Blacksmiths in Waters Upton – Part 2

< Back to Part 1.

James Ridgway, husband and father

Occupation - Blacksmith (2)

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

— The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published 1840.

James fathered six children in all. His first wife Ann née Jones bore him two daughters and three sons before her death, when aged just 39, on 6 March 1846. Those children were Harriet Ridgway (baptised 30 September 1838), Ellen (baptised 16 February 1840), William (17 October 1841), George (born in 1843, but no baptism record found), and James junior (baptised 26 January 1845).

None of these five children remained in Waters Upton. William did not stray far: like his father he became a blacksmith, but in a move which was the complete opposite of that made by James, he relocated from Waters Upton to Ercall Magna parish. William married Emma Lawley, a daughter of fellow blacksmith Henry Lawley and his wife Jane, who I mentioned in Part 1 of this article. I did promise that I would return to them!

Ellen’s various jobs in service are took her to Staffordshire and Yorkshire, and quite possibly other parts of the country too, before she returned to Shropshire and, like her brother William, settled in Ercall Magna. Ellen did not marry. Her sister Harriet on the other hand wed coach builder Richard Denchfield at Edgbaston, Warwickshire, on 24 May 1868, and lived with him at Balsall Heath.

The Ridgway siblings who moved the furthest however were without doubt George and James junior, who emigrated to New Zealand and became farmers (a story for another time perhaps).

Some five and half years after the loss of his first wife, James Ridgway married Harriet Mayne Knot, daughter of cooper Richard Knott, at Birmingham St Phillips on 3 November 1851. James stated that he was living in Bull Street at the time, but that was likely only a short term residence purely for the purposes of the nuptials.

Ridgway and Knott: Keeping it in the family

Harriet, incidentally, was James’s sister-in-law, his younger brother George Ridgway having wed Harriet’s younger sister Elizabeth Mayne Knott on 29 December 1846, also at Birmingham St Phillips. George, whose baptism at Waters Upton on 30 May 1824 I have already mentioned, followed James’s example and became a blacksmith like their father, but he remained in Cold Hatton.

I wonder how much of a surprise it was when Harriet discovered that she was pregnant and due to give birth to her first child at the age of 42. Charles John Ridgway was baptised at Waters Upton on 15 Apr 1855, and as we have seen he remained with his parents and entered the family business. He was enumerated as John Ridgway, a 16-year-old blacksmith’s assistant, when the 1871 census was taken, and as a fully-fledged blacksmith (26 and still known as John) ten years later in 1881.

Waters Upton MIs - Ridgway, Alfred and Sarah AnnAnother Ridgway family was also living in Waters Upton in 1881, headed by 26-year-old Alfred Ridgway. Alfred was James and Harriet’s nephew and (Charles) John’s double first cousin, a son of George Ridgway and Elizabeth, née Knott. He was a wheelwright, so it is entirely possible that he worked in conjunction with his uncle James and cousin Charles John at the Waters Upton Smithy. Like his uncle, after settling in Waters Upton he stayed there until he died. He appeared on the 1891 census as a wheelwright once more, but the censuses of 1901 and 1911 show that he had broadened his business and became a carpenter and wheelwright.

An entry for the administration of his estate in the National Probate Calendar for 1925 shows that at the time of his death on 2 August that year, his residence was 8 Waters Upton. His wife Sarah Ann, née Woolley, survived him and was still living at Number 8 when the 1939 Register was taken on 29 September 1939. She lived right through the Second World War before following her late husband to grave on Christmas Eve 1945.

Tools of the trade

My searches of the British Newspaper Archive have not so far produced any newspaper reports relating to the Ridgway blacksmithing business in Waters Upton. I have however found items relating to blacksmiths in Shropshire more generally, including the fact that when established rural smiths advertised for men to work for them, they tended to look for those who were “steady”, “used to country work”, and a “good shoer” or a “good nailer on”.

Another notice relating to a sale by auction in 1884 is also of interest, as it consisted of “a Capital Lot of BLACKSMITHS’ TOOLS (in good condition), excellent anvil (nearly new), 4cwt. 1qr. 15lbs; Pair of 36in. Bellows (with frame and piping), 4 Blacksmiths’ Vices, &c., 75 dozen new Horse Shoes (various), a 3ft, 6in. Grindstone and frame, Drilling Machines, and other useful lots.” (Wellington Journal, 12 April 1884, page 1.)

Carry On Smithing: Charles John Ridgway takes over

Waters Upton MIs - Ridgway, James, Anne and HarrietJames Ridgway, blacksmith to the people of Waters Upton from at least 1837,  died on 24 February 1890 aged 78. Did he carry on smithing right to the end? In 1887 he was named as the occupier of “A FREEHOLD HOUSE and BLACKSMITH’S SHOP, with Garden and Appurtenances, situate in the Sandholes, in the village of Waters Upton” when these properties were once again put up for sale by auction. So it is entirely possible that he was still toiling at the forge in his mid-70s. On the other hand, it is perhaps also possible that as the senior Ridgway the occupancy of these properties would still have been under his name even if he had retired.

On James’s death, if not a little before, Charles John Ridgway took over the ‘family business’ and supported his widowed mother Harriet, who lived with him until her own passing on 21 March 1903 at the grand old age of 90.

Under the name John Ridgway, he appeared in the 1891 census and in trade directories for 1891 and 1895 as the blacksmith of Waters Upton. He was not always the only blacksmith in the village during that period. (If you have ever watched Little Britain, incidentally, I need to tell you that in my head I wrote part of that last sentence in the style of one of Matt Lucas’s characters.) An inquest held at Waters Upton in 1890 (about which I will shortly post an article) received evidence from, amongst others, Walter Welsh who began his short statement by saying “I am a blacksmith, and live at Waters Upton.” I suspect he was working at the Ridgway smithy, but had not been doing so for very long as he was not enumerated in the parish on the 1891 census. (He may have been the 22-year-old Walter G Welch living with his parents and a sister at Marbury in Cheshire when that census was taken; both he and his father were blacksmiths.)

By census time in 1901 Charles had reclaimed his original forename, being enumerated as Charles J Ridgway. And having reclaimed his birth name he kept it, appearing as Charles John Ridgway, blacksmith, on the 1911 census and in trade directories for 1909, 1913, and 1917, when he was 62 years old. At what point he retired, I do not yet know. He died, unmarried, at the age of 68, on 11 February 1924, leaving effects valued at £1803 19s 10d. So I think it is fair to conclude that the Ridgway ‘Vulcans’ of Waters Upton lived long and prospered.

Toiling,–rejoicing,–sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

— The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published 1840.

Postscript: After the Ridgways

The only information I have on blacksmiths in Waters Upton after the passing of Charles John Ridgway comes from the 1939 Register. Living at 4 Hanford Terrace at that time was a family headed by John H Leech, born 6 August 1897, occupation “Shoeing & General Smith”. A native of Shrewsbury, by 1911 John Henry Leech was living with his parents and siblings in the parish of Stanton on Hine Heath. Aged 13, he was an apprentice wheelwright. Maybe he switched masters after that and became an apprentice to a blacksmith, or perhaps as a wheelwright he picked up metal working skills which stood him in good stead when he later turned his hand to shoeing and smithing. He died in (or just before) 1982, by which times it appears he had returned to Shrewsbury.

Did John Leech take over from Charles John Ridgway? And was he the last blacksmith of Waters Upton? Who preceded and/or followed him if the answer to either or both of those questions is No? There’s still more to find out before I can close the book on the blacksmiths of Waters Upton.


Picture credits. Blacksmith in his smithy: From an 1885 edition of Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith; taken from the British Library Flickr photostream, no known copyright restrictions. Gravestones of Ridgway family members at Waters Upton: Both photos by Steve Jackson.

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