The water powered the sledgehammer as well

Verderber’s blacksmith workshop in Spodnja Bilpa

Water and fire. The force of the former could be curbed only partly: through a lifted or half lifted flap it rushed in the channel and after a few metres under the wheel that powered almost everything in his smithy including the “sledgehammer”. However, when from under the Bilparska stena crag, where according to the oral tradition the Devil himself once held his abode, after several kilometres of flowing underground the brownish coloured unwieldy Bilpa charged up and blended with the high-water Kolpa River, he could nothing else but flee. The smithy was flooded. Before the torrential rains came, he had suspended everything he could, in particular heavy tools, under the ceiling using winches and had taken the rest home. Water always had the final say. In the spring and autumn it came window-high…

The Verderber’s blacksmith workshop in Spodnja Bilpa. November 2018. Photo: Petra Šolar. 

However, he could impact the other element that also provided for his livelihood. When the flame dwindled, he bellowed the embers and loaded charcoal. He turned from the anvil holding enormous tongs for unwrought metal in hand and pushed them into white-hot embers, and pressed the flap with his foot, fanning the bellows. I often watched him from the opposite corner. Observing my grandfather, whom I used to call father since I know, was a lot of fun. He brought a tree-stump for me, put it under the hand-operated wood drill, lifted me up and said: “Sa pa bo” (This will do it.) and laughed. I was not allowed to go near the fire. When the iron edges turned red, purple and orange, he once again took the tongs in his hands, turned around, put goggles on his nose and took the hammer in his other hand. Then he struck. It clanged. If he put the red-hot iron under the “sledgehammer”, a 90-kilogram water-powered hammer, a dull clangour was heard at a steady rhythm: tup, tup, tup, etc. 

Old wooden window at the blacksmith workshop. Photo: Petra Šolar.

Rudi Verderber learned the blacksmith’s craft from his father Matija and at the school in Celje. Only a few meters away from Bilpa, the stream that flows into the Kolpa River just after 200 meters, Rudi’s father built a blacksmith’s workshop when he was 43 years old. He bought the cement at a hardware store in Lokvica, which was located very far away. First he crossed the river with a wooden boat, and then he had to overcome a hill. In 1930, the closest store offering this merchandise was in the vicinity of the Croatian settlement Brod Moravice, and from there the cement bags had to be carried to Kolpa Valley that lay 300 metres lower. Because the Kolpa River is so narrow in this part (the Gorenja Žaga–Dol section), the geographers gave it the appellation the Kolpa Canyon.

Matija Verderber by the anvil in the smithy that he built in 1930. Photo: the Verderber family’s archive

Matija, my great-grandfather, was a self-taught artisan. He built the smithy by himself, and also crafted everything else that can be found in it. He himself prepared “voganca” (a charcoal pile). His father Jure, who earned the money overseas to purchase the house in Spodnja Bilpa with neighbouring fields, was not a blacksmith by profession. The former Štajdohar estate became Verderber’s and my great-great-grandfather, who originally lived in “Gorenja” Bilpa took on farming. After serving in the 1stWorld War, his son added a new craft to this and livestock husbandry. The great-grandfather also went to America at one point, but he returned quickly. Supposedly, he did not like it there, he fell sick and after a happy homecoming he built a chapel on the hill. 

High waters repeatedly flood the Verderber’s blacksmith workshop bringing along a lot of mud. Photo: Petra Šolar

At the blacksmith’s workshop in Spodnja Bilpa they mostly forged hoes and other tools for tilling the fields. People from Bela krajina, the Kočevska (Gottschee) region, Poljanska Valley and the Upper Kolpa Valley would visit them. Later, when they built a gravel road and Rudi bought a car, he also drove around selling hoes. He was the only blacksmith far and wide.

The wheel. Photo: Petra Šolar.

Along the Kolpa River, once thick with mills, there was no other blacksmith before the village Mirtoviči. Jože Gorše also learned the craft from his father. However, at Gorše’s blacksmith workshop they also shooed the horses, something that was not done in Bilpa. In addition to the hammers of all sizes, they forged a variety of tools vital for livelihood: ploughs, parts for carts, hammers, chains, locks, scrapers for vineyards, etc. In her diploma paper, Maja Štimec states that in 1890 the first smithies in the Osilnica Valley were Urh in Črni Potok and Kovač in Zamost. However, neither Verderber’s nor Gorše’s blacksmith workshop is not operating anymore. 

The blacksmith Rudi and his wife Marija Verderber. Photo: Petra Šolar.


– Štimec, Maja. 2016. Skrb za kulturno dediščino v deželi Petra Klepca na primeru Petruvo. Diplomsko delo. Dostopno tukaj.
– Marija Verderber, Rudi Verderber’s wife


This post is also available in: Slovenian

Discover more from Gottscheer blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading