Monday, 23 September 2013

Village Craftsmen - The Blacksmith

Up until the 1950's almost every village  had all the regular craftsmen that covered all aspects of village life, from the nurse come midwife, to the wheelwright who not only laid out the deceased made the coffin and dug the grave, and pulled the four wheel hand pulled hearse, then made or repaired farm carts, made ladders, wheelbarrows,gates, and every thing in between. A brick layer on the estate maintenance  a cobler who mended and made boots and shoes and made and repaired horse harness  a shop keeper, a school , the vicar and of coarse the blacksmith, not forgetting the pub.  There was nine farms that surrounded the village five of which were in the centre, all the farms milked cows, and around pm in the afternoon herds of cows walking on the village roads in all directions, to their respective farms from out lying day pastures. Two herds passed through the this ford every day 

 This is an old picture of St Chads church looking from the north side, to the east end (left) of the church you can see the many chimneys of the big old vicarage which is now demolished

                                    The Blacksmiths Shop around the 1950`s
   Mr Giles travelled from Stafford to the village for two and sometimes three days a week; he also had a forge in East gate Street Stafford. With the number of horses rapidly declining it did not justify a full time blacksmith in the village. His main job was shoeing, welding repairing and fabricating gates and fences. Outside the blacksmiths shop was a heavy cast iron round disc, about 5ft across; to clamp wooden wheels down to while it was being hooped. To the extreme right ,at the chimney end was a tall narrow furnace ,the inside dimensions being only 18inches wide, but 6ft high and six foot long to heat up the wheel hoops to hammer them onto the wooden wheels.
   This furnace had a crude steel door to make the draught draw under the gap at the bottom, and through the fire grate and up through the depth of coke, to provide the heat. The fumes joined the chimney that is still there to this day. This furnace had quite thick walls and an arch at the top, then a depth or sand on top to help keep the heat in a tiled roof to keep the weather out.
  The original doors still cover the windows, but then they were just opening, never had been glazed. To the left of the double doors was a large pile of sweepings out of the shoeing bay, comprising of hoof trimmings and filings, dried on mud carried in the horse's hooves, and whatever the horses cared to leave behind. Through the double doors was the shoeing bay where the horses were tied up. Then through a door immediately on the right, the first thing you saw in the middle was the anvil, this stood on a large piece of  elm log to bring the top of the anvil to about two and a half foot high, handy hammering height. To the left was a pile of worn out horse shoes, some with nails still in. On the right fastened to a bench was a metal bending tool to form the hoops for cart wheels, this could be adjusted to how tight the bend needed to be. The strip of flat iron would be heated then the end fed over the first roller under the second and over the third. A big cranking handle turned the rollers the middle roller was screwed down to put pressure to curve the metal. The next along the bench was a large blacksmiths vice; this had a heavy bracket along the front edge of the bench, and a leg down into the floor. A long shiny bar with a knob at each end to tighten it with, and well worn jaws that had gripped and been hammered for what seemed to be generations. Also on this bench in front of the second window was a pillar drill , this had a large flywheel that turned horizontally above your head and a crank handle to the side driving it, underneath was a huge chuck and a small vice to hold the metal while being drilled.
   At the far end of the shop is the forge, this was made of bricks. At the front was an arch about eighteen inches high, by three feet wide with all sorts of scrap metal (useful off cut is the term I'm looking for) stuffed under for safe keeping. But the arch has a more practical reason for being there; it's for the blacksmith to put the toes of his boots under so he can stand closer to the forge without bending forward. The top edge of the forge the bricks had a rounded edge then nine inches in it was filled up with fine coke. The hearth was open on two sides, and bricked round on the other two with metal lining to protect it from the heat .Over the top was a metal hood with inches of dust on it leading into a brick chimney. At the back of the forge were the bellows, at one time, before I can remember he used the old bellows worked by foot pedal, made out of leather? These stayed there for quite a number of years, but got hidden by the "useful off cuts" but now the blowing was done by electric fan. All round the front and sides of the forge, except where he stood, were brackets holding all the tongs and tools of the trade. On the wall forming the left hand side of the hearth was his office; this took the form of a couple of nails with notes thrust onto them. One held the draughtsman's drawings of some fabrication job he had to do (drawn freehand on a torn off piece of cardboard full of thumb prints) one of many that had been put on before it. The other nail held an assortment of his wardrobe leather aprons jerkins and leggings that were in varying stages of dilapidation, the oldest at the back, right up to his older cap used when shoeing horses on the top. He had to reach just under this pile to operate the switch for the new electric fan.
   First job when he arrived in a morning would be to light the forge, a few sticks that had been kept in a dry and warm place over night would be placed in a hollow in the centre of the hearth on a couple of sheets of crumpled newspaper. This was lit and the fan put on low, as the flames got enthusiastic some coke was gradually pulled over the burning sticks, and within a couple of minutes the fire was hot enough to boil the kettle. The fan was turned off and the fire would remain dormant most of the day, it being ready at a moments notice when switched on again. Along side the forge was a  rusty dousing tank three quarters full of equally rusty water, where metal that needed cooling quickly was dunked in with a tremendous fizzling in clouds of steam, on the end of his tongs.
At the back of his work shop was a rack that held new metal of all dimensions, some for horse shoes some for cart wheel hoops, some for making gate hinges   and all the ironwork needed when the wheelwright was making a new cart or wagon plus everything in between. This had to be reached by climbing over, jobs waiting to be done, things taken in as patterns and all the useful off cuts that might come in handy (should I say scrap metal). The only clear floor area was from the door to the forge and round the forge, then round the anvil. 
   Every so often they would fire up the furnace at the end of the blacksmith's shop for hooping wheels that Mr Clark the wheelwright had made or repaired. The hoops would be lifted out red hot and burned onto the wooden wheel that was clamped firmly on a huge cast iron disc that was permanently on the frontage of his shop. When hammered down into place firmly, water would be poured on to cool the iron hoop and shrink it tight onto the wooden wheel, these would then be rolled across the road and leaned against the wooden fence opposite, as many as twenty five of all sizes and weights ready to be repainted and refitted to there respective vehicles. On certain days of the week he would concentrate on shoeing horses mainly shires some cobs or float horses and a few hunters.
  When our two remaining shires wanted shoeing we would be put up on top of them and set off to school, Mr Giles would lift us down to continue to school, then on the way home for dinner we would be pushed back on top to take them home again. Some times he would let us switch his forge fan on to heat a horse shoe, the shoe on the end of his tongs he would bury it in the centre of the burning coke for about a minuet, and it would come out more than red hot but going white hot with little sparks jumping off it. This would hold the heat while he burned it onto the trimmed hoof of the shire, this made the shoe touch the hoof all the way round and bed it in amid clouds of smoke. The shoe was then cooled before nailing it onto the horses hoof, the new set of shoes would last 6 to 8 weeks depending on the roadwork do. Old "Flower" one of our shires, had a habit of twisting her one back foot every time she put her foot down and would ware this one shoe out in a month, so an extra visit was necessary for that one foot every now and then.
I can still hear the ringing of the anvil as the blacksmith pumled the soft hot metal into the desired shape, after every blow to the metal he was working with there would be at least two smaller bounces of the hammer on the anvil creating a very sharp ringing, then two or three blows to the hot metal quite a dull sound. As the metal cooled to a dull red it would harden again and have to be reheated then the finer touches would be made turning it over and around until it reached the shape he wanted. It was a very hot job, sleeves rolled up and a heavy leather apron on, his cap turned slightly more than when he was cool and tipped back a little. Everything he used was shiny made so with the palm of his hardened hands that held the skill of many years of experience

The blacksmiths shop closed around 1975 as did the wheelwrights, horses had reached there lowest numbers, with no shires at all in this district, but riding horses and ponies are on the steady increase and mobile farrier are taking over. The demand for wooden carts and wagons gradually came to an end as tractors with hydraulic tipping became more popular.

This was the blacksmiths shop  in 1945 when we were going to School. The tall narrow door on the right, was a furnace in which the iron hoops were heated red hot then hammered over the wooden wheel, which was clamped tight on the cast iron circle, permanently situated outside his shop.

             I Remember Blacksmiths Shop

This was the blacksmiths shop in  1945 when we moved to the village and started school

I remember blacksmiths shop, all dingy dark and dusty,
Great big pile of horse shoes outside, all a going rusty,
Tom Giles was smithies name, all jolly strong and hot,
With shoeing father's horses, he did the blooming lot.

When setting off to school one morn, the horses we would take,
To blacksmiths shop for shoeing, would make us very late,
On going home for dinner, these horses we would ride,
Pitched up high on Flower, the others led with pride.

Welding cutting bending shaping, everything was there,
To make it new, or fettle up, to make a good repair,
His stock of metal had a rack, but most of it had missed,
It lay about in piles around his forge, which was in its midst.

All day you'd hear the hammer, a ringing out aloud,
Hitting out the red hot metal, made him very proud,
The different shapes and sizes, needed for a gate,
Lay around the workshop floor, no need for him a mate.

Alone he worked all day until; we kids came out of school,
Then he would be invaded, his metal then would cool,
On his forge he put his kettle, there to make some tea,
We kids tried out his drilling tool, great flywheel turned by me.

With tongs we tried to heat the metal, in the furnace hot,
To make and shape we would try, to bend on anvil, but,
Not hot enough to work it, so pumping the bellows up,
It made the spark fly every where, our school cloths covered us.

The water in the blacksmiths shop, was warm to wash our hand,
With dowsing all the things he'd made, red hot metal into bands,
With cloths soiled and singed, and not a hole in site,
Mother knew where we had been, said it's late it's nearly night.


Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of the fire.Quotation by W B Yeats

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