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After leaving school aged 16, without any qualifications, Jack Cadman had several false starts before fate directed him towards the flaming hearth and hot metal of the blacksmith's forge. He didn't like labouring and he abandoned a hairdressing course after the first year. Then he was told that a local blacksmith was advertising for an apprentice. It was love at first sight when he arrived at the busy Hampshire forge the following Monday.
The opportunity to be his own boss came in 1992 when he reopened an old forge in Burton, Somerset, which had been defunct for over quarter of a century. The smithy adjoins the house where he lives with his wife Hilary and son Oliver. He works almost entirely to commission, whether it is a poker for £25 or a weather vane for £150 upwards.
James says: 'Basically, I'll make anything in wrought iron or mild steel, as long as it's not a horseshoe. That's what a farrier does. I've never made a horseshoe in my life, and I never will. The bread-and-butter work is stuff like candlesticks and pokers and I do a few sculptural pieces for a gallery nearby.
I recently did a gate, 4ft wide and 7ft tall, to fit into a hole in the wall of the old village dog pound, and a film crew wanted six large iron corkscrews to anchor a hot-air balloon to the ground. Not knowing what the next commission will be is one of the best things about the job. The other is the smell of the forge. There's absolutely nothing in the world quite like the smell of flames and hot metal.'
oil on board
H 119 x W 119 cm
on loan from the Royal Society of Portrait Painters