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Wickhamford Blacksmiths and Wheelwrights

The baptismal register of the church of St John the Baptist, Wickhamford gives the occupations of a child’s father as far back as 1813.  Only one blacksmith’s name appears in the 1817-1834, that of William Belcher, who with his wife, Elizabeth, had nine children baptised.    The first mention of a smith’s shop in Wickhamford was made in the notice that appeared in the Worcester Journal of 7th February 1833.  This described a ‘New House, Smith’s Shop, &c’ at Wickhamford to be let.  The premises were said to be suitable for a respectable Public House or Shop and an industrious good Smith or Carpenter who might have business for the Wickhamford Estate.  These premises were soon called the Sandys Arms.  Over the next 60 years or so, a wheelwright operated from this site and for about 40 years a blacksmith, too.  Apart from William Belcher, ten men appearing below were described as wheelwrights or blacksmiths at the Sandys Arms, in the censuses from 1841 to 1891.  Two others lived in the village in 1881 and may have worked at the Sandys Arms for a while. In the 1901 census there was no mention of either trade in the village, although one man had moved to Broadway and was still working as a wheelwright there in 1911.

William Belcher (ca 1795- post-1841):  William Belcher was a blacksmith, living in Wickhamford from at least 1817 until 1834 or later.  He married Elizabeth Scott there on 15th July 1816.  They had nine children baptised in the village between 1817 and 1834.  It cannot be confirmed if he had his blacksmith’s shop in the village or whether he went to work in another village.  It is more likely that his premises were in the village, as he would have had to maintain a forge.   As he moved on, once the Sandys Arms was built, together with a forge, it is not inconceivable that his workshop was on the same site, but there is no evidence for this. In 1841, William and Elizabeth ‘Balcher’, both approximately aged 45, with two sons, John (10) and Joseph (8), were living in Aston, Birmingham. These two children were baptised in Wickhamford in 1832 and 1834. His occupation on the records is unclear, but could be ‘Jobbing blacksmith’.   (William’s son, John, was a blacksmith in Aston, at the time of the 1871 census.)

William Tipping (ca 1805-ca 1889): He was the first man to take on the running of the newly built Sandys Arms.  He was born in Tardebigge in about 1804 and he is listed in Bentley’s History Gazetteer Directory of about 1840 as ‘wheelwright and victualler, Sandys Arms’.  He married Elizabeth Silvester in Birmingham in 1830. They had children baptised in Wickhamford in 1834, 1837 and 1839 but had moved on before the 1841 census - they were living with her parents in Cleeve Prior at that time.  After this, the family moved to Inkberrow.  In the 1851 census he was recorded at Cladswell Farm and was farming 50 acres.  He died on 27th March 1889, aged 85, and is buried in Inkberrow churchyard.  Elizabeth died in September 1896, aged 85.

John Pethard (ca 1800-1849):  In the 1841 census, John Pethard and his wife Amelia were at the Sandys Arms with four young children.  He was described as ‘Wheelwright and Innkeeper’ but employed a wheelwright and a blacksmith on the premises.  John died at the age of 49 and was buried in Wickhamford on 11th April 1849.  His wife, Amelia, continued to run the inn and wheelwright/blacksmith shop until the latter part of the century, when her son, George, took over the business. She died on 18th April 1891.

Roger Briney (ca 1820-1893): He was born in Abbot Morton in about 1820 and was a blacksmith at the Sandys Arms in 1841.  He had moved on by 1851 and in 1861 was back in Abbots Morton working as a blacksmith for Esther Cooper.  In 1871 he was still with the same employer and also unmarried.  The same situation was there in 1881, but he was described as the manager of the blacksmith’s shop. He had retired by 1891 and died in the village in 1893, aged 73.

Caleb Cole (ca 1818-1863):  He was born in Gretton, Gloucestershire, in about 1818, and was working with John Pethard, as a wheelwright at the 1841 census. He was still there for the 1851 and 1861 censuses and was unmarried.  In January 1859, there was a report of a man called James Brooks stealing wheels of a hand-truck and taking them to Caleb for repair and painting. Caleb died in the Evesham area in 1863.

Charles New (ca 1819- 1878?):  He was born in Bengeworth, Evesham and married Sarah Holland in Pershore in 1856, and their daughter, Sarah Ann, was born at about this time. He was working as a blacksmith at the Sandys Arms at the 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses.  His date of death has not been confirmed but a man of this name died in West Bromwich, Staffordshire in late 1877 or early 1878, aged 61.  He has not been found in the 1881 census, so this could be the man concerned.  Sarah New was a laundress in Pershore at this time and recorded as a widow.

George Pethard (ca 1838-1911): In 1881 George Pethard was working as a wheelwright at the Sandys Arms, whilst his widowed mother, Amelia, was running the inn.  He was recorded as employing three men and a boy.  His son, George Frederick, was also working there as a wheelwright at this time.  By 1891 he had taken over the running of the inn, but was also still recorded as a wheelwright.  At this time, another son, Edward John, was helping his father by working there as a wheelwright.  By the time of the 1901 census, there was no mention of a wheelwright at the Sandys Arms.  George Pethard died on 24th December 1911.

George Frederick Pethard (1862-1932): He followed his father, George Pethard, as a wheelwright and was recorded as such at the Sandys Arms in 1881.  By 1891, he was married with two young children and working as a wheelwright at the Lower High Street, Shipston-on-Stour. In 1901, he was a wheelwright on his own account at the same address – working from home - and had six children.  By 1911 he had given up his trade and moved to Moreton in Marsh and was a woodman on an estate.

Israel Davies (ca 1832-1889):  He was a wheelwright who was born in Broadway and recorded in the censuses there from 1841 to 1871, but he was in Wickhamford in 1881.  His address was given only as a cottage but it was the entry adjacent to that for the Sandys Arms, so he almost certainly worked there for a few years.   He lived there with his wife, Ann.

Alfred Hartley (ca 1843-1899): He was born in Glympton, Oxfordshire and his wife, Ellen, in Barnstable, Devon. In 1881 he lived at Walnut Cottage (now Robin Cottage), Manor Road and was a wheelwright.  At that time he had two children at home;  Ernest was two and born in Broadway and Ruth was a one-year-old and born in the village, but there is no baptismal record for her in the Wickhamford.  It would seem as Alfred Hartley’s stay in the village was relatively short and he may have worked elsewhere or helped out at the Sandys Arms.  In 1871, he was unmarried and lodging in Chipping Campden.  His occupation was given as ‘wheelwright journeyman’. After his time in Wickhamford he was in Shipston on Stour in 1891, still working as a wheelwright and died there in 1899.

Edward John Pethard (1868-1946): A younger son of George Pethard, in 1891 he was working with his father at the Sandys Arms as a wheelwright.  By 1901 he had married and moved to the Broadway Road in Wickhamford, but he was still a wheelwright.  In 1911, he was living on Pitcher Hill, Wickhamford (at the present no. 20) and was employed as a carpenter.

Jacob Dyer (1869-1925):  He was recorded as a wheelwright, working alongside Edward John Pethard, in the 1891 census.  He had been born in 1869 in Great Wolford, Warwickshire, the son of hurdle-maker, Alfred Dyer, and by 1901 he was lodging in Broadway and still working as a wheelwright.  He was still there in 1911, working at his trade on his ‘own account’. Jacob married Gertrude Mary Carter in 1893, but she died in 1900 and he died in late 1925.

The end of the trades in Wickhamford

A number of factors would have led to the eventual closing of a wheelwright and blacksmith premises in Wickhamford at the end of the 19th century.  Perhaps the main one was the change in land use from agriculture to horticulture in the village.

The population level was very steady from 1841 to 1891 at approximately 130 people.  Of these 50 -70% were engaged in agriculture on the four farms in Wickhamford.  The number of inhabitants rose to 171 in 1901 and jumped to 259 in 1911.  By the latter date only 16% were employed in agriculture, but 63% were involved in market gardening.

Many of the fields previously used for agricultural crops, that needed ploughing with horses, were turned over to a strip system for market gardeners, who prepared their plots by hand.   The need for a wheelwright and a blacksmith declined and the trades disappeared from Wickhamford.

Note: In the records of Wickhamford Manor Court of 10th January 1649, there is mention of a Richard Curtis being ordered to clear a ditch 'by the smith's shop'. Therefore, this occupation may have existed in the village for many years before the identification of William Belcher as a blacksmith in the early 19th century.

Tom Locke – March 2020