Recollections of the Village Blacksmith, Peldon Village
The Forge or Smithy fronts the top road and overlooks the Common. It is a timber framed building with typical Essex black weather-boarding under a tiled roof and the floor of bare earth. The Travis where the horses were shod is of a lesser height but adjoins the Forge and may be of a later date for it was not unusual for horses to be shod in an open compound. This solid timber framed structure rests on a brick plinth wall with a cobbled floor and the double doors opened the width of the Travis and were finished in gloss paint. On the gable end wall facing towards Wigborough was a conspicuous advertisement for animal feed enamelled with black letters on a yellow background.
The Smithy was a "Two Burner" shop each having a separate chimney stack, the fire ranges constructed of brick, with
large bellows to the rear were worked by a long wooden lever fitted with a horn handle. I do not recall the burner
closest to the Travis ever being in use and during the period under review, William Greenleaf was the only blacksmith to work the Forge. The height of the brick range was virtually level with the top of the anvil with only a short distance between the two to ensure the metal could be worked with minimal heat loss. At the end of the range was a large stone water trough for immediately cooling the heated iron being worked as so required. There was an art in pumping the bellows to keep a constant hot bed of coals in relation to the work being undertaken and to avoid coal being used unprofitably. Against the stone trough leaned many of the blacksmith's tools particularly pokers and tongs. The anvil was mounted on a large block of hardwood set into the ground and held in position by iron cleats; at one end it had a unicorn head which enabled shoes to be fashioned to fit individual horse sizes. Under the window in front of the anvil was a deep sturdy wooden work bench to which was attached a large vice which was frequently in use. Sharpening harrows was a regular job when individual tines might need replacing which entailed unbolting tines from the harrow frame and constructing a replacement with the need to make a new thread one end to receive the nut. The forge had an ancient atmosphere with scraps of iron lying there never knowing what might usefully have a second life. Long lengths of metal straddled the crossbeams of the roof trusses and there would be hanging at the side of the beams rows of horse shoes of varying sizes ready for use. The Blacksmith always wore a heavy leather apron for protection especially against sparks.
The greatest attraction to the young spectator was the shoeing of heavy horses, hunters and those used for hacking,
and ringles were foxed to the vertical wooden studs to tether the horses providing sufficient space for two to stand side by side. The blacksmith would have a tool box made of hard wood with an open tray to house hammer, rasp, tongs, a spike, for cleaning hooves and a curved knife for shaping a hoof in preparation for the new shoe. The horse droppings would be swept into a heap at the front of the Travis destined for someone's vegetable patch. The tool box also had at upper level a small tray for the special nails bought in for fixing horse shoes. These were manufactured by Capewell of Birmingham and supplied in wooden boxes the size of a man's shoe box with company logo stamped on the side. The blacksmith also had an iron tripod with the top ends curving outwards to form a rest onto which the horse's hoof would be placed for the finishing touches. At the time the hot shoe was fitted on the horse's hoof the smoke rising would have a
distinct acrid smell pleasant to some unfriendly to others. We learned the hot shoe did not transmit the heat to the horse's leg. The farrier was an experienced adviser with problems horses might have with their legs and possible signs of lameness where special shoes could help to correct the condition.
Some days Mr Greenleaf would be called to work at Abberton where his employers Powell and Mason also had the Forge together with the Wheelwright's shop. With some jobs like fitting a new tyre onto a wagon wheel it was essential to have a second pair of hands. The hooped tyre would be put on the wooden wheel hot so when it cooled it would bind tight.
Longfellow's image in his poem of the Village Blacksmith as a mighty man with large and sinewy hands is something of a myth, for William Greenleaf who served as a farrier in the First World War was no muscular giant but nonetheless a very skilled man at his trade and of great stamina, often at the beck and call of farmers anxious to have their equipment repaired at a critical time.
John Nash the artist was always grateful that as a boy he had been given a copy of Cassell's "Eyes and No Eyes" written by Arabella Buckley, for it had taught him throughout his life to look closely at nature and always to be observant of the countryside. I too was given a copy of this informative and well- illustrated country book and I became familiar with the swallows that rested regularly on the ledges of the timber framing in the Travis, the fascination of their racial memory to return to the same place. The Forge was always a place one could go to for a chat and it could be a refuge on a wet day; there was warmth but somehow never a seat for a visitor!
William Greenleaf was very loyal to the Methodist Chapel and served as a local preacher and senior steward. He and his wife lived at Newholme, a bungalow on the lower road where they were our neighbours. Stephen Talbot was his father-in-law, and George Talbot his brother-in-law living with him and his wife. Of their two daughters, Bunty, (Cynthia) married Leonard Chatters, son of William Chatters of West Mersea. Like his father before him Leonard became a Methodist preacher. Tiny (Muriel) worked at the Ham family farm, Seaboroughs, and married a farmer Ashley Freeman from Great Waltham. Their son Colin trained as a motor mechanic at Underwoods on Mersea Island and when he married moved to Broomfield on the outskirts of Chelmsford. Mrs Greenleaf's other brother Joey Talbot lived in a cottage further up the top road just beyond Forge Cottage.
Peldon History Project
Alan Cudmore's family lived in Peldon from circa 1843 right through to 1970. He himself lived here between 1946 and 1954, spending his teenage years living in Olde Home, now Honeysuckle Cottage, on Lower Road, bought by his grandfather in 1892. Our meeting was a fortunate happenstance when Alan approached the Mersea Museum for information about Ray Island, one of his childhood haunts.