When blacksmiths were the ironmen of life in the villages

Wray historian David Kenyon takes a look at the life and times of village blacksmiths and their workshops, from High Bentham to Bolton-le-Sands. This week he visits the village of Wray

Thursday, 4th October 2018, 12:12 pm
Updated Friday, 5th October 2018, 1:31 am
David Travis shoeing a horse. In earlier times horseshoes were made from wrought iron. Iron was purchased by the blacksmith in long lengths, either one inch x half inch or one and a quarter inch x half inch. Often the blacksmith would make shoes for his customers horses in advance. He knew the horses and their shoe sizes from past experience. Some blacksmiths put a grove in the centre of the shoe, using a tool similar to a small axe. The blade was rounded on one side only. It was placed in the centre of the shoe and then a striker hit the tool head with a heavy hammer. The holes for the nails were made using a blacksmith-made punch: four holes on the outside, three on the inside. After the hoof had been trimmed the hot shoe would be seared on to the hoof. Often the shoe would need to be altered to get a good fit. The shoe would then be nailed on, using nails made from Swedish iron. The nails had one side tapered. The straight side when to the outside. This ensured that the nail came out of the side of the ho

Formerly almost every village had a blacksmith to whom, at one time or another, all the inhabitants turned for shoeing their horses, for repair work and for making all manner of iron work for farm carts including the hooping of cartwheels.

The decline of the village blacksmith probably started during the latter years of the Second World War. The Government set up the Rural Industries Bureau, its purpose to help rural craftsmen modernise their workshops. They provided grants for blacksmiths to buy and use modern welding equipment. This was a great help to blacksmiths for a number of years. Farmers had iron draw bars fitted to their horse drawn hay making machinery and farm carts. Also, for a few years iron work was required for timber trailers made by the local carpenters.

Iron work was also made for wooden cattle trucks often fitted on to ex-army wagon chassis.

On the bank of the River Roeburn, just down from the smithy that was situated at the top of the bank above. David Travis (second from right) and his helper are holding iron dogs. These were used for carrying the red hot wheel rim from the fire, then placing it over the wheel. Water was then thrown over the iron rim to shrink it tight on to the wooden wheel. After the wheels were hooped they would go back to the carpenters workshop to be painted with three coats of red lead paint. At this time there were steps down from the top of Smithy Brow to the rivers edge with stepping stones across the river. All this part of the river bank was destroyed by the Wray flood on August 8 1967.

By the early 1950s village smithies had started to close, often being converted into domestic dwellings, the only clue to its former use being the name on the house gate, ie: Forge House, The Old Smithy, etc.

Robert Taylor and Sons at Green Smithy moved into tractors and farm machinery, selling their first tractor in 1959. Joshua Winn and Son, who had a smithy at Grove Hill, High Bentham, diversified into the making and erecting of steel framed farm buildings for farmers.

Melling blacksmiths Gibsons started fitting out shippons with pipelines for milking machines, before moving into the sale and repair of tractors and agricultural machinery.

David Travis, who was the last blacksmith in Wray village, was born in 1865.

Smithy Brow, Wray Main Street, around 1958. The smithy is already starting to decay. The roof of the horse shoeing building has collapsed. The lady on the right of the photograph is Ethel Townson whose ancestors were butchers in the village in the 17th century. The sharp bend in this street was known locally as Mucky Corner, probably because the cows from Roeburnside Farm would be taken down to the river in winter for watering.

In the 1881 census David was living with Wray’s master blacksmith Allen Briscoe – he was then 15-years-old. When Allen Briscoe retired David Travis took over the smithy.

A Wray man, Terry Robinson, remembers as a young lad of nine or 10 being given sixpence to pour water on to a wheel that David was hooping. Terry remembers the loud creaking noise that the red hot rim made when he poured cold water on to the wheel rim.

David Travis would start work at 12 or 13-years-of-age and was still working into his late 70s. A long working lifetime. David passed away in 1955 aged 90.

After David retired the blacksmith’s workshop just fell into a ruin as can be seen on the photographs of the smithy taken around 1958. The part of the building used for shoeing horses has collapsed. Today all that remains of the smithy are the four walls.

Photograph taken around 1915 of the interior of the smithy of David Travis, Wrays last blacksmith. The man on the left is working the bellows; a good blast of air to the forge fire was needed to heat the iron sufficiently for forging. David is forging the horseshoe on the anvil assisted by the man with the big hammer called the striker. Both men are wearing leather aprons to protect themselves from flying sparks. In the old days these aprons were called a brat.