11. The Copper Forge and the Escatllar Papermill
The last factory to use the water of the Rec Major was the Copper Forge, built in 1685 by the Council or University of Banyoles. At first, the building was quite modest and had only one mallet. In the early 18th century, the forge was privatised and extended. A large outdoor pool enabled the water of the channel to be accumulated, to then be conducted to the waterwheels. These drove the mallets located on the building’s ground floor, which also housed the smelting furnaces and the coal store. The top floor was the forge-worker’s home. At the time of its maximum activity in the mid-18th century, the forge produced 20,000 kg of worked copper annually. Pots, cauldrons and kettles were produced, as well as other wares and utensils. Iron was also worked on.
In the 19th century, Catalan forges went into recession, due to both foreign competition and the rising cost of charcoal due to the exhaustion of the forests. Finally, in 1897, the building was converted into a paper factory which produced white and brown cigarette paper. Nevertheless, the forge’s activity never stopped completely, and it continued producing and working copper until the business finally closed in 1955.
The forge-worker’s profession
A forge like that of Banyoles could provide work for a dozen employees, as well as other linked professions, such as miners, colliers or carriers. The production of copper, supervised by the master forge-worker, began with the smelting of the copper in coal-fired furnaces, which could reach temperatures in excess of 1000 ºC. Once smelted, the copper was poured into molds and then beaten with the hammers until copper sheets or cup-shaped pieces were formed. In the final, now artisanal process, the finishes of the various wares and utensils were completed.
Did you know that...
in 2014 artisanal papermaking was resumed in The Forge?