Catharina von Berchner was an estate owner and a works owner who during the 1700s owned and ran Häfla works in northern Östergötland.
Catharina von Berchner was born in 1672 at Norshammar (Svärta bruk) north of Nyköping. She was the daughter of Georg Thomas von Berchner and Elisabet Störning. Her father had immigrated from Düringen in Germany and had, after inheriting his father-in-law become the works owner at Norshammar. A number of estates in Södermanland and Östergötland also fell into his hands through inheritance. He was knighted von Berchner in 1691. Catharina von Berchner had three sisters and one brother. As a child, she is said to have lived on the estate Svärta gård where she probably received the kind of education that was offered to young noble girls in their homes.
In 1698, Catharina von Berchner married Johan Gyllenkrok, a widower and accounts secretary. She had five children during the first decade of the 1700s, one daughter and four sons. All survived until adulthood. When her father died in 1705, Catharina von Berchner and her husband inherited Häfla works and possibly also Hofsta Manor in Björkvik parish. Johan Gyllenkrok died in 1710, when the children were still small. The properties that they had inherited from her father thereby fell to Catharina von Berchner. In 1723, she married Baron Jonas Folkern Cedercreutz who had been county governor in the county of Kopparberg and the province of Västmanland. He had been married twice before. He died however after only four years and a childless marriage. After that, Catharina von Berchner remained a widow until her death.
Catharina von Berchner ran the works at Häfla successfully. To help her, she had an accountant and a master smith who were responsible for the daily operations. The works’ privileges allowed bar iron production up to 300 ship’s pounds (about 45 tons). A new forge was built in 1728 and at the same time, the waterpower plant was rebuilt. In 1729, 1737 and 1740, Catharina von Berchner received the permission of the authority Bergskollegium to produce more bar iron than the stipulated annual quota. The argument that she presented in connection with her application to the authority was that profitability would otherwise be so bad that closure of the works would be preferable to continued production.
In 1742, Catharina von Bercher was given permission to increase the works’ production to 600 ship’s pounds of bar iron per year. Production was thus doubled. On account of deterioration in the economic situation and shortages of water, charcoal and pig iron, for a considerable number of years the works was forced however to produce much less than its stipulated annual bar iron quota. In 1762, the works’ privileged wrought iron was therefore reduced to 500 ship’s pounds. Some years earlier, in 1759, Catharina von Berchner had handed over Häfla bruk to a grandson.
Apart from the works, Catharina von Berchner also ran the Hofsta estate in Björkvik parish. There she had the estate’s manor house rebuilt in 1746 to look as it does today. Catharina von Berchner died at Hofsta in 1768. Häfla hammer and forge are today well-preserved industrial memorials with a museum that shows the operations at a Swedish iron works at the beginning of the 1900s, when the works was renowned for its production of horseshoes.