J. F. Classens Frederiks Værk 1717-1832 – med særligt henblik på arbejderboligerne, deres arkitektur, forbilleder og beboere.


  • Frank Allan Rasmussen Museumschef ved Industrimuseet Frederiks Værk


Industriel kulturarv, Kulturarv


J.F. Classens Frederiks Wærk 1717-1832 emphasizing the workers’ dwellings, the architectural inspiration and the residents

This article on Frederiks Wærk is based on a historical analysis of an area in North Zealand extending from Arresø to Roskilde Fjord using the extensive iconographic material and written sources found in the National Archives in Copenhagen. It is important though to emphasize that the local development at Frederiks Wærk will be seen from both a national and international perspective.

The author has chosen to examine the role of the state and privateers seen in relation to the development of one of Denmark’s largest factory communities, Frederiks Wærk. A closer look will be taken on the function of the work’s founder J.F. Classen (1725-1792), just as there will be given an evaluation of the extent to which the state and the prevailing economic doctrines had an influence on the establishment in general.

From this starting point, the workforce and its reproduction will be looked at more closely, with a special focus on the workers’ housing in Frederiks Wærk. Where did the workers come from, how were they recruited and what skills did they bring? It is evident that the factory owner placed great emphasis on being able to offer the workers a good and healthy home, but what was the overall purpose, do sources of inspiration exist and what function did the dwellings have? Classens’ source of inspiration was the English industrial city of Birmingham and it was his explicit intention to establish a factory community in Denmark in line with the English example and it is asked if he reached his goal and what motivated him?

The article shows that Classen succeeded, over a relatively short period of time, to create a factory society in one of Denmark’s poorest rural areas. His society was based on cheap agrarian labor, free energy from the canals and by convening a larger group of experts from France, England, Scotland, Sweden and Switzerland.

Furthermore his personal and public correspondences in the archives show that it was his sincere wish, both to create a model society, and a military industrial complex surrounded by and protected by fortifications following the prevalent French models.

It is concluded that Denmark, despite its size, was an important player on the international war scene. This is not least due to the country’s geographical location, which made it possible to control the entrance to the Baltic Sea. In order to maintain this position, Denmark had built up a large fleet and a relatively large army. It all demanded continued deliveries of gunpowder, bullets and cannons. Denmark’s unfolded and bold foreign po-licy was a costly, and thanks to the establishment of the new College of Commerce in 1735, there was an ever-growing focus on self-sufficiency, not least when it came to strategic resources and technology of destruction.

The kingdom itself did not possess the necessary technological knowledge. Therefore, swarms of industrial spies were sent abroad to steal new technology from both foreign states and private owned factories. In this way, Denmark saved the expensive initial costs, and could jump directly to production and sale. This, supplemented by the fact that Denmark called on a great number of foreign experts, enabled the twin kingdom to rise to the top of the international arms race. The state played a crucial role. It financed espionage and deliberately took advantage of its consulates and embassies as bases for these enterprises. The foreign services were also given the task of establishing contact to engineers and scientists who were ready to leave their home land to offer Denmark their knowledge of art, science and technology.

Frederiks Wærk was founded on August 23th 1756. The factory and the society rested on an extremely advantageous royal privilege, imbued with mercantilist thoughts of the time and even the right to produce goods for export at the factory masters own expense and risk. In his letters to the king, Frederik V, Classen explained his great plans of creating a Danish parallel to the English Birmingham. He simply wanted to establish a factory society based on local labor, free hydropower and foreign expertise. Not for his own sake but for the whole of Denmark where a useful trade could be established for the benefit of the king so that the country obtained a steady supply of war ammunition at all times. The rhetoric of Classen was not accidental. His letters are imbued with the ideas of the enlightment both in terms of finances and vision for the future.

He was a “workaholic”. First Classen erected the large foundry, then a series of workshops and then workshops and dwellings for the local farmers and homesteaders whom he called to the factory. However, Classen was neither a naive nor a romantic person. He was extremely aware of the fact that if his work was to be crowned with success, the reproductive conditions of the workers should be optimized by access to good food and healthy housing. However, it turned out to be the foreign masters who gained access to the dwellings whereas the local workers often had to walk for miles between the factory and their small farms.

It is unlikely that an architect has been involved in the construction of the dwellings. They are built by local artisans prima-rily using local materials. Classen mentions England as one of his sources of inspiration, but whether he had a direct link to the English workers’ houses or not cannot be made clear. The military industrial complex Frederiks Wærk had its roots in the Baroque with the French architect, Vauban’s fortifications as its ideal, the mercantilist doctrine fully unfolded as by Adam Smith (1723-1790) and finally new technology from the leading countries in Europe.

The factory master’s library reveals another source of inspiration. He was one of the foremost men of the Enlightenment, and he did not hide the fact that he created Frederiks Wærk not for his own gain, but for the good of the fatherland and its inhabitants. Nevertheless, Johan Friderich Classen ended his days as one of Denmark’s richest men, whose fortune is still available for charity and educational purposes.