Alas Smith

With my ongoing fascination with the blacksmiths of Lichfield, I was interested to find a short article in an old newspaper about William Goodwin. At the time of the article, August 1950, Mr Goodwin was the oldest trading smith in the city, working with his son in the business his father had started before him.

The article says that at the turn of the century there had been around ten blacksmiths in Lichfield, with demand from stables at local inns and estates. Mr Goodwin remembered shoeing more than fifty horses a week, but in 1950 was doing less than ten. As a result of this reduced demand for the trade, Mr Goodwin’s forge was one of only three remaining in the city. Another of the three was Mr W Ball of St John St, who started his business after the First World War. He explained that his survival was down to the priority attached to agriculture, adding that his main work was now with agricultural implements and fixing wheels, most of the dealings with horses being confined to riding stables.

Of course, now there are none remaining.  Whilst Lichfield is clearly no Birmingham or Black Country, it did of course have its trades and sites of industry. I think that this is sometimes forgotten and so I’m always pleased to be reminded of where Mr Goodwin’s forge (the one where apparently a man from France had his dancing bear shod of course!) stood on Beacon Street and of the other blacksmiths of Lichfield, when I see the street names ‘Smithy Lane’ and ‘Forge Lane’. Place names can tell stories, and should always be chosen with care.

 

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Trading Places

In June 1945, local historican Mr Jackson contributed an article to the Lichfield Mercury in which he shared his memories of the shops and businesses that surrounded him as a young boy growing up in the city during the 1870s. I’ve summarised the article below so settle yourself down with a bottle of herb beer and a bag of toffee nobs and have a read!

In Breadmarket St, Mr Bartlam had a tinsmith business and Mr Marshall ran a dairy in the premises next to the old watchmakers and jewellers owned by Mr Corfield. Mr Corfield’s shop burnt down in 1872 – a tragedy that resulted in the entire Corfield family losing their lives (1). In 1872 there were three breweries – Griffith’s, the Lichfield Brewery Co. and Smith’s on Beacon St (the City Brewery and the Trent Valley Brewery came later). Mounsden and Sons was a wine and spirit business, according to Mr Jackson, one of the oldest in the city. There was Mr Nicholls, a photographer who also had a fancy goods shop on the site of what was to become the Regal Cinema (but has since been the Kwik Save and a nightclub, with plans to turn it back into the Regal Cinema again!).

Regal Cinema Lichfield. Late 1960s? Taken from Gareth Thomas’s Pinterest site http://pinterest.com/FieldOfTheDead/old-photos-lichfield/

A little shop in Tamworth St was kept by the Misses Wilcox who sold fancy goods and toys. Mr Jackson remembers that the shop was well below the pavement (why would this be?) and stocked everything from pins to rocking horses! He recalls buying yards of elastic for making catapults, along with marbles, tops and hoops.

Mr Young, a whitesmith, lived in the old Frog Lane School House and his workshop was in the same street. There were several ironmongers including Mr Crosskey on Market St, Sheriff of Lichfield in 1863 and Mayor in 1868. Next to the old Victoria Nursing Home at 15 Sandford St was Mr Tricklebank’s tin-ware business.

On Market St, was Mr Caldwell’s hardware business (Frisby’s Boot and Shoe store in 1945).  Over on Church St, Mr Platt made rope, twine and string (Mr Jackson believes he was the only one in the district at the time) and C W Bailey had an agricultural implement depot.  Blacksmiths were in demand – Gallimore on Lombard St, Mr Salt on Sandford St, Mr Sandland on Beacon St (later taken over by Mr Goodwin who, as you may remember from a previous post featuring Mr Jackson’s memories of Beacon St, was said to have shod a dancing bear).  Apparently, the smithy on Beacon St was the oldest in the city, dating back to the mid 1800s.

I believe that this building on Lombard St was once a blacksmith’s forge.

Wheel wrights producing traps, carts and wagons and well as the wheels to put on them could be found on Church St (Mr Davis) and Beacon Hill (Mr Horton).

This advert for John Simms shows that at some point the business moved to Church St. Image taken from Gareth Thomas’s http://pinterest.com/FieldOfTheDead/

John Simms had his mineral water works on Stowe St opposite St Chad’s School, and Mr Jackson remembers that when he was a pupil at this school in 1869, nearly every other cottage in Stowe St sold bottles of home made herb beer during the summer (was this actual proper beer or more like the ginger beer of Enid Blyton books?). Perhaps of even more interest for the little ones were the sweet shops – ‘Suckey’ Blakeman and ‘Suckey’ Perry in Market St and Mr Giles on Gresley Row with his ‘super’ toffee nobs.  When Mr Jackson moved up to the Minors School on the corner of St John St and Bore St, he recalls taking it in turns with his fellow students to fetch not just mere ‘super’ but ‘luxury’ toffee nobs from Miss Hicken’s (and later Miss Hobby’s) shop in St John St opposite the back entrance to the school.

Cities are constantly changing places. Even though my Lichfield memories only stretch back as far as the beginning of the 21st century (with the exception of one family day trip to Beacon Park in the 1980s) a lot has changed even in that short space of time with shops and businesses coming and, as is all too often the case these days, going. Just last week the Greenhill Chippy shut. A couple of years ago my friend and I were heading to the Duke of York when we got talking to a man who was passing through Lichfield on a long journey he was undertaking on foot. He didn’t explain why, and for some reason it didn’t seem right to ask him. He hadn’t any money and didn’t ask for any, but did accept a portion of chips from the Greenhill fish shop. I often think of him, and what his story may have been when passing by there. Anyway, my point is that places have memories attached to them and I think it’s important to record them, just as Mr Jackson did. There’s some great stuff being shared on the Lichfield Facebook group and some wonderful old photos on Gareth Thomas’s blog. For a much more in depth look at the shops and businesses of Lichfield, I know that there is a great book “Trades of a City: Lichfield Shops and Residents from 1850” by JP Gallagher, (although having only borrowed copies, if anyone can point me in the direction of where to purchase my own, I’d be grateful!). I think it would be brilliant to do some walks where instead of being led by a guide, people have a stroll around the streets together sharing memories and stories with each other. Until then, if anyone can identify any of the locations in Mr Jackson’s reminisces please let me know!

(1) This is a sad but interesting story in itself and I will cover it in a separate post.

Source: Lichfield Mercury 8th June 1945

Forge and Ford

As the afternoon’s weather in Longdon was not quite warm enough for basking in the beer garden of the Swan with Two Necks, I took myself off for a little wander. The pub has a late 19th century map mounted on the wall, and it shows that the building next door was once a smithy. I’ve always had a soft spot for these simple buildings, softened even further by the discovery that one of my ancestors was an innkeeper with a sideline in blacksmithing. One of these days I’ll stop romanticising about it and actually get around to visiting Cirencester to see whether the forge is still there.  For now though, back to Longdon, where in May 1918, the then blacksmith, a Mr T Broadhurst had decided to give up the business and was selling the tools of his trade. On offer was a grindstone on a iron frame, two circular double blast bellows (nearly new), a treadle drilling machine, two black staple vices and other useful tools. The building remained a forge until 1938 and now is home to the WI.

Something else that appears on the pub’s map is a ford, which as the name suggests, is at the end of this lane. I had a walk down and within minutes found myself alongside the Shropshire Brook. I stood for a while on the little footbridge watching tiny yellow birds flit between the trees and the water’s edge. Interestingly, on earlier maps this seems to be called the How Brook.

Fords “shine in the memory” according to the writers of England in Particular

I don’t know much about fords, other than they are a way of crossing streams and rivers, presumably at their shallowest points. Whilst reading up on them at home, I came across a surprising account of an event that seems to have taken place here or very nearby (1).

Sir William Wolseley … lost his life about the beginning of the last century* in a very singular manner. He went to Lichfield one morning about nine miles from his house in his coach and four and on his way passed a little brook which runs across the road at Longdon and which is so shallow that a foot passenger can easily step over it the water being kept up by a mill dam at some distance from the road. When Sir William Wolseley reached this brook on his return home in the evening the mill dam just at that instant suddenly gave way the water rushed across the road overturned the carriage and drowned Sir William with his horses. The coachman was thrown off the box into a tree and escaped.

*July 8th 1728 according to the inscription on the monument to Sir William in Colwich church

Could this these gently flowing waters really have caused such devastation? It’s hard to imagine. A reminder, I suppose, that whether it’s the fire of the blacksmith, or the water turning the mill wheel, we can manipulate the elements of nature, but we are never fully in control.

Sources

(1) – A topographical and historical description of the Parish of Tixall in the County of Stafford, Sir Thomas Clifford and Arthur Clifford Esq, 1817.

 


Back to Black

After finding out about the Millenium Gates at Christ Church, created by contemporary Master Blacksmith, David Tucker, at his Derbyshire forge, I was interested to see if there was any trace of the many smithys and forges Lichfield once had. Using a town plan of Lichfield from 1884 & trade directories from the late 19th and early 20th century, I came up with a list of those whose location I thought I could roughly identify.

A weathervane I spotted on my travels

The locations are: Upper St John St;  Lombard St; Bakers Lane (3 in this area according to the map!) and Beacon St.

I headed to Lombard St first but it occured to me on the way over, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for anyway? There might be some sort of clue I suppose, but surely there wouldn’t be a sign saying this used to be a forge…..

Well almost! Apparently, behind this facade is a building dating back to the late 17th century. To the right of the house is the workshop in the photo below – the listed building description describes it as ‘an interesting building where further investigation might reveal other early features’.

Workshop on Lombard St.

Before getting too carried away though, on the 1884 map of Lichfield, the smithy is shown on the other side of Lombard St. So this contradiction is a bit of a puzzle…. At home I tried to find out more – on the 1881 census for Lombard St is a Mr Joseph Baxter, blacksmith and his wife Catherine. On the 1896 directory, there is a Mrs J Baxter, blacksmith, Lombard St and the 1901 census seems to confirm that Catherine Baxter, now a fifty year old widow, took over her husband’s trade and was working as a shoeing smith, at 3 Lombard St.

1884 map indicated the Lombard St smithy may have been around here?

Next stop was Bakers Lane. I wasn’t holding out any hope for anything here but in the interests of a comprehensive search I had a look. Plus I needed some milk. As suspected, on face value there doesn’t appear to be much left of anything here.

So I headed for Upper St John St, where it looks as though a smithy (possibly listed to Fred Meacham in 1900) existed either alongside or within the Lichfield Brewery. I couldn’t find anything obvious here on the street, but later at home I did find a newspaper story telling how in July 1903, Mr Meacham, a blacksmith at the City Brewery had a terrible accident being run over by a horse float, after helping in a hayfield. Although Mr Meacham sustained a serious injury, the 1911 census shows that he did return to work as a blacksmith.

Whilst looking at the newspaper archive I found this notice taken out by William Goodwin in the Friday July 11 1902 edition of the Mercury. In it, he advised ‘Nobility, Gentry, Farmers & Others’, that he had taken over the blacksmith’s shop on Beacon St, lately occupied by George Goodwin.

Is there any physical trace of the forge on Beacon St though? Well yes and no. While nothing seems to remain of the building (as far as I could see), the road next to The Feathers pub is ‘Forge Lane’ and the road off this one is ‘Smithy Lane’.

 Footnotes!

In exploring this subject and related matters, I’ve had some great discussions with and help from BrownhillsBob so a big thank you to him.

Although I couldn’t see anything at some of the locations, that’s not to say there is nothing there…..

A few doors up from Catherine Baxter on Tamworth St, in 1881, another widow, Louisa Wood is listed as a ‘Plumber & Decorator’. Ann Tricklebank on Sandford St seems to take over her husband’s trade as a tin worker. I’d not ever thought about the role of women in these traditionally male trades before, so this is something I’d like to find out more about.

Even in 2007, the idea of a female blacksmith seemed to create much excitement in a national ‘newspaper’ with talk of ‘hot stuff’ and ‘unladylike professions’ and ‘an ancient art more traditionally associated with barrel-chested macho men’.

Almost 200 years ago, there are seven blacksmiths listed in the 1818 Lichfield Directory and by 1834 there were 10 – in Market St, Birmingham Rd, Sandford St & Tamworth St, as well as some of those mentioned above.

In surrounding areas there are of course also traces of blacksmiths. For example, in Burntwood there’s a Forge Lane, an Old Forge at Fisherwick, and an old smithy in Fradley. Even further afield, you can see some photos of Staffordshire smiths on the Staffs Past Track website.  

Using the town plan for Lichfield prompted me to see if there was one for Cirencester, where in the late 19th century, my g-g-g-grandfather ran a pub. I had read a while back that it’s no longer a pub so I had a quick look at it on the town plan to see where it would have been. Funnily enough, at the rear of the pub is a smithy and in the 1901 census my g-g-g-grandfather is listed as a Blacksmith & Innkeeper. Maybe that explains why I’m interested in blacksmiths and erm, pubs 😉

Update 19.2.202

Bob has very kindly put a post on his blog about the forge, with four great old maps of Lichfield. There are some great comments and based on these it looks as though the workshop was the smithy & the 1884 town plan may have it wrong. Also, you’ll see that Roger (@ziksby on twitter) has found 34 blacksmiths on the 1881 census. 34!

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archives

1884 Town Plan Lichfield

Staffordshire General & Commercial Directory 1818

Whites History, Gazeteer & Directory of Staffordshire `1834

Kellys Directory of Staffordshire 1896, 1900 & 1912