Blacksmiths & Wheelwrights
From transcripts of interview with Jack Wislon carried out in 1992
My father’s people were blacksmiths and wheelwrights in Cumberland
There were these grand heaps of rusty horse shoes cast out from the Smithy laying all about, like leaves they were. A great heap of them. Billy and I would scramble around getting up to allsorts, pushing them over in a landslide, stacking them high, laying them out in paths, or like stepping stones or in patterns over the coble stones. They were all cleared away during the Great War; they needed the metal.
There were instruments of all kinds on the walls of the smithy, vicious looking pieces, some not often used. You wondered how that one would work or this one, what you’d do with it if you had to employ it on a horse or a cow.
That was the smithy, and we had plenty of them in the family, all around Wigton on every road North, South, East or West.
The wheelwrights thought themselves more sophisticated, more intellectual. I don’t know why. They fancied themselves as engineers just as some Blacksmiths reckoned they were more like veterinarians. Our lot were mostly Smithies, I say that because on the wheelwrighting lot were all cousins, they just fancied themselves as a bit more superior. I don’t know why, they had as much junk lying about the place: cart pieces and broken wheels stacked against the walls.
Everyone called my grandfather the ‘Old Man.’
His name was John; he must have been 70 something at the time which was a fair age to be in 1900. His father, that would be my great-grandfather they called ‘Old Joe.’ Now he was well into his Nineties.
He died at the do they had for the Relief of Mafeking in 1902.
The ‘Old Man’ played the fiddle at these things and Old Joe got up to have a jig about on a table my father hand made. A lovely thing, with all these carvings on it, made out of oak, held his weight. But it was highly polished and Old Joe took a tumble and landed badly on the ground. Still, he’d had a fair innings.
There weren’t many people who’d been around before Queen Victoria had come to the throne.
The Old Man and Granny Jane had a couple of cousins living with them, lads my age: Samuel and Augustus, strapping lads over 6 foot 4 inches. That Uncle was off to Sheffield to work in a Big House; he’d had a turn at being a wheelwright, so you see it wasn’t all hunky-dory. A lot of the family were doing that; there were only so many blacksmiths and wheelwrights you could have in a town like Wigton.
Our lot had experience with horses and carts and such like so they’d go off to find themselves a position as a groom or look for work in the marshalling yards around the big towns: horses and carts used in abundance to take goods off the trains then deliver them around the towns