Thursday, 14 September 2017

Heating and hammering at the smithy on Eltham High Street in the June of 1840

The smithy close to the present library, 1909
I like the way that Eltham is revealing more of its past.

Now I say Eltham as if it was a person which it isn’t but in the last few months I rediscovered my love of the place and in so doing have dug deep into its history.

As ever my starting point has been the book written by Richard Robert Castell Gregory in 1909. His The Story of Royal Eltham is a scholarly treasure trove of stories made all the more rich because he could draw on the memories of people born in the first few decades of the 19th century when Eltham was a rural community.

And of course at the heart of all such communities was the black smith.

When he was hammering and heating at his forge he acted as a magnate for people.  Some coming to collect a repaired tool or bringing a horse which was in need of a new shoe would stop and pass the time of day.

And there were always requests to personalise a farm tool. This might mean making a left handed scythe or widening or narrowing hoe blades used to chop out weeds.  Then there would be the endless procession of labourers needing tools sharpened from bill hooks and scythes to axes and all the other types of edged tools.

Mr Metcalf
In the process he  might well replace the broken or split staves.

And all the time, gangs of children attracted to the smithy by the red hot metal and frequent shower of sparks would stand and stare rooted to the spot.

“The farrier’s shop which stood to the west of Sun Yard nearer to the lane was one of the features of the High-street.  It was very old, and just before its destruction was in a dilapidated condition.  It was at one time worked by Mr Foster and his two sons Richard and William.

The last tenant was Mr Metcalfe.

An interesting adventure of old Mr. Foster is told in connection with this shoeing forge.  He had been shoeing a horse which was afterwards taken down to the Court.  

So he got astride the animal and proceeded to take it home himself.  On crossing the Moat bridge, however, the horse was frightened by a boy with a hoop, and bearing his rider with him jumped over the parapet.  Horse and man lighted upon s tack of bricks, and both of the miraculously escaped injury.  Fate however was not always kind to Mr. Foster.  Not long after he had escaped the perils of that terrible leap, he chanced to be getting over the stile at the end of the lane near to the smithy, slipped, and broke his leg.”

Now I thought I had identified the blacksmith who hammered and heated by the High Street.  In 1841 this was George Smith who was in Eltham by 1823 and still active at his forge in 1841.

All of which made Mr Foster a mystery and I assumed a later black smith.  But no he was there in 1840 working alongside George Smith and Thomas Doderell.  All three are listed in the tithe schedule as working the smithy, although by 1841 Thomas Foster was 70 years old and a decade later had retired and was in one of the Alms houses, leaving the business to his son Robert aged 35.

The smithy
George Smith snr was by then in hospital and his son appears with no trade, all of which makes a tad still confusing.

All of which leaves me to track down Thomas Doderell and Mr Foster’s other son.

But at least the Fosters have come out of the shadows and I pretty much know exactly where the stile was which Mr Foster fell off and broke his leg.

Picture; the Smithy 1909, from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, http://www.gregory.elthamhistory.org.uk/bookpages/i001.htm

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