Leo, the shop has reignited a forgotten passion for blacksmithing and a desire to preserve this important aspect of local heritage.
“My passion is this shop. In here I’m at my best. Once you get a bit of rust under your fingernails, you keep coming back,” he says.
“What we do is entertain people, the best way we can. We have 23 fantastic volunteers but we always need more.
“We pay well; we say thank you once on Saturday and twice on Sunday – it’s double time – and you don’t have to pay tax!”