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Bradfield personalities

Old Holloway the blacksmith who created 'Snake Door'.
12 Nov 2020
Old Holloway the blacksmith at the forge, early 1900s
Old Holloway the blacksmith at the forge, early 1900s

Bradfield personalities - Old Holloway and the Ironwork at Bradfield College

In the Chronicle of March 1924 appears an obituary to one of Bradfield’s best-loved and long-serving characters, Arthur Holloway. He lived and worked all his life at the forge – now Forge Cottage - and was the local smithy, though in reality his skill at the trade elevated him to status of master craftsman and artist. Four generations of his family were blacksmiths at Bradfield: his parents James and Mary had run the forge before him and his son took over after him, but it was Arthur Holloway who made such an impact on the look of the school with his distinctive naturalistic ironwork adorning so much of the fabric of the buildings including Snake Door where countless Bradfield boys have been photographed since the late 1800’s and the great door of the school chapel, considered perhaps his finest accomplishment.

From the Chronicle article: “Most of us knew him as we saw him at the forge – a fine man with a commanding head, and keen but kindly eyes. In his latter years he presented a figure bent with toil, but busy still with hammer and tongs amid a cloud of sparks; or skilfully shaping the details of that wonderful artistic work in which perhaps he had no living equal.’ The author recalls how after an evening’s unsuccessful fishing on the Kimber, ‘I met him on the iron bridge. When I got home I found two fine trout, his own catch, which he had secretly inserted in my bag that I might have something to place upon my board.… But those who knew him best of all knew him by the fireside, where the late hours slipped by unheeded amidst tales and counter-tales many times retold.’

Perhaps his proudest moment was in 1918 when HRH The Princess Alice visited the school and presented the prizes at Sports Day. Holloway shook hands with her as he handed her a pair of his tulip candlesticks and the next day when he passed the Headmaster Beloe, he held aloft his right hand and said, ‘Ain’t never going to wash that again!’

Several pieces of his work are now at the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading and appear on the BBC website and British Museums A History of the World.

The collection includes several small creatures also made from iron, such as snakes, snails, a frog, a butterfly and a lizard,  pictured here below, as well as some slightly larger decorative pieces. They are good examples of the fine detailing and delicate creative iron work that could be achieved by a master craftsman who has developed his skills over a lifetime. Holloway's uniquely naturalistic design and subject matter was so clearly and richly inspired by his rural life at the turn of the century in and around Bradfield.

Next time you go through snake door, remember this characterful fellow and the legacy he left to the College.


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