‘I say ‘tis copper’ – Henry IV, Part I [III, 3]
On 20 August 2016 a ‘grand bronze-studded oak door,’ as the Guardian newspaper called it, swung open onto Stratford-upon-Avon’s Chapel Street inviting people into the new gardens of what was once William Shakespeare’s family home and final residence. New Place, as it was called, was a medieval house built in the 1480s and purchased by Shakespeare in 1597. The dwelling was described by John Leland, librarian to Henry VIII, as ‘a pretty house of brick and timber.’ New Place is now owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who commissioned traditional blacksmith Owen Mabbort to create that ‘grand bronze-studded oak door’ for the entrance of New Place in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
The bronze used and chosen by Owen is none other than Columbia Metals’ Coldur-A®. The doors are covered from top to bottom in hand-forged bronze studs. There is a simple ring handle to the centre with a lifting mechanism at the rear, adding to its grand look and aesthetic beauty. The door is furnished with huge hinges and bolts, all hand forged and skilfully crafted. The beauty lies in Coldur-A®’s distinctively old gold colouration, which is complemented by the natural oak doors. Coldur-A® is very popular amongst metalsmiths, sculptors, designers and fabricators for its attractive, rich, reddish old gold hue. Owen needed a material that combined aesthetics and excellent formability: this led to Coldur-A® being selected as the alloy of choice.
Aside from its aesthetics, the formability of Coldur-A® is superb. Coldur-A® is known as a high silicon bronze, with a nominal 2% silicon content. The silicon atoms in Coldur-A® have the effect of strengthening the pure copper due as the atoms strain the copper’s crystal lattice – this is known as solid solution strengthening. However, because the silicon atoms are close in size to those of copper, and Coldur-A® preserves the same crystalline microstructure, Coldur-A® retains copper’s innate ability to readily deform giving it fantastic formability. Coldur-A®, therefore, retains high ductility despite its significant increase in strength. This is a highly desirable quality of Coldur-A® especially for blacksmiths, including Owen, who subject the material to great stress where fracture would be ruinous. This composition gave Owen not just the aesthetics, but the ease of deforming the material and the desired strength.
Coldur-A® works extremely well under high temperatures due to its atomic structure, but also responds very well to cold working between anneals for the same reason. The cold working of the material increases the strength due to an increase in dislocations as the material plastically deforms, ultimately changing the spacing between atoms; the combination of the atomic structure, the hot and cold working, allows blacksmiths to really manipulate the alloy and push it to its potential and create varied and extravagant works.
Owen is one blacksmith who has benefitted from these properties where strength was needed in order to hold the doors in place, but also ductility for the material’s form to be readily changed and manipulated. The result of this was an extravagant work, which is now prominent as the entrance, the face even, of Shakespeare’s New Place. In Shakespeare’s own words:
‘Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye’ – Love’s Labours’ Lost [II, I]
‘Beauty itself doth of itself persuade the eyes of men without an orator’ – The Rape of Lucrece l. 29
About Owen Mabbort
Owen Mabbort is a traditional blacksmith specialising in gates, restoration projects and window casements. Owen studied traditional blacksmithing at Hereford College of Technology (now Herefordshire and Ludlow College), where he was fortunate to be under the tutelage of Eminent Master Blacksmith Peter Crowshaw. Owen spent over 11 years under Crowshaw’s skilled training where he obtained his specialisms and learned how to work with and use various materials such as bronze, brass, stainless steel and wrought iron. Owen has worked on high-profile projects including a commission for Dover Castle’s large restoration programme and Shakespeare’s New Place main entrance doors.
Coldur-A® is a silicon bronze alloy renowned for its combination of strength, corrosion resistance and formability. Its attractive golden bronze colouration makes it a firm favourite with designers, sculptors, metalsmiths and fabricators alike. Columbia Metals holds stocks of Coldur-A® in the half hard condition in sheet form and from 1/4″ to 1.1/8” diameter.