Finch Foundry – The last working water-powered forge in England

  • Post category:Dartmoor National Park
  • Post last modified:November 16, 2020
  • Reading time:5 mins read

A unique example of a village industry, Finch Foundry is the last surviving water-powered forge from a time before large-scale mass production began. 

William Finch took over the lease of a former woollen mill in 1814 and started his edge tool works, making cutting tools for use in agriculture, industry and in the home. 

Finch Foundry quick facts:
Location
– Sticklepath, near Okehampton, Devon
Founded – 1814
Active until – 1960
Capacity – 400 tools/day
Currently managed by National Trust
Nearest train station – Okehampton
Distance from Okehampton – 4.5 miles
Postcode for Finch Foundry – EX20 2NW

Inside-Finch-Foundry-iron-works-Finch-Foundry
Inside Fincyh Foundry

Tools at Finch Foundry

The discovery of tin and copper nearby had already helped create a thriving community in Sticklepath and hence an ideal location to establish a new business. The use of water power in Sticklepath was first recorded in 1147.

Pictures-of-old-tools-in-Finch-Foundry
Tools on display at Finch Foundry

At the height of its operation, Finch Foundry was making 400 tools a day ranging from garden tools, cart wheels, shoes for the horse and even coffins. One would never need to leave the village which is a striking difference between life in the village of Sticklepath in the nineteenth century and on today’s global economy.

This is reminiscent of a self-sufficient village life when everything was within walking distance or could be delivered by horse and cart. 

Water power at Finch Foundry

Overshot-wheel-system-at-Finch-Foundry
Overshoot water power wheel system at Finch Foundry

Water has been used to provide power since early Greek and Egyptian times. At Finch Foundry, water delivers the power for three large waterwheels which in turn drive the trip hammers, the fan supplying draught to the forges and grindstone used to sharpen the tools. 

Same basic technology is used by modern hydro-electric schemes providing electricity today. Concerns about the climate change have once again made us consider water as a sustainable source of power. 

There are two types of wheel systems that can derive energy from flow of water. In an undershot system, a wheel part submerged in flowing water that pushes the wheel to turn. 

An overshot system however comprises of buckets and water is fed onto the top of the wheel. The gravity acting on the falling water offers downward pressure which makes the wheel turn whereby, water is converted in to useful energy. 

An overshot system provides significantly larger amount of power in comparison to undershot system. 

Sales and distribution in the 1880s
William Finch’s grandson, Albany George Finch would cover 30 miles in a day with his horse and cart as a salesman for the foundry.

He visited up to 170 customers in a two week period from Cornwall’s tin mines and china clay works in the far west to the markets of Dorset and Somerset in the north and east.

This was a remarkable effort considering the roads had no tarmac and were very uneven and rough, at a time when the fastest mail coach could cover just 8 miles an hour. 

The Carpenter’s shop at Find Foundry

There are numerous tools on display in this area including:

A brace for drilling holes in wood
An Adze, a very ancient tool design used for the rough shaping of timber
A drawknife used in shaping spokes and felloes
A stail engine for rounding rake handles
Scythes, turnip hook and a Hayknife that was used before mechanical baling. 

Inside-Carpernters-Shop-Finch-Foundry
The Carpenter’s Shop at Finch Foundry

Detailed video of Finch Foundry

The video below covers the water feeding system, the overshot water wheels, inside of the foundry and the carpenters shop.

How to get to Finch Foundry, Devon

Getting to Finch Foundry by Train

Okehampton is the nearest station to the foundry which is still approximately 4.5 miles walk. However, the station has limited train services (only on Sundays, June to September) 

To plan your journey more accurately you can visit National Rail Journey Planner and also visit Okehampton station page at: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations/oke/details.html

Visiting Finch Foundry by car

For GPS/Satnavs you can use the following postcode for Finch Foundry: EX20 2NW
Sticklepath village is only 4 miles east of Okehampton off A30.

Full address – Sticklepath, Okehampton, Devon, EX20 2NW

Parking at Finch Foundry
Parking is free of charge, however, the entrance to the car park is quite tight with a maximum access restriction of 2.3 metres in height and 2.0 meters in width.  

Finch-Foundry-Car-Park

Facilities and access at Find Foundry

There is a National Trust gift shop at the reception and a Tea Room by the car park set amongst a small cosy garden space with outdoor seating area. 

Finch-Foundry-Garden-Area-&-Tea-Room

Finch Foundry entrance fees
Adult – £5.60
Children – £2.80
Family (1 adult) – £8.40
Family (2 adult) – 14.00
Group Adult – £4.75 per head
Group Child – £2.35 per head

For upto date information on prices and opening times, please visit National Trust website here:
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/finch-foundry

National Trust members get to enjoy the site for free. 

Finch Foundry opening times
5th March to 30th October – Daily – 11:00 to 17:00 (Last admission 30 minutes before closing)

Finch Foundry map

Finch Foundry Image Gallery

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