In former times the village blacksmith or 'smithy' was an important member of the community. Horses were the main form of motive power for both transport and agriculture, and the skill of the blacksmith in keeping horses well shod and farm implements in good repair was vital to the local economy.
The blacksmith’s workshop, along with the church, pub and local store, was an essential component of a village’s existence prior to the arrival of the internal combustion engine.
It is not surprising then, that as Frith photographers travelled around villages they often captured the local smithy at work. Here are just a few for you to enjoy!
The village blacksmith was often one of the favourite haunts for the local children, who would while away their time watching horses being shod, metal tyres being fitted to wooden cart wheels, and farm equipment being repaired.
Within the Collection is this photograph of a gravestone of a Cheltenham village blacksmith John Paine who died in 1796. A fitting epitaph indeed for a blacksmith, it reads (sic):
"My sledge and Hammer lies declined,
My Bellows pipe have lost its Wind,
My Forge is extinct, my Fire's decay'd,
And in the dust my vice is laid,
My Coal is spent, my Iron's gone,
My Nails are drove, my Work is done."
The painter J M Whistler visited the fashionable seaside town of Lyme Regis in 1895. As he climbed the steep main street he must have heard Samuel Govier's hammer crashing against steel in his yard, and seen the glowing fire and the shower of incandescent sparks through the dim doorway. Captivated, he set to and painted 'The Master Smith of Lyme Regis', a fine portrait which now hangs in the Boston Museum in the USA. A painting by a famous artist is no guarantee of immortality, though. In Lyme today nothing of Govier remains, and where his smithy once stood, and where the town children gathered to watch the steam hissing from the white-hot shoes, Woolworth's now stands. The Frith photograph shows Govier at work shoeing in 1909. His assistant holds a rasp which is used for paring down and cleaning the horse's hoof. Against the wall on the right is the grindstone for sharpening tools.
The smith's main task was the shoeing of horses, but he turned his hand to a great variety of jobs that involved the working of metal. Perhaps that is the job in hand for this blacksmith in Llanystumdwy, Gwynedd.
The blacksmith's workshop, along with the church, pub and local store, was an essential component of a village's existence prior to the arrival of the internal combustion engine. Few, however, could have boasted such a magnificent structure as this, where the very entrance incorporates a giant horseshoe in its brickwork.
In this photograph taken at the same spot in Merrow just 14 years later in 1927, this enterprise had succumbed to the irresistible growth of the motor car and become a garage (see image number 79918). All traces of this picturesque forge have now gone - the site is now occupied by a modern service station.
By the 1920s, many smiths had ceased to tend horses, but tended cars instead – they had made the transition from farrier to motor mechanic. But the Exford smith is still carrying on his traditional business, although his forge has seen better days – the thatch has worn wafer thin and will soon be letting in water. The rickety door is smothered with auctioneers' flyers for farm sales; the village forge had always been a meeting place for farmers where they could gossip and discuss the news of the day.
Just six miles from the Borde, the village of Ford sits on gently rising ground on the right bank of the Till. The par- ish, which included Etal, Kimmerston, Hetherslaw and Crookham, suffered much during the wars with Scotland. In the 1340s the damage was so great that the parish sought exemption from taxation because crops and goods had been destroyed and livestock taken. There was also an old custom that allowed tenants to pay only half-rents following war with the Scots.
From 1826 this shop became the most popular place in Gretna for declaratory marriages. After 1856, a residence north of the border of not less than three weeks was required before a marriage could take place.
A blacksmith's forge used to stand beside this packhorse bridge spanning Winn Brook, one of eight bridges boasted by this tiny village. It was at Winsford that Ernest Bevin was born in 1881. He became General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union and was later appointed Minister of Labour and then Foreign Secretary.
When this photograph was taken, the pantiled old forge at Thornton Dale on the A170 east of Pickering had already diversified into pottery, postcards and gifts, as well as the more traditional metalwork. But the horse and carriage parked outside show there was still a demand from the equestrian trade.
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