Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The blacksmith profession in Swedish ironmaking

In order to work as a blacksmith, you had to qualify as a member of the Blacksmith Guild (Hammarsmedämbetet). The guild was a combination of union and quality assurance and had its own courts, with jurisdiction over matters concerning the ironmaking industry (Bergstingsrätten).

As an aspiring blacksmith, you started out as apprentice (smeddräng), working f for different master blacksmiths, to learn different aspects of the trade. Apprentices usually stayed for a year or two, and then moved on to another master (Note 1).
After serving your apprenticeship and passing the Guild´s examination, you could become an assistant blacksmith (mästersven). You were now qualified to practice the trade, and worked in the employ of a master blacksmith.

The final step on the career ladder was to become a master blacksmith (“mästare” or “mästersmed”). This required passing another examination and having the necessary capital (Note 2). As a master blacksmith, you were an independent contractor, hiring your own assistants and apprentices – who also lived in your household. Running such a large household also needed a lot of helpers, and a number of young women would be employed as maids, learning to run a household before they married (Note 3).

“Bergstingsrätten” would appoint a senior and respected master blacksmith to become alderman (ålderman) for a district. The alderman served as an assistant judge on the court, but also inspected all the mills of his district, to make sure they were up to standard.
Note 1: As an apprentice you were a member of the master´s household, and listed here in parish records. From these, I have found many family connections, where a young man worked as an apprentice for an older brother, uncle etc.

Note 2: If a master blacksmith died, one of his assistants would often acquire these resources by marrying the widow, at the same time providing for the family.

Note 3: With so many young men and women under one roof, accident did happen, and births out of wedlock or shotgun marriages were not unusual. Giving birth out of wedlock was technically a crime until the 1850´s. However, enforcing the law resulted in infants “disappearing”, and in the late 18th century mothers were given immunity.


lee said...

I am of Swedish descent and saw your comments first on Roots Web.I enjoyed your writing very much and it answered a few of my questions about the early times in Sweden. Keep up the good work! Tak! Lee

Unknown said...

Where can I apply into one of the blacksmith masters for apprentice?