‘Humbled’ blacksmith John forges an honourable link

Bonchester Bridge blacksmith John Farra with his staff after being awarded the B.E.M.

Bonchester Bridge blacksmith John Farra with his staff after being awarded the B.E.M.

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A BLACKSMITH who has turned a one-man business into a thriving village enterprise with nine employees has been awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Hawick-born John Falla, 59, who runs The Smiddy in Bonchester Bridge said this week he was “surprised and delighted” to be given an accolade which had fallen into abeyance for two decades until being revived in this, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year.

Blacksmith John Falla, 59, who runs The Smiddy in Bonchester Bridge received the B.E.M.

Blacksmith John Falla, 59, who runs The Smiddy in Bonchester Bridge received the B.E.M.

The medal, affiliated to the Order of the British Empire (OBE), was established to acknowledge meritorious civilian service in 1922 – 11 years after John’s grandfather, John Dodds, Falla founded the business in the heart of the Rule Water hamlet.

“The family, thought to have Viking origins, was originally from Lilliesleaf, but a smithy became vacant on the Weems estate in Bonchester and, by all accounts, it was a lucrative move for my grandfather whose forefathers were also blacksmiths,” explained John.

“Shoeing horses, which were the powerhouses of farms in the pre-tractor age, and serving the Jed Forest Hunt made it a busy place in the early days.”

Educated at Hobkirk Primary and Hawick High, John, whose father James Falla took over the smithy in the 1940s, joined the business, aged 16, in 1969.

“I was an only son and there was never any question that I would go into the family trade,” he recalled this week. “I was happy to do it.”

But as a 15-year-old, John had broken his leg in a fall and the injury meant he struggled to shoe horses.

“My leg just couldn’t take the strain of holding a horse still during the shoeing process so I concentrated on the agricultural machinery side, making and repairing implements, which, by then, was becoming a much bigger part of the business.”

When his father died in 2001, aged 84, John found himself running the smithy single-handed.

“I knew the work was there so I had a choice to make and I chose to invest and expand,” John told TheSouthern.

Within seven years he had taken on two further blacksmiths, a storeman and a bookkeeper, and turned an adjoining property into a general store and ironmongery.

Today, both smithy and shop are flourishing, his payroll has increased to nine, including an apprentice, and, as reported on page one, plans are well advanced to host weddings over the smithy’s original anvil.

And it is there that John intends in 2013 to marry his lifelong friend Jackie Riddell who has been his fiancée and partner for the past four years.

“It’s satisfying to be able to offer employment to local people during these difficult economic times, but, in fact, farming has been doing fairly well in recent years and the agricultural sector remains our main market,” said John, whose BEM citation acknowledges his “services to the rural economy in the Scottish Borders”.

John’s largesse also extends to fostering local young sporting talent and his firm sponsors promising point-to-pointer Jamie Hamilton from Birneyknowe near Hawick, Otterburn TT motorcylist Scott Campbell, and Minto brother and sister autocross aces John and Amy Murray.

“Bonchester Bridge has been my home all my life and it’s good to give something back, although I had no idea it would lead to this,” reflected John.

“I’m not on the community council and I’m not involved with any churches, so it really is quite surprising. All in all, I am delighted, but very humbled.”