V is for Vulcan
This article is an extended version of a post I wrote as a contribution to the Society for One-Place Studies’ employment-themed A to Z Blogging Challenge in April 2020. One of the two letters I volunteered to cover was ‘V’. According to an online Dictionary of Old Occupations, “Vulcan [is] a term for a Blacksmith, possibly derived from the name of the Roman god”. So naturally I starting out by explaining: “I know what you’re thinking. I’m a big Star Trek fan, and it would be just my style to work out some way of shoehorning a green-blooded, pointy-eared alien into a one-place studies blog post! But as my Place is earth-bound Waters Upton, that would be illogical . . .”
Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
— The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published 1840.
The blacksmith, with his forge, hammer and anvil, is probably one of the first people we think of when considering village occupations – even a village as small as Waters Upton had one. The earliest evidence I know of confirming the presence of one in the parish is a baptism recorded in the parish register covering the early 1600s, when one child’s father was described as a “blakesmith.”
Blacksmiths worked with iron to make everything from nails and horseshoes, and they repaired tools and farm implements, so their importance to the communities they served can easily be imagined. Many also worked closely with wheelwrights, as the wooden components of wheels for carts, wagons and carriages were held together by an outer rim of metal. Originally the metal took the form of strakes, lengths of iron which were nailed to the outside of wheels. In the mid-1800s however strakes were replaced by tyres, each one a single ring of iron made to fit the wheel tightly once it was cooled, with tire-bolts added to ensure it remained in place.
Death of a blacksmith
With the fires in their forges burning all day, blacksmiths were used to working in hot conditions. Not all blacksmiths received a warm welcome at Waters Upton however. On the night of Sunday the 2nd of October 1785 “a very rash and fatal Affair” occurred when a blacksmith from Ruyton with the amazing appellation of Octavius Caesar Augustus Hithcot visited the Waters Upton watering hole of innkeeper John Gower. Unfortunately “an Affray arose about some trifling Matters, when the Landlord took his Gun and shot the Blacksmith dead on the Spot.” Gower then absconded, with a 10 guinea reward on offer for his apprehension. I have yet to discover whether he was ever brought to justice.
The Ridgway family of Cold Hatton
Thankfully Waters Upton’s own blacksmiths, at least in the 1800s, seem to have fared rather better. Prior to the census we can use the parish’s baptism register to trace some of those smiths – but only from 1815 when the new-style printed register (which recorded the occupations of all the fathers named therein) was adopted by the newly-installed incumbent Richard Hill. The first blacksmiths recorded in that register lived in the nearby hamlets of Cold Hatton and Rowton, situated in the adjacent parish of Ercall Magna.
Among the blacksmiths of that parish who had their children baptised at Waters Upton was John Ridgway of Cold Hatton, whose wife was named Ann. Their daughters Sarah and Charlotte were baptised on 27 February 1820, and that joint ceremony was followed by the baptisms of sons George on 30 May 1824 and Robert on 20 March 1827. I will return to the Ridgways later.
Humphreys, Fox and Robinson in Waters Upton
The first blacksmith who I can say for sure was a resident of Waters Upton in the 1800s was John Humphreys. He and his wife Elizabeth were living in nearby Crudgington (again in Ercall Magna parish) when their son Henry was baptised at Waters Upton on 22 April 1821. By 25 May 1823 however, when the couple’s next son, Ambrose, was baptised there, the family’s abode was Waters Upton. They were still there when daughter Rachael was baptised on 9 October 1825, but it appears that within a year of this John had moved on and a new arrival was supplying smithing services to the village.
Marianne, the daughter of blacksmith Richard Fox and his wife Elizabeth, of Waters Upton, was baptised at St Michael’s on 11 September 1826. Two years later, on 8 September 1828, the same ceremony was performed for another Fox ‘cub’, Martha. After that, no more Waters Upton blacksmiths appear in the baptism register until 2 March 1833, at which point it seems the village forge was being tended by a Thomas Robinson.
Vickers and Buttery of Rowton and Lawley of Cold Hatton
Another gap follows, during which time it is not clear who the village blacksmith was. Three baptisms for children of two more blacksmiths living beyond the parish boundary are worthy of mention here. On 17 April 1835 Wright Willett, the Curate, seethed as he recorded the baptism of Elizabeth the illegitimate daughter of George Vickers and Ann Buttery of Rowton. He described George as a “Blacksmith & Married Man!!!” and Ann as a “Widow & Sister in law to Vickers!!!” (It looks like the wayward Ann’s late husband had followed the same trade, as Mary, daughter of Joseph Buttery, blacksmith, and Ann, of Rowton, had been baptised at Waters Upton on 12 Sep 1830.)
The other two blacksmith baby baptisms I want to mention are those of Andrew and Ann, children of Henry and Jane Lawley of Cold Hatton, which took place on 8 June 1834 and 27 Mar 1836 respectively. The Lawleys will feature in this article again, in connection with the Ridgway family – to which I will now return.
James Ridgway, blacksmith of Waters Upton
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.
— The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published 1840.
James Ridgway was an elder son of the above-mentioned John and Ann Ridgway of Cold Hatton, and was baptised at Waters Upton on 10 March 1811. He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a blacksmith, and he took his trade with him when he moved to Waters Upton. I don’t know exactly when he ‘set up shop’ there, but he was a resident of the village by 1837 when he married Ann Jones at Cound in Shropshire on 20 June.
The Tithe Commutation records and map for Waters Upton produced in 1837 show that James Ridgway occupied a “House Buildings & Garden” on the North / West side of the village’s main thoroughfare, plus the “Smith’s Shop” more or less directly opposite on the South / East side of the road.
In May 1848 the properties occupied by James were put up for sale by auction, and were described as “Lot 2.—All that BRICK and TILE DWELLING HOUSE, erected within a short period, together with the Blacksmith’s Shop, Pent-house, Piggeries, Gardens, Pond, and Croft of Land thereto adjoining, pleasantly situate, and adjoining the Turnpike Road in Waters Upton aforesaid, containing by admeasurement 2R. 11P., now in the several possessions of Samuel Tudor and James Ridgway. This lot is exceedingly well situated for a Blacksmith […]”. The sale did not mean that James’s occupancy of the house and blacksmith’s shop came to end, in all probability the only impact was that he paid rent to someone else afterwards. One question I have, given that the dwelling house was said to be “erected within a short period”, is how long had the blacksmith’s shop been in that location?
Census records (for 1841, ’51, ’61, ’71 and ‘81) and trade directories (for 1851, ’63, ’71 and ‘80) show that James Ridgway remained in Waters Upton, working as a blacksmith, for the rest of his life. The only other blacksmiths I have discovered pursuing the same trade in the village during that time were Henry Cheshire (wife Elizabeth), who probably worked briefly for James and whose son Charles was baptised on 14 November 1848, and James’s son Charles John Ridgway.
> On to Part 2.
Picture credits. Blacksmith’s shop, late 1800s: Painting by Albert Brument; public domain image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Map showing Waters Upton and nearby settlements: This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth; it is used under a Creative Commons licence. Map of Waters Upton showing the location of the smithy: From Ordnance Survey 25 Inch map XXIX.8 published 1901, Crown Copyright expired; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence.