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Monday, 11 June 2012

In the Foundry (An Education)

File:Soho Foundry.jpg

Soho Foundry, Foundry Lane, Smethwick, West Midlands: photo by Oosoom, 2007

In the dumb foundry, through which your body passed,
stamped and cast, smelted and molded, with eyes wide open,
very long ago

File:Piec krepa.JPG

Industrial furnace, paper factory, built 1907, now unused, Krepa, Poland: photo by Mohylek, 2006

Later, that evening, turned half-past-five, he came into yard of Prescott's foundry. In that shop they were casting now and blast of the cupola roared and made air buzz all round him. From being used to this he took no notice but he did move away from where he had stopped from not watching his step. Because he had halted close to the great coffin shaped lumps of metal sunk in the ground. He thought Alf Igginbotham would be in one of those three, other two did it before no one could remember. With Alf the management had tried to make the men cast with molten metal Alf had suicided in, but of course the men didn't have that, they dug his coffin for him here, like he had done for those other two and poured into it the metal he was in. (The great heat there would have utterly done away with him.) There he was in that lump of metal, thirty ton to a penny, but then likely as not he'd risen in dross to the top of the metal, and like dross does when you ain't casting, it'd stuck to the sides of the ladle or gone back to the bottom as they pulled the metal out. So Alf had gone out of it after all, though in different shape to what he'd gone in he thought and Joe chuckled. An' that's about all that man ever was, or any on 'em -- dirt, he said in mind.

from Henry Green: Living, 1929

This post dedicated to Duncan Jones


Conrad DiDiodato said...

I recall seeing those lifeless eyes in my summer job days at Stelco (Hamilton, Ontario): replacing brick walls in open hearths you worked in only 10 mins. at a time.

University tuition earned in hell (maybe those Quebec protesters have got it right!)

Stelco, now named American Steel, stands virtually empty and idle



Pretty scary, the two black holes of those "eyes wide open" in the iron mask.


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, white half moon next to branches
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

taking shape on the horizon,
should therefore show

other words, color and form,
some “abstract” sense

silver line of sun reflected in channel,
whiteness of moon in cloudless blue sky

Susan Kay Anderson said...

I didn't know who I was
but it didn't seem to matter.
Then, it was the ragged carpet,
the blanket from home--
a good place to sleep
during the day
beside the old fire.

TC said...

It did occur to me that when we go to enroll at the Foundry School it might be best to be familiar with a bit of the previous field research in an institution which has now closed its doors forever -- but not so long as someone remembers -- see the bit I've just tacked on to the lower fringe of picnic carpet (pure synthetic carbon flooring) from the writings of Henry Green (Henry Yorke). Who both worked on the floor of a Birmingham foundry, and came to manage and own it.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

"Look into my eyes, you are getting very, very sleepy—soon you will go into a deep trance out of which you will wake only when I snap my fingers and when I do, you will remember nothing."—from The Oneiric Teachings of the Grand Schoolmaster Morpheus.

In other words, the eyes have it.

TC said...

I am dumbfounded, Master. The past has vanished. I remember nothing. Not even the early industrial revolution job in crowd control at the Roller Derby, 11th and Wabash. Only those great staring archaic eyes.

Wooden Boy said...

For me, those wide open eyes are attending - to the forces pressing in, to the damage, to the body taking shape

The body of the poem, dense on the page, is something to attend to. It's fierce and beautiful.

I've read it three or four times today, the last line particularly I'm still turning over.

A living work; a rare thing now.

Anonymous said...

Nothing "dumb" about the foundry i worked in after art college making church bells

Truly olde worlde The clients would be there at a casting and the bell makers and the blacksmith would get a beer at the end of it

The casting was with traditional materials in steel reinforced loam moulds made from animal manure and horse hair mixed in and polished with graphite

a similar process in general terms but very different in character to industrial work

Casting after often months of work and the understanding that the work could be easily spoiled by carelessness took on the character of a ritual and i very definitely experienced it as such as part of a process no longer myself

It paid peanuts but i got to do some of my own bronze casting there too

Wooden Boy said...

Casting bells; what a wonderful thing to have been a part of.

TC said...

In case there lingers some confusion on the usage, I had not meant to suggest that foundries are dumb (though of course, technically they are just that; their speech is rather a sort of mute testimony to the history of industrialization, which they have witnessed with those great staring eyes).

I was playing on the meaning of dumbfounded as astonished.

In this sense the dumb foundry might be that place of conditioning and environment and education in the ways of the world in which everyone comes to age.

It seems perhaps there is a metaphor of some sort at work here.

"For me, those wide open eyes are attending -- to the forces pressing in, to the damage, to the body taking shape"


A bit of fact while we are here.

Soho Foundry was built at the edge of the Birmingham Canal at Smethwick in the West Midlands on land bought in 1795 by James Watt and Mathew Boulton for the purpose of manufacturing steam engines. The Foundry was opened in 1796. By 1840 James Watt Junior owned the factory after the death of the founding Boulton and Watt. He died in 1848 and his place was taken by H. W. Blake and the name changed from Soho Foundry to James Watt & Co. In 1857 the screw engines for the steamship SS Great Eastern were built at the foundry. In 1860 a new mint was started at the Foundry, the Manufactory having closed in 1850. In 1895 W & T Avery Ltd acquired the Foundry as a going concern. It is now the home of Avery Weigh-Tronix, who make weighing scales.

A bit of this history is remembered in that blue plaque which we can make out at the right of the Soho Foundry main gate.

"The road from London to Scotland via Northampton and Manchester today runs through the Pennine coalfield with its series of basins where once men and machines crowded together and where there sprang up almost overnight the most dynamic and 'satanic' of industrial conurbations. The evidence is still visible there today: every coal basin has its own specialty, its types of industry, its own history and its own great city -- Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield -- which grew up simultaneously, shifting the industrial balance of England to the north. Here industrialization and urbanization preceded at breakneck speed; the various Black Countries of England were machines devouring and disorienting the populations who flocked to them. Geography is not of course the only explanation for these mighty constructions, but it helps us to see more clearly the harsh determinism exerted by coal, the constraints of communications, the role of manpower resources and, too, the heavy weight of the past. Perhaps the brutal features of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England essentially needed some kind of social vacuum as their site."

-- Fernand Braudel: The Perspective of the World (Le Temps de Monde), 1979 (Vol III of Civilization & Capitalism: 15th-18th Century)

TC said...

Agree with Wooden Boy that the casting of a bell would be a wondrous thing to be a part of, at least the thought of it.

Among the most stirring scenes in the history of film must surely be the bell-casting scene in Tarkovsky's magisterial Andrei Rublev.

TC said...

For the lad at the centre of this bell-casting scene, by the by, the whole project has been a matter of great risk and doubt and faith with more than a bit of wishful thinking mixed in.

(His facial resemblance to Fernando El Niño Torres reminds me of the deceptive strength of the appearance of innocence in any context; it seems almost to change the world, even when it doesn't.)

The dark silent figure who briefly pauses at the brink of the casting-pit to observe the scene is the master icon painter, Andrei Rublev, traveling incognito through a world of brutality and mystery and miracle.

Interested readers are encouraged to watch the whole of this great film. The erection and christening of the bell is another scene of delirious, dizzying power.