An Iron Forge was built at Norton in Hales on the River Tern in 1646 by Walter Chetwynd, Chetwynd already owned forges at Winnington in Staffordshire and Tib Green in south-east Cheshire, all supplied with pig iron from his blast furnace at Heighley in North Staffordshire.
The exact location of where the water-powered forge was sited, within the area of Norton forge is unknown as there are no visible remains. The only clues I have is from deposits of charcoal and iron, as well as the field names 164 – forge pool, 165 forge/forge meadow with the Rector of Norton owning a field called forge field, but that isn’t enough to give me an exact location of where the mill was sited.
Pig iron would have arrived at the forge to be remelted in a heath called a finery of which Norton had two, in which excess carbon is oxidized; it could be reheated as necessary in another hearth called a chafery, Norton had one. The water-power from the river Tern would have powered the bellows or hammer. It was common for forges to be distant from the furnaces where they did not compete for the supply of charcoal.
Iron Output for Norton Forge 1715 – output was 100 tons per year
1736 – output was 150 tons per year
1749 – output was 150 tons per year
1790 – operated by Wheeler and Company.
The iron industry profited through an increased demand, when an embargo was placed on Swedish trade in 1716-1719 at a time when 60% of the iron used in manufacturing was from Sweden. The local Rector also benefited by charging for the used of his field (forge field as seen on the map). A Terrier from 1733 for Norton in Hales details “West the forge pool, east the lane leading down to the forge. This lane belongs to this piece of Glebe Land and therefore every beast or wagon carrying charcoal down to the forge pays 2s 6d and every single horse 6d to the parson.”
It was common practice to provide housing for the clerk and workmen at the forge. I can only assume that the three cottages that survived until the 1960’s were at one time built as workers cottages. It is possible that the larger of the three cottages would have been for the clerk.
It is also worth noting that Samuel Owen was born at Norton Forge in 1774, he went on to become the founder of the Swedish Mechanical Industry.
It is not known when exactly Norton Forge closed, it is last recorded in the 1790 survey and there is no further mention of it in the 19th century other than a place name and the cottages being occupied. A lot of small water forges did closed before the 1800’s due to advancing technology and steam power.