Apr 252020
 

 


It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Steve Jackson.

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 . . .

According to an online Dictionary of Old Occupations, “Vulcan [is] a term for a Blacksmith, possibly derived from the name of the Roman god.” 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.

Blacksmith shop: Original photo by Chris Light at English Wikipedia; adapted and used under a Creative Commons licence.

Blacksmith shop: Original photo by Chris Light at English Wikipedia; adapted and used under a Creative Commons licence.

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.

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.

Map of Waters Upton showing the location of the smithy: From Ordnance Survey Six Inch map XXIX.NE published 1886, Crown Copyright expired; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence.

Map of Waters Upton showing the location of the smithy: From Ordnance Survey Six Inch map XXIX.NE published 1886, Crown Copyright expired; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence.

Thankfully Waters Upton’s own blacksmiths, at least in the 1800s, seem to have fared rather better. Although James Ridgway was not a native of the parish, he was born nearby at Cold Hatton in Ercall Magna and was baptised at Waters Upton St Michael on 10 March 1811. His father John was a blacksmith and James followed in his footsteps, taking his trade with him when he moved to Waters Upton. He was a resident of the village by 1837 when he married Ann Jones at Cound in Shropshire, and he remained there, working as a blacksmith, for the rest of his life. He died on 24 February 1890 aged 78 and his gravestone in Waters Upton churchyard formed part of a project which ultimately led to my one-place study.

James Ridgway’s gravestone also memorialises his two wives. Ann Ridgway née Jones passed away aged just 39 on 6 March 1846, and James wed his sister-in-law Harriet Mayne Knot in Birmingham in 1851. (James’s brother George, who also became a blacksmith but remained in Cold Hatton, was married to Harriet’s younger sister Elizabeth Mayne Knott.) Harriet lived to the grand old age of 90 before she died on 21 March 1903.

Gravestone of James, Ann, and Harriet Mayne Ridgway: Steve Jackson.

Gravestone of James, Ann, and Harriet Mayne Ridgway: Steve Jackson.

 

The Ridgways’ blacksmith services in Waters Upton did not end with the passing of James. His son (by his second wife) Charles John Ridgway was working with him as a blacksmith’s assistant by the time he was 16 and continued the business until at least 1917.

When he died, aged 68 and unmarried, on 11 February 1924, Charles left effects valued at £1803 19s 10d. So I think it is fair to conclude that the Vulcans of Waters Upton lived long and prospered.

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