The sole remaining iron forger on Hanoi’s Lo Ren Street

10:33 | 21/02/2018 Culture & Art

(VEN) - From the very early times of Vietnamese history, agriculture has played a vital role in the country’s economy, generating a constant demand for  farming tools and strong growth of their production. So important was the production of such tools that an entire street was named Lo Ren - forging furnace - in the old quarter of Hanoi.

the sole remaining iron forger on hanois lo ren street
Forger Nguyen Phuong Hung, Lo Ren Street, Hanoi’s old quarter

Lo Ren was initially known as Hang Bua (plough stores) Street, mainly selling ploughs for the rice fields that surrounded the city. Its name was changed when more and more iron forgers and their families moved into the street to supply the demand for other farming tools.

Most of houses on Lo Ren were divided in two – the back was used by the family living there and the front served as the workshop and store. Customers either bought ready-made tools for their needs or brought designs and had the tools custom made.

These days, little remains of the once bustling furnaces and iron mongers’ stores. In fact, only one manually operated forging furnace is still in use, totaling just four square meters in area. It is owned by Nguyen Phuong Hung.

Departure and return

Hung, almost 60, is the third generation in his family to engage in ironworking. He told Vietnam Economic News that after trying different jobs, he had gone back to doing what he loved best. At the age of six or seven, Hung was taught by his father and grandfather how to shape iron, using heat. When Hung was 17 years old, he told his father that he would one day take over the family’s business, but several years later, he gave up forging for other jobs, including working as a car driver and an automobile repair mechanic, among others. At the age of 35, Hung returned to Ren Lo Street, and has not left since. By going back, he felt he was fulfilling his destiny.

When he turned 42, and after several years of hard, back-breaking work, his father made him the furnace foreman.

Forging lover

Hung says his grandfather was one of the first people to bring the forging occupation from Canh Village in Hanoi’s Tu Liem District to the old quarter. Forgers initially made such products serving agricultural production as hammers, plows, hoes, and picks. During the resistance war against the French, forgers also made rudimentary weapons, he said.

The forging industry on Lo Ren fell into decline when Vietnam opened its market in 1995 to imports. Hung knows he is a dying breed. All his fellow forgers on the street have moved on to better-paying jobs or trade. Hung’s relatives keep advising him to rent out his street-front house as apartments and make more than he does with his furnace, but Hung has refused. Preserving his family’s traditional occupation, he says, is more important than making money.

Hung loves what he does. He is particularly proud of knowing how to calibrate the proper furnace temperature according to season and weather conditions in order to make quality products. His skill has paid off – with his products attracting many buyers.

Hung has no assistant. He says finding good help is hard because young people don’t like the hard, sweaty, manual labor. He says jokingly that since everyone else has abandoned the iron forging trade, he has become a one-man monopoly. Hung’s furnace at 26 Lo Ren Street is a legacy from his father, and it was built with money that his grandfather earned from forging. He is determined to keep the flame going as long as his health permits.

Pham Tiep