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The Ironmasters’ Mansions 1700–1900

Marie Steinrud from Stockholm University is working on a project about consumption patterns and manifestations of power and prestige in connection to the ironmasters mansions in Västmanland in Sweden. Here follows a short presentation of the project.

Picture: Per Reinhold Tersmeden (1751-1842), a colonel and ironmaster, owner of the iron works in the parish of Ramnäs in the county of Västmanland.

It has been said, that no private title in Sweden has before or after the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, had such reputation and prestige as brukspatron. The Swedish title refers to the owner and manager of large scale iron works, a distinct elite group of a special kind of iron producers – ironmasters – mostly living on estates close to their iron works, attending to business and life on site.

The many mansions built by ironmasters during the 18th century economic boom were an effective way to manifest social order and the presence of an ironmaster in the community. Technical innovations, like the Lancashire hearth, and more modern equipment, facilitated the iron production and provided the iron masters with ways and means to devote themselves to charity and art collecting.

Picture: A painting of the ironmaster’s mansion at Seglingsberg in the county of Västmanland. The mansion was destroyed by fire in 1858.​

The purpose of the study is to investigate the consumption patterns and manifestations of power and prestige in connection to the ironmasters mansions in the county of Västmanland in Sweden between 1700 and 1900. Very little is known about these mansions and their owners, and this study is focusing on mapping out the mansions, their size, what they looked like and who built them. Two mansions will serve as a case study to investigate the ironmasters strategies in connection with their mansions, their thoughts behind the building or rebuilding of their mansions and their reasons for the investment they did in the buildings. These case studies will also make it possible to study the interiors, what kinds of objects the ironmasters acquired and who in the household was responsible for the consumption.

The ironmasters as an elite is central for this study. This perspective makes it possible to focus on different kinds of power relationships, both within the family and in society. The ironmasters as a group and their cohesiveness, their strategies and self-image reveals how power is produced, re-produced and legitimized.

The intention with the project is to view the ironmasters mansions in a broader context and thus understand their origin and status, not only in the local community but also on a national level. The actions of the ironmasters will be interpreted in the light of their political, economic and cultural situation in Sweden during this period.

The project is funded by Brandförsäkringsverkets stiftelse för bebyggelsehistorisk forskning.