Iron maiden Lucille is forging ahead

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Amid the roaring of a burner the lump of steel begins to glow red in the coke on the hearth.

A minute or so later it has become white hot and reached a temperature of about 1,700C.

Blacksmith Lucille Scott (43) from Eastney, at her business the Little Duck Forge.''''Picture: Sarah Standing (13658-2756)

Blacksmith Lucille Scott (43) from Eastney, at her business the Little Duck Forge.''''Picture: Sarah Standing (13658-2756)

Blacksmith Lucille Scott quickly lifts it from the heat with a pair of her own crafted tongs, places it on her anvil and starts hitting and manipulating it.

The process is repeated several times, with the metal plunged, hissing and spitting, into a tub of cold water between each bashing. After 10 minutes she has a fully-formed and intricately-twisted barn hook.

She makes it look easy. ‘When you get metal as hot as that it’s like plasticine. If you can hammer plasticine you can hammer metal,’ she says modestly.

Lucille is a relative rarity, a fully-qualified female blacksmith. She has nothing to do with horses – that’s a farrier – but makes her living forging everything from bottle openers to four-feet long dolphins via Christmas trees. Everything is bespoke.

She works out of Little Duck Forge (she has a thing about ducks) adjacent to the Eastney Beam Engine museum in Henderson Road, Eastney, Portsmouth.

As far as she knows she is the only woman on Portsea Island plying her kind of trade.

She lives in a caravan a short distance away from the forge in which she’s been working (now with apprentice Luke) for more than two years.

Lucille started by calling herself Iron Maid. ‘I liked the joke, but the problem is that when people put it into a search engine alongside ‘‘metal’’ all you get is Iron Maiden the heavy metal rock band.’

Now 42, Lucille was inspired to become a blacksmith when she was a child. Her father ran an engineering factory in New Lane, Havant. A blacksmith used the workshop next door.

‘I went to St Alban’s School in Leigh Park and on my way home I would go and watch the blacksmith at work. I was hooked.’

She was born in South Africa because her dad, who hails from Portsmouth, went to work there where he met his wife, a South African.

He spent 20 years there but returned to the Portsmouth area when Lucille was a child.

‘Eventually he moved his business to Finchdean to a former milking shed and the blacksmith went with him and set up next door.

‘I was still so interested that he offered me an apprenticeship, but this was in the early 1990s, the recession was on its way and I asked myself if I really wanted to go into an industry which seemed to be collapsing.’

Lucille had a safety net. She had qualified as a teacher and became head of design and technology at Portsmouth High School for Girls.

While there she went to the annual technology show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.

‘In the middle of the hall were two blacksmiths demonstrating forging. I was captivated all over again and stood there for hours watching them. On the spot I decided that was what I wanted to do with my life.’

She took a year’s sabbatical from teaching and headed to college in Herefordshire to get her qualifications.

‘It was paradise. I lived in my camper van for a year close to the college and cycled the short distance to the college every day in the most glorious part of the world.’

That was in 2009 and the die was cast. She left the school, found her Portsmouth City Council-owned premises at Eastney and set up.

‘About 10 per cent of those on my course were women. It’s a growing industry for females, but if you go back in time there were loads of women doing it.

‘When you research the medieval period it appears that a man could not join the Guild of Blacksmiths unless his wife was also a practising blacksmith.

‘This was because during the fighting season somebody had to be at home running the forge. When you think about it, everything depended on the blacksmith – from horseshoes, to armour and swords. That’s why every village had at least one blacksmith, if not more.’

Our conversation is interrupted by a man who has ordered some skewers for his barbecue. Lucille has it all in hand. It appears on a large whiteboard in her office, a small room off the forge.

Among all the other work on her books are a sign for a bed and breakfast establishment in Southsea; those dolphins for the landlord of the Sir Loin of Beef pub in Highland Road, Eastney; a set of special slaters’ hammers for a roofer, tools for a dog groomer and a railing for the drive of a Bedhampton couple.

‘I love the variety of work. It allows me to follow my artistic tendencies.

‘It combines the wonderful age-old techniques of the blacksmith’s craft with contemporary design and a modern aesthetic.

‘So much of the inspiration for my work comes from living by the sea all my life combined with the construction and joining methods that feature so strongly in this ancient craft. And, best of all, it’s huge fun.’