Trades and Crafts

Extracts from p194, 200, 205 and 206 of “Rural Life in Victorian England” by G.E. Mingay, Futura Publications 1979. Copyright 1976 Land Humphries publishers Ltd.

[p194] “Tradesmen and craftsmen played a vital role in the country- side, providing goods and services which were essential to the efficient functioning of the community. The dividing line between tradesmen and craftsmen was not very distinct for both could be seen as employing specialized skills and knowledge in the running of a business. ‘Tradesman however, suggests perhaps something more of a dealer or middleman, and ‘craftsman’ a skilled artisan, a blacksmith or wheelwright, for instance, producing useful products in his workshop.

Some craftsmen had quite large establishments, employing several journeymen and apprentices, and became the working managers of substantial businesses. Sometimes, like the blacksmiths, they turned to the making of agricultural implements, established a local reputation for their wares, and built up a considerable manufacture, graduating eventually to using steam power in a factory building.

[p205] Blacksmiths …were .. much in demand for repairs and wrought-iron work, and for their hand-made tools. But like the saddler, their mainstay was the horse, and it must be remembered that the horse remained a vital source of power until relatively recent times. It was the late nineteenth century before steam engines finally eclipsed the horse-driven gins and threshing machines on farms. Long after that the horse remained essential for drawing farm implements and for local transport. Indeed, The total number of horses was still rising in the 1880s and 1890s and reached its peak only in the early years of the twentieth century. The decline of the blacksmith was coupled with the Coming of the tractor and the motor car.

[p206] The smithy, with its spare chains, iron wheels, and the shoes marked with the names of the horses for whom they were intended, was a lively feature of the old village. There were always many people calling about repairs or waiting for their horses to be shod. Children peeped in, fascinated by the brightness of the fire and the sparks flying from the anvil.

Another important establishment was the wheelwright’s shop. The old farm wagons had huge and stout wheels, the rear ones commonly five feet high, and the front ones four. The nave or hub was shaped from seasoned elm, the spokes from cleft heart of oak to give strength, and the felloes or rim sections from ash, elm or beech. Many years of training and experience went into the making of a perfect wheel which would see out a great many years.

[p200] There were .. two classes of country alehouses. The principal village inns were the resort of farmers, dealers, carters, local tradesmen and skilled craftsmen. The hedge alehouses or beer shops catered for a much lower class of customer. They were often mere converted cottages, houses of dubious reputation, which attracted the labourers who wanted to drink and talk out of the sight and hearing of their superiors. The home brew of the low public, a heady liquid, nauseous to those not acquainted with it, was what the labourers liked.”

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