In a village community every one plays a part, but by the nature of things, one is aware of the efforts of one’s own family.
The Challice family from 1839 to 1918 served the parish in the capacity of Blacksmiths, Farriers and Agricultural Engineers. However, the family has persued many and varied occupations in Lapford parish for 400 years or more.
The family smithy opened for business each weekday at or before seven am and often a number of farm horses would be waiting to be shod. There were varying requirements, a full set of shoes, nailing on a loose shoe, or the removal of shoes for attention to the hoof with excess growth needing cutting back or maybe to treat an injury. My father knew most of the local horses and also their individual. behaviour when being shod, and it was sometimes necessary to appoint a time for the shoeing of difficult animals and to arrange for extra assistance to maintain control.
It may not be generally known that all Blacksmiths are not necessarily Farriers, viz shoeing smiths, and a smith to become a qualified farrier has apart from the manual skill needed, to study the theory and practice of the craft, and also the construction of the animal’s hoof and leg to the knee joint. The knowledge gained by such study enables the farrier to diagnose and correct any mal—function and to make and fit a suitable shoe.
My father, Samuel C. Challice, was registered by examination in theory and practice as a qualified farrier by the Worshipful Company of Farriers, and ancient London craft guild and the ultimate authority for examination and registration in England. This examination entitled the Farrier to use the letters R.S.S. after his name (Registered Shoeing Smith). Having a good knowledge of the horses and ponies in the parish and shoe sizes and patterns likely to be needed, a stock of ready made shoes was kept, so that the farmers or other horse users were dealt with as quickly as was possible. A quick “turn round” was appreciated and was “.the hall mark of good service. Horse shoes, having to stand up to heavy wear on country roads, were made from special types of iron bar, some bars plain and others fullered e.g. grooved. The type of iron used depended on the size and weight of the animal and also the work it was engaged on. As a rule, for heavy work plain iron bar, and fullered for lighter usage.
In making a horse shoe the smith first select a suitable plain or fullered iron bar, and then proceeds to cut the bar into a number of pieces, each piece the length to make the required size shoe. With a hardened cutting tool fixed in the anvil top, the smith exactly balances the– bar at its centre of its length on the cutter and with a heavy hammer strikes a sharp blow on each side of the bar. This makes deep indentations and the bar easily snaps into two identical lengths. This process is repeated as required and the result being a number of iron lengths suitable to make the shoes required. With the forge fire of coal breeze, brought to the required heat by the operation of the bellows, the iron is inserted into the fire and heated to a malleable condition for shaping into a horseshoe. Using tongs, the hot iron is taken from the fire, and placing the heated portion on the “bick” of the anvil the smith hammers the metal to the shape of one half of the shoe, and again heating the iron the process is repeated and the complete shoe is formed.
The toe of the shoe is hammered into a “clint” or “clinch”. After the shoe has been shaped, this “clint” prevents the shoe from moving back on the hoof and together with the nails keeps the shoe firmly in position. Nail holes are punched in the sides of the shoe, three on one side and four on the other. Seven nails are traditional and it is recorded in support of that tradition :-when man tamed the horse, blacksmiths made iron shoes for it, drove the nails in through seven holes for each shoe making twenty eight all told”, one for every day of the complete moon – that the horse pressed these to the earth as a testament to man’s dependence on the soil and the glowing guardian of the night sky. Tradition also states that:- “Blacksmithery is a deified trade, honoured by Tubal – Cain and Vulcan. When he made sparks fly a blacksmith was said to be in touch with the underworld, risking his soul by working in iron and having traffic with the devil”.
The description I have given on the making of the horseshoe is a very simplified one, and does not do justice to the blacksmith’s skill involved. Depending on each individual horse, size of hoof, the kind of work it is engaged on, so different types have to be made and fitted.
When shoeing the horse, the farrier standing with his back to the animal, lifts the leg and holds it with the base of the hoof facing forward. The farrier when holding the horses leg is necessarily in a stooping position, as the leg is being held between and gripped by the farrier’s knees. The worn shoe is now removed from the hoof by wrenching off with pinchers, after first unclinting the nails. The hoof is now pared down by knife and rasp to remove excess growth and to make a good firm seating for the new shoe. The new shoe is heated in the forge fire and with a punch type tool, known as a “pitchel”, driven firmly into one of the shoe nail holes as a handhold for the hot shoe, the farrier burns the shoe to the hoof to make a good firm seating. After cooling the shoe in the water of the forge trough, the “nailing up” of the shoe to the hoof is the next operation. Horse shoe nails are specially made with regard to head and point. The head is tapered and square and the point is so angled that the nail tends to take a path that brings it to the side of the hoof. The pointed ends of the nails, when they emerge from the side of the hoof are bent over, or “clinted” and most of the “clinted” portion is now twisted off and the small remaining piece hammered close into the side of the hoof. The hoof is tidied up by using a rasp. (A species of coarse file used by farriers). The “nailing up” – as a farrier will say – of the horse shoe is a skilled operation, for if the nail is driven at the incorrect angle the animal will suffer serious injury to the soft inside of the hoof (the frog) and be lamed. The wise farrier takes out insurance cover to protect himself from the consequences of, as it is described in the trade, “pricking”. Fortunately the skill and care of the farrier make the chance of this form of injury very rare.
In a country smithy the shoeing of horses is an every day occurrence, but there are also seasonal requirements to be undertaken. In the summer there is the work of retyring the wooden wheels that are fitted to farm and other horse drawn vehicles. Wheels constructed of wood are adversely affected by the heat of the sun, and the component parts of the wheels shrink and loosen, thus allowing the iron tyre to come off and the wheel to collapse.
Should a wheel be in this condition, it first needs the attention of the wheelwright who is skilled in the work of making and repairing wheels. This is a section of the woodworking trade, distinct from carpentry, but kindred to it.
A wooden wheel has a centre hub or boss, into which are fitted the cast iron axle box and the spokes. To each two spokes is fitted the curved felloe — locally known as a velly — and the whole bonded together by an iron tyre or bond.
The wheel hub is made from a suitable segment cut from the trunk of an oak tree and turned to shape on a wood turner’s lathe, and the hub is also then bored out to take the axle box.
The hub is taken to the blacksmith who makes small iron bonds or hoops, and then heats and shrinks them on to the ends of the hub to strengthen it and prevent splitting when the spokes are driven in to the holes that have been cut to receive them. When the wheelwright has turned the hub, he next marks out the positions for the spokes, and then with chisel and mallet cuts the tapering slots to accommodate the spokes. The spokes and felloes are now made from seasoned oak and ash already cut to a rough shape from the plank. The embryo oak spoke is now chopped to almost its final shape, using a side cutting axe.
With drawknife, spokeshave and the special wheel—wright’s plane, with cutter blade shaped for the job, the finished spoke is produced. Oval, slightly tapered from hub to felloe, the end that fits into the felloe is rounded down to a shouldered dowel. The wheelwright has a specialised tool for this job. The end of the spoke that fits into the hub is square or rectangular and tapered to “marry” with the tapered slot already cut to receive it. The felloe is made from the segment sawn from the ash plank to a curviture to suit the size wheel to be made, and with all the felloes fitted together a complete circle is formed. The rough cut felloe is tooled to an acceptable finish, and two holes bored in the curvature to take the rounded down dowel end of the spokes. Holes are also made in the ends of the felloes to take dowel pins, which connect felloes together to form a complete wheel. The tyre or bond:- a suitable iron bar having been selected, the exact length needed to roll into the tyre has to be ascertained. To find this measurement the blacksmith uses a simple but effective tool, known by him as a “trundler”. A “trundler” has a metal disc, about 6 or 8 inches in diameter and ⅛ of an inch thick with a centre hole of, say ¼ inch in diameter. The disc has either a plain or serrated edge. Held in a metal slotted handle the disc rotates freely. Now a chalk mark is made on the felloe at the periphery of the wheel and a mark is also made near the edge of the trundler disc. Starting with the chalk marks in line the disc of the trundler is rolled around the outside rim of the wheel. The number of disc revolutions plus the difference by which the chalk marks do not coincide on a complete circling of the wheel, are then repeated on the selected iron bar, and to this found measurement, plus the amount calculated for the necessary shrinkage needed after the heating and cooling of the finished bond when being fitted. Having cut the iron bar to length, drilled holes for nails and scarfed both ends for welding, the bar is now rolled into a hoop using the tyre bending machine. The two ends are now welded together. Now with the tyre (bond) made, the next process is to heat it completely in the forge fires, the two fires being joined as one so that the heating process is expedited.
On the yard floor outside the smithy is a cast iron saucer shaped plate, about 8 feet in diameter, 2 inches thick and dished to the centre. In the centre of the plate is a circular hole, about two feet in diameter situated over a pit, about 2 feet deep, in the bottom of which is an anchorage point, a metal eye bolt or loop, permanently fixed in the ground, to take the wheel holding down bolt. It must be explained that many of the lighter made trap and carriage wooden wheels are slightly dished and unless held firmly down on the bonding plate are likely to “umbrella” and break apart when the tyre is shrunk on and exerts pressure to force the component parts of the wheel very firmly together. Placing the wheel to be “bonded” on the bonding plate and fixing and tightening down the holding down bolt, we are now ready for the heated iron tyre. The tyre, when removed from the forge fire is red hot all round and the heating causes the tyre to expand sufficiently to easily drop on around the wheel. The heated tyre, removed from the fire by my father and grandfather, is carried to and dropped on to the wheel. While my father sees that the tyre is correctly in place, the rest of us, my aunt Emily, grandfather and myself quickly, with water, quench the hot tyre causing it to shrink and bind the wheel tightly together. We clean up and nail the tyre to the wheel, and it is now ready for use.
This description of the “bonding” of a wheel is a much shortened one and there are some details I have not mentioned. A visual demonstration is really necessary to appreciate the work involved.
The Forge :- A short description of the construction of a Blacksmith’s Forge might be useful, as many have been demolished over the years. The dictionary definition is :- “A Blacksmith’s open fireplace or hearth where iron is heated by forced draught”. The forge at Lapford was a built up structure of sandstone blocks in position in the centre rear of the smithy floor and about six foot square and 40 inches high. It was built to allow for a well or depression in which the fire was made of coal – known as breeze – and brought to the required heat by the forced draught provided by bellows, and in which the iron was inserted for heating to a malleable condition. This fire area was immediately under the wide chimney outlet and this allowed for the free emission of smoke and ash grit. To freely. discharge the smoke and sulpher fumes to the atmosphere, the chimney was wide – to serve two fires – a slopes back at a shallow angle to allow the grit, thrown up by the forced draught, to be collected. Smiths breeze was a clean burning fuel with very little smoke. At the bottom end of the built up structure was a water trough for use in quenching hot metal as and when necessary. A metal bar fixed to the trough was used to carry the many types of tongs that the smith uses.
At the rear of the forge, behind and under the chimney were the two “rootes” blowers or bellows, operated by a hand chain wheel. This type of blower was more efficient and easier to operate than the old pear shaped bellows. These blower outlets were connected to the inlets in the heavy cast iron fire backs, known as “tuyeres” and were designed to increase the intensity of the air blast from the blower or bellows. The dictionary states : – Tuyere – “The blast pipe or nozzle in a forge or furnace”.
Lapford Smithy and its Forge have long ceased to operate and the Forge has been demolished. However, it is interesting to record that the old forge trough of sandstone is now fixed in the corner of Lower Place Farmyard, and used by Mr. Manning as a cattle drinking trough. From a one time Challice Smithy to a one time Challice farmyard.
Apart from the regular work of horse shoeing and the seasonal wheel tyring, my father carried out many and varied services for the village community. All kind of ironwork for the wheelwright, for the making of horse drawn vehicles, for the builder, the farmer and the general needs of the villagers. He carried out the repair and maintenance of all kinds of farm machinery, manufacture of hoes, diggers, mattocks and other tools for use on the land. Larger items such as harrows and scuffles for the farmer; sheet metal and tin ware, kettles, milkpans, milking buckets and dairy utensils, not forgetting the requirements of the domestic market. Bicycle repairs and sales, plumbing and all kinds of domestic and household repairs and even work on the church bells frame works. Locks and cutting keys, new pins to brooches, minor repairs to the church and chapel organs, grandfather clocks and other types. Making cattle feeding troughs, moving vane chimney cowls and many more artifacts.