Wrought Iron amd Cast Iron in the District

Wrought Iron and Cast Iron are very different materials with different qualities and uses. To recognise one from the other needs close observation.

Wrought Iron railings and Cast iron pillars in, Blomfield Terrace. 

It is easy to see the difference when they are side by side like this.

The area is rather short of early wrought iron work, while there is a mass of cast iron to be seen, in balconies, railings, streets furniture, etc. There was some wrought iron in the Church Street houses, built about 1829, much of it replaced subsequently, but the use of wrought iron does not seem to have come back in the area until about 1880 with the Queen Anne Revival buildings in Elgin Avenue.

The railings in Blomfield Road are in wrought iron, while the posts are in cast iron. The railings of Warwick Avenue Bridge itself are cast iron, but pretend to be wrought iron. There the shapes, so light and sensitive when made in wrought iron, became heavy and coarse when they were cast.

Good wrought iron work could be seen in the Edgware Road gates, between the shops, near the corner of Broadley Street. They bore the initials ‘PKS,’ of Peter Keevil & Sons, Provision Merchants, who had had premises there. These are shown in the 1891 Goad Map shown on pages 113 and 115. Now sadly derelict, they would look fine if restored.

There used to be a delightful Art Nouveau gate at No.78 Elgin Avenue, probably made about 1890, which treats the metal sympathetically.  Sadly it seems to have disappeared now and I do not know where it is. However, very similar gate can still be seen at the top of North Hill, Highgate.

Blacksmithing is one of the oldest of all trades and, because the iron must be heated to red, or even white heat, and hammered to shape immediately, while it is still plastic. Each individual piece of wrought iron has to be small. These gates are made of straight bars and a number of small, separate scrolls, each of which has been hammer welded, riveted, clipped, or perhaps even screwed in place. The top of the Elgin Avenue gate, for example, consists of eight scrolls joined by two hammer welds, six rivets, and two clips. Creating wrought iron flowers are even more complicated.

The Cast Iron Page

The Victorians lived in a cast iron world. It was the first modern mass production material and all sorts of things were made in cast iron. Articles which we make by stamping, extruding, die-casting, rolling, or other means, they made by pouring molten iron into sand moulds. This gave heavy, substantial, long-lasting, and often beautiful products.

Because the individual wooden patterns were cheaply and quickly made and factories were small, there was great variety in shape and decoration. Hardly two coal-hole covers were the same, and an ironmonger would carry twenty designs of door knobs. This variety has a particular charm in our even more mass-produced world. Today there are many designs, but built-in obsolescence ensures that the old ones become unobtainable and there is little actual choice at any one time.

The pages of cast iron and wrought iron details may be of interest when looking closely at local ironwork.

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Updated June 7, 2011