ID: PH01_BSM / Elaine Barker

TitlePeldon's blacksmiths and forge
AbstractThe blacksmith was at the heart of our towns and villages for centuries. His forge was usually situated on a crossroads and would provide a social hub where news and gossip would be exchanged, horses inspected and deals would be done.

Early blacksmiths would practise many trades, they were not just farriers but coppersmiths, locksmiths and gunsmiths. They would produce, mend and sharpen agricultural implements and tools, and make cooking utensils and weapons. The early blacksmiths would also hand forge nails and made their own horseshoes, smelting two used horseshoes together to make a new one.

Artisans [including blacksmiths], both masters and journeymen, could by hard work and with good fortune enjoy a degree of security and a standard of living higher than that of a farmworker. They were protected by law from the competition of non-apprenticed workers...Their property was rarely substantial...but their possession of property at all placed them on an economic grade not attainable by a majority of their fellow parishioners. If, however, they added other sources of income to that of their main trade they could fare better. Prosperity and Poverty A. F. L. Brown

By the nineteenth century and the industrial revolution, machinery and mass production meant a decline in demand for a blacksmith's products and it was shoeing horses that became their primary occupation.

Then, with the advent of cars in the twentieth century, some blacksmiths became the first generation of car mechanics as much of their traditional work disappeared.

All that remains in many villages is a house in private ownership named The Old Forge, Forge Cottage or Forge House and here in Peldon we have Forge Cottage next to a renovated single storey building that was once the forge.

The smithy would have had a dirt floor occupied by a forge, anvil, bellows, a slack tub full of water to cool hot metal and all the tools of the trade. Up until the seventeenth century charcoal was the usual fuel but as the country was slowly deforested then coal became the prime heat source.

Most forges would have a 'traverse' where the horses were tethered to rings in the wall for shoeing. For a detailed description of Peldon's Forge in the late 1940s and early '50's see Alan Cudmore's account Recollections of the Village Blacksmith .

Peldon's old forge is sited on the Wigborough side of the village close to the three-way junction of Lower Road, Wigborough Road and Church Road and is now part of the living accommodation for the owners of Forge Cottage next door. The buildings now bear little relationship to the smithy and cottage as they used to be. The section of the forge on the right which is believed to have been built first has been known in modern times as Forge Room and the larger section on the left, The Wheelwright's Shop, built shortly after. Pictures from circa 100 years ago show the smaller section with huge double doors open to the road. Both buildings are now clad in twentieth century weather-boarding and were virtually rebuilt in 1982/3.

Peldon Forge and Forge Cottage - then and now

Mersea resident, Nick Hines, who used to work round the corner from the forge confirms that the building we see now is a complete rebuild. The story goes it had in fact leaned from the time of the 1884 earthquake, and none of the doors would close properly. Presumably as long as it remained stable and was not needed for accommodation no one had bothered to straighten it! Mike Watson of Games Farm remembers when owners Luther Smith and his wife moved out of the Forge Cottage in the early 1970s

the new owner had a builder from Wigborough strip all the cladding and the tiles from the roof [of the forge] so that the frame could be straightened and levelled.

A report by Barry J Hillman Crouch who inspected both buildings in 2013 and 2015, dates them to the early nineteenth century, the workmanship and materials consistent with the period of the Napoleonic Wars (1799 - 1815) when good quality materials and skilled workmen were in short supply. However, the listing in 1982 suggested the cottage was late seventeenth century and identified the chimney stack was original - which it isn't now. It would seem that very little remains of either original building.

House deeds show that William Everitt (born in 1766) was granted the land by Charles Jolland, Lord of the Manor of Peldon Hall in 1807. No mention is made of a building on the site so it seems likely that William built the forge on that plot between 1807 and his death in November 1823 for in his will of that year he bequeathed his wife, Sarah,

All that double tenement, wheelwright and blacksmith's shop [ERO D/ABW 125/2/4]

However, three apprenticeship indentures prove that William was in business in Peldon as a wheelwright earlier than 1807. In 1795 he takes on Thomas Everitt as his apprentice, in 1801 Samuel Ellingford and in 1803 William Wade. [UK Register of duties paid for Apprentices' Indentures - Ancestry]

It is William Everitt's widow, Sarah, who is listed as the owner of three plots in this area in the Tithe Awards of 1840. Plot 157 is a house and garden occupied by John Wright, 158 is a house and garden occupied by Sarah Everitt and 156 is a house and garden owned by her and occupied by John Cooke. This latter house is shown as being adjacent to the forge to the North West but is no longer there by the 1897 Ordnance Survey map. Was it in fact destroyed by fire in 1857?

In the Essex Standard of 8th May that year a fire was reported at the cottage of a blacksmith, named John Smith, at Peldon. Sadly, it had the melancholy termination in the death of a child. Both John and his wife, Hannah were admitted to hospital for burns to their faces and arms. Their little girl, Mary Ann was only 14 months old.

On the other hand, it is possible the house was badly damaged and subsequently demolished after the 1884 earthquake.

Although Forge Cottage now has a modern front door in the middle of the house it was originally a double tenement and remained so within living memory. The paths to the 'front' doors indicated on the tithe map lead to the sides of the house.

It is possible one of the tenants, farmer John Wright, bought the forge and cottages from Sarah Everitt (they are auctioned following his death in 1892); his daughter Emma's husband, Henry Dodd, a blacksmith, was to work at the forge for many years.

Peldon resident, Golden Simpson (born in 1863), when interviewed in the 1930s, recalled his boyhood days when Harry Dodd and James Green [worked] at Mr Harrison's blacksmith shop by Peldon Common. It would seem the forge was managed over a long period by the Harrison family who also ran Abberton Forge; more of them later.

Henry 'Harry' Dodd is listed in Post Office directories for Peldon as a blacksmith in 1855, 1862, 1867, 1871 and 1874. He was born circa 1829 in the St Giles area of Colchester to a bricklayer father, also Henry. We first find him in Peldon in the 1851 census aged 24, a blacksmith, lodging with another blacksmith Elijah Fitch aged 26 who had a wife Sarah and two daughters who had been born in Peldon. [Appendix 1: Elijah Fitch] Harry clearly met his wife Emma Wright in Peldon and they married in 1854. Emma's father, John Wright, had 5 acres and lived close to the forge.

In the 1861 census Henry is living in an unnamed cottage next to Harvey's Farm which would most likely place him at Forge Cottage. His wife Emma is Peldon-born as are their two daughters, Francis and Emily. By the 1871 census the Dodds have another daughter, a three-year-old, Laura. Emma then had a little boy, Ernest, in 1874 but her husband, Henry, died in 1875 at only 47. He was buried in Peldon churchyard.

Emma Dodd was to stay in their home in Peldon and appears in three censuses in the same place by Peldon Common in 1881, 1891 and 1901, the year of her death. It seems she remained a tenant even after the auctioning of the properties in 1892.

In the East Anglian Daily Times of 15th August 1892 following John Wright's death, what I take to be Forge Cottage (then divided into two dwellings) is advertised as Lot 3 and the forge as Lot 4 in an auction.

LOT 3 2 Boarded-and-tiled COTTAGES with Good Gardens opposite Peldon Common, in the occupation of Mrs Dodds and Arthur Appleby at rents amounting to £8 8s pa

LOT 4 A Timber-built-and-tiled BLACKSMITH'S SHOP and TRAVERSE also old WHEELWRIGHT'S SHOP and Saw Shed, near Lot 3 in the occupation of Mr Harrison at £7 10s pa.

Of course, blacksmiths would have been vital to any village in preceding centuries so there must have been a forge in Peldon at an earlier date than the one by Peldon Common.

One of the earliest blacksmiths we know of in Peldon is William Goodfrye [ERO D/ABW 17/164] who died in 1614 and whose will is kept at the Essex Records Office. Little else is known about him, whether he had a forge in Peldon or was a journeyman blacksmith travelling from village to village. We do know, however, that at the Essex Assizes he was witness to - and probably victim of - a theft by Thomas Waite, a labourer from Peldon, who stole certayne peeces of iron worth 10s. Although the defendant pleaded innocent he was found guilty and sentenced to branding. The case was heard on 20th March 7 James I which I believe to be 1610.

The village blacksmith is referred to twice in the Churchwardens Accounts [ERO D/P 287/5/3]

In 1729 the accounts tell us

P[ai]d the blacksmyth for mending the gate irons

and in 1743 Samuel Bullock (probably churchwarden at that time and a local carpenter), responsible for making the new paling round Peldon church, hires a blacksmith.

In an earlier entry, money is given to Joshep [Joseph?] Fooks for supplying nails in April 1716. The Fookes family (also spelt Fokes and Foakes) was firmly established as blacksmiths in Abberton at this time and went on to work at forges in several local villages including Fingringhoe and Salcott. It is likely this Joseph was a blacksmith in Abberton (we find him as a beneficiary of the 1729 will of his father, Jonathan Fookes, an Abberton blacksmith.)

Research has shown that there was another blacksmith's cottage in Peldon located at the top of St Ives Hill on the corner with Church Road; once two cottages, they were knocked into one in the 1970s and the building is now called Elm Tree Cottage. The adjacent field was known as Blacksmith's Field and is listed as such in the 1840 Tithe Awards.

The picture above looking down St Ives Hill shows Elm Tree Cottage on the far right fronting Church Road. The 2 storey building lower down the garden could be a contender for the forge and blacksmith's shop.

A bundle of deeds for this Blacksmith's Shop at Essex Records Office [Ref: A13779 Cat ref: D/DU 2878] fills in much of the house's history. A relatively modern letter written by Essex County Council to the absentee landlord in 1949 asks her to remove two elm trees which are regarded as a potential danger to users of the highway. The letter explains why the cottage has been called Elm Tree Cottage within living memory right through to today and confirms its location near the entrance to Peldon Hall. It is likely those elms are the trees that can be seen in the photograph above.

Below is the transcription of part of a 1766 document in the bundle of deeds for the Blacksmith's Shop detailing that it was owned (along with a farm called Quintens, Bush Croft and other parcels of land) by Peter Wesbroom, and prior to him Edward Digby whose daughter Susan was Peter Wesbroom's wife. [ERO Ref: A13779 Cat ref: D/DU 2878]. Robert Harrison was already running his business as a blacksmith from there.

... a Messuage or Tenement and Blacksmith's Shop together with all those several Closes pieces or parcells of Land
Meadow and pasture therein and hereinafter mentioned (that is to say) One parcell of Land called or known by the name of the Harp Two other parcells of Land called or known
by the name of Moss Hay and Stone Rock or otherwise containing together by Estimation six acres more or less And also three other Closes of Arable Land Pasture or Meadow
pound commonly called or known by the name of Staffords Land Brookfield and Petfield or otherwise containing together by Estimation Eighteen Acres more or less All which said
last mentioned Messuage or Tenement and Blacksmith's Shop Closes Pieces or Parcells of Land are situate lying and being in the several Parishes of Little Wigborough
and Peldon in the said County of Essex and then in the occupation of the said Peter Wesbroom and one Robert Harrison their Undertenants or Assigns

This blacksmith's shop is on another three-way junction and sited right opposite the drive up to the most important house of the village in days gone by, the manor house of Peldon Hall. I believe that these premises were the blacksmith's shop from the mid 1700s while the later forge opposite Peldon Common was where the wheelwright's business was run from the early nineteenth century. An inventory for the blacksmith Robert Harrison, who died in 1808, indicates there was a forge at Elm Tree Cottage and it was not just his home.

Later, the blacksmith's business was to move to the wheelwright's opposite Peldon Common while Elm Tree Cottage was, for some considerable time, used as accommodation for the blacksmith and his family.

The Harrisons

The 'grand old man' of the Harrison family was Robert Harrison. The entry for his death in 1808 records his age of 86 (his great age being deemed worthy of a mention by the rector). This would put his birth at 1722. I believe he was born in Peldon, possibly to Robert and Martha, but his baptism just pre-dates the surviving registers. Robert and Martha did have another son called James, born in 1728.

An Indenture dated 9.5.1766 [ERO Ref: A13779 Deeds of Blacksmith's Shop Cat ref: D/DU 2878] between John Luffe of Great Wigborough, farmer, and William Wesbroom of Little Clacton farmer, surviving executors of the will of Peter Wesbroom of Peldon, yeoman, of the one part and Robert Harrison of Peldon, blacksmith, of the second part, confirms the sale of the freehold blacksmith's property to Robert Harrison who was clearly already running his blacksmith's business there at the time of his landlord's death in 1754.

In Peter Wesbroom's will he wills that his wife has the benefit of all his properties while she is alive and upon her death all property is to be sold and the proceeds divided amongst his five children, Susanna, Sarah, Ann, Elizabeth and Peter Wesbroom. Presumably the sale in 1766 was prompted by the death of Wesbroom's widow and the remaining two executors are following his instructions to sell his properties. The indenture acknowledges the receipt of £300 from Harrison for the blacksmith's shop

A document dated 1743 gives the earliest mention of Robert and Mary Harrison as Peter Wesbroom's tenants. An earlier document dated 1739 makes no mention either of the Harrisons or it being a blacksmith's shop which possibly dates Robert starting the blacksmith's business there between 1739 and 1743 as a young man.

It is interesting to note that it is only a year before Robert's death that the land by Peldon Common was granted by the Lord of the Manor to William Everitt who was to build the wheel wright's shop.

Robert and Mary Harrison had a son Robert in 1749 (died by 1780), daughter Hannah (1755 - 1829), and sons James (1759 - 1829) and Isaac (1762 - 1832).

Son James was to become blacksmith in Abberton where he raised a large family. In 1780, the deeds of Moor Farm, Peldon reveal that twenty-one year old James Harrison, blacksmith, the elder brother and heir to his recently deceased brother, Robert, was admitted to his brother's property by the Court of Pete Hall Manor with his father, Robert Harrison, acting as Attorney. In the eighteenth century it seems the term attorney meant his father was simply acting for him.

The Manor of Peet Hall} Abstract of Mr James Harrison's Admission at a Court held 28th June 1780 to a Messuage & Lands held of the Manor. [ERO D/DEt T47]

A further document details James's surrender of Moor Farm at a manorial Court in 1825 to an incoming tenant, Thomas Catchpool, although a Jane Harrison is given as the owner in the tithe awards fifteen years later.

Another of Robert's sons, Isaac, who was born in 1762 and died in 1832 at 70, was a blacksmith in Peldon and, I believe, lived and worked at the top of St Ives Hill in Elm Tree Cottage.

From Isaac's will [ERO D/ABW 129/2/69] it would appear he had no wife or children

I give and devise to James Borrodell otherwise James Borrodell
Harrison aforesaid Labour[er] now living with me All that my freehold Messuage
or Tenement in which I now reside with the Blacksmith's Shop, Garden and Appurtenances
and two Acres of Land or thereabouts more or less thereunto belonging situate and being in
Peldon aforesaid...all the growing crops in or upon the
same Land And all other my real and personal Estate Stock in Trade Household
Furniture Monies Goods Chattels and Effects

James Borrodell Harrison, his heir, was an illegitimate son of Isaac's sister, Hannah Harrison, and presumably his father was called Borrodell.

Hannah's will of 1829 confirms her connection to James Borrodell Harrison

I Hannah Harrisson of Peldon in the County of
Essex singlewoman do make and declare this to be
my last Will and Testament in manner following
that is to say I give and bequeath unto my
natural Son James Borrodell Harrison of peldon
aforesaid Husbandman All my wearing apparel
monies Goods Chattels Personal estate and
Effects [ERO Ref: A13779 Deeds of Blacksmith's Shop Cat ref: D/DU 2878]

The Harrisons had clearly been in Peldon for generations. In 1575 a John Harrison witnessed John Gale's will in Peldon [ERO D/ABW 16/239] then in 1586 he is executor to the will of Jeremy Sansome Smith of Peldon [ERO D/ABW 34/332] linking the Harrisons to the blacksmith's trade. Did our Peldon blacksmiths descend from this sixteenth century Harrison?

In the 1798 Land Tax Redemption records for Abberton and Peldon there are two Harrisons, Robert and James. I am presuming they were father and son running respectively, Peldon and Abberton forges. In the Abberton Land Tax Redemption entry, Robert is the proprietor of the holding and James the tenant. In Peldon they are listed one as proprietor and the other as tenant, and in a second Peldon entry vice versa.

When Robert died in 1808, local landowner, Samuel Bullock, made a detailed inventory of all Robert's belongings. Surveying room by room, Bullock reveals a Keeping Room, Parlour, Kitchen, Pantry and Ale Cellar and Chambers above the house and above the parlour as well as the shop, yard and stables.

In the Smiths Shop 2 Pair of Bellows, 2 stone troughs; 2 Anvils, 2 Beek Irons, 2 Vice
Benches & 2 Vices; 2 Smiteing Hammers, & hand hammers, 2 Riveting d[itt]o 17 P[ai]r of tongs, 3 Pokers two
& w[eigh]t a few files, Gimblets & nail tools & other Working tools; 1 Pail 1 Shovel; Cast Iron Mandle Iron dog
a Seale Beam & Seales 3 Lead Weights [ERO Ref: A13779 Deeds of Blacksmith's Shop Cat ref: D/DU 2878]

[See MARG_237 for the full inventory]

Isaac Harrison's heir and successor to the blacksmith's shop, James Borrodell Harrison was baptised in 1790 and seems to have married late in life, a widow, Mary Puxley née Cook, in 1857. In the 1830s, there is an interesting exchange of letters between James B Harrison and an Overseer for the Poor in Kirby Le Soken, Robert Mumford, about a man called Davy (or Davey) probably James Davy who was working for Harrison. [See Appendix 2]

James Borrodell Harrison seems not to be working as a blacksmith in later life for in the 1851 census he is described as a yard proprietor and in the 1861 census, a widower aged 72, his means of living are listed as house and property. We know from Golden Simpson's recollections, (born in 1863) Mr Harrison's blacksmith shop was by Peldon Common. So I believe the blacksmith business transferred to the forge by the common during James Borrodell Harrison's occupation of Elm Tree Cottage.

James died in 1865, a widower, and his executor was John Osborne, husbandman. Interestingly, although Isaac Harrison had left the forge to James in his 1823 will, in the Tithe Award listings of 1840 the owner of the tenement and Blacksmith's Field was Jane Harrison whose relationship to James is not clear - whoever she was, she owned a number of properties and land in Peldon including, as we have seen, Moor Farm.

We have a will for Isaac's brother, James Harrison, blacksmith, who died in Abberton in 1829 at the age of 70 and probably married Mary Wells in Peldon in 1792. In his will he leaves his Stock and Utensils of Trade as a Blacksmith to his wife and requests two friends to manage All that freehold messuage or Tenement and Blacksmith shop with the Appurtenances now in my own occupation and the Cottage and Yard in the same parish of Abberton in the Occupation of Joseph Ternpen [Templeton?] ... and also all that my Farm and Lands now in the occupation of Richard Smith situate in the parishes of West Mersea and Peldon. His friends are to see his wife and children are maintained from the rental of his properties until Mary dies and everything is then to be sold for the best price and distributed between the surviving children. [EROD/ACW 42/1/25]

After James Borrodell Harrison's death in Peldon, in 1865, in the following census of 1871 there are two blacksmiths living in or in the vicinity of the Peldon Green Forge, James Green and Henry Dodd. There seems to be no blacksmith living at Elm Tree Cottage, indeed it is difficult to identify the house and therefore we don't know who was living there.

In 1881 the only blacksmith listed is Norfolk-born Simon Russell who was living at Ransomes Farm not far from the Peldon Common forge.

In 1891 James Green, blacksmith, and his family are living in Elm Tree Cottage. The family was to stay there until the death of Green's son, John Thomas Green who died in September 1938. [See Appendix 3 for his obituary]

Peter Harrison, a descendant of the Harrisons, was researching his family in the 1970s (without the benefit of the Internet!) and he wrote a request for information from Peldon's rector in 1971. If only his research had survived! I believe 'The Cottage' he refers to is Elm Tree Cottage.

... it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly where the Harrisons lived and worked in Peldon ... However, the tithe award of 1840 shows that they owned and occupied a premises (now I believe called The Cottage) right on the junction immediately North of the Church and also the adjacent 2 acre field known as 'Blacksmith's field and immediately across the road from the then School House. This suggests that the premises were the blacksmith's shop, and the wheelwright's business confined to Forge Cottage as it is now called. I note also from the Award and map (1839) that the Harrisons owned a group of houses and gardens (two of which were occupied by a James Smith and a George Smith) immediately across the road just past the Church. Unpublished letter Peter Harrison, St Mary's Peldon Archive

The blacksmith and wheelwright's business required a number of blacksmiths to work for the Harrisons over the years. In the 1841 census for Peldon, as might be expected, there are several blacksmiths listed. Thomas Gibbs aged 45, Robert Lee aged 20, Henry Cooper a blacksmith aged 20 (he was to go on to be a baker and run the postal services in Peldon) as well as James Harrison aged 50 (this would have been James Borrodell Harrison). James as we have already seen appears in the 1851 census aged 62 as a yard proprietor and in 1861 as a widower aged 72 with a house and property. Blacksmith's Field which appears in the 1840 Tithe Awards is listed as being just over two acres - and used for arable crops - which would tally with Isaac's will. In modern times, the land to the west of the house was built on, the house Coreopsis, now occupying the site.

From an 1844 trade directory it seems the forge by Peldon Common was being run by Deborah and James Harrison (Isaac's nephew by his brother James). They were also running Abberton Forge and wheelwright's. Deborah née Hance and James had married in Peldon Church in 1833.

There is a subsequent will for this James Harrison born in 1798, the son of James and Mary, who died relatively young in 1847. In it he simply leaves his wife, Deborah, all my property of every description.[ERO D/ACW 44/5/21]

Deborah, it seems, was a strong and competent woman and she was to continue running not only Abberton Forge (and subsequently Abberton Post Office) but also the forge in Peldon.

In Peldon's trade and post office directories Deb Harrison (& Jas) blacksmith are listed in 1844 and 1848, and James Harrison in 1851 (despite James having died in 1847). Between 1855 and 1874 Henry Dodd is listed as the blacksmith (he died in 1875) but in White's directory of 1863 Deborah Harrison is listed as blacksmith, this must indicate Henry Dodd was working for her.

In the earliest Abberton census of 1841, James Harrison aged 40 is listed as a wheelwright and with Deborah aged 30 they have five children at home, James 7, Matilda, 6, Ernest, 5, Edward, 3 and William 1. Their 3 year old daughter, Jane, is living with Deborah's relatives in Peldon on census day, Thomas Hance, (Deborah's brother?) a farmer, her sister and mother. Living with them is an apprentice, Joseph Stammers, aged 19 while living next door is Joseph Templeton, a blacksmith aged 50.

By 1851 Deborah, aged 42, has been widowed and two of her boys in orphanages, Henry is in an Infant Orphans' Asylum in Wanstead, aged 7, and William, aged 11, in Hackney, in London's Orphan Asylum. With the death of the father, the family had fallen on such hard times the two youngest boys may have been sent to the orphanages by the parish overseers.

At home, Deborah still has Jane 13, Edward, 12, Annie, 9 and Ernest at 15 is now an apprentice coachman. Deborah has a house-servant and her unmarried sister, Sarah Hance, living with them. According to the Post Office Appointments book she also takes on the Post Office in 1851 although she is listed as blacksmith and wheelwright in the census that year.

In 1861 William aged 20 is back living at home and an Architect's apprentice while Henry aged 17 is a blacksmith. Also living with them is another blacksmith's family, that of Charles West including his 17 year old son, Henry, who is also a blacksmith.

By 1871 Deborah is listed as the village Post Mistress and son Henry listed as a wheelwright and blacksmith. In 1881 Deborah is living with a 7 year old school child, (a grandchild?) while her son Henry, blacksmith, is living with his own family in north Abberton.

Deborah dies in 1886. Henry is still listed as blacksmith and wheelwright but also a carpenter. We do know that coffins were made at Abberton forge in the 1920s - did this business start with Henry?

Between 1894 and 1914, Henry Harrison, Deborah's son, is listed in trade directories as Abberton's blacksmith. An interesting report of a court case in the Essex Standard on 4.8.1888 reveals Henry, Abberton's blacksmith, painter and wheelwright, was pursuing the owner of Peldon Hall for money owed for repairs to earthquake damage on Peldon Hall and making it water-tight

By 1901, Henry's wife Lucy is the assistant post mistress while Henry is a blacksmith, their address is on The Green, Abberton. Also on the Green is James Martin and his family. Born in Stonham, Suffolk, James is clearly working for Henry as a blacksmith.

In 1909 Henry suffered a serious fire as reported in the Evening Star and Daily Herald on Saturday January 2nd 1909

DESTRUCTIVE FIRE AT ABBERTON.

A wheelwright's shop in the occupation of Mr Henry Harrison at Abberton was burnt down about 2.30 this (Saturday) morning. The fire was first noticed by Miss Harrison who promptly gave the alarm and P C Wood and a number of neighbours did their best to subdue the outbreak. A quantity of valuable timber - oak and seasoned ash - was destroyed together with a number of expensive tools. The premises which are insured in the Essex and Suffolk Fire Office are owned by Mr William Harrison of Layer Marney.

William was Henry's brother and had become a farmer at Layer Marney.

In 1911 the family is living at the Post Office (Forge Cottage and The Post House are to this day named as such and are situated next to each other with the converted old forge and stables adjacent). Henry dies in 1916 aged 72. His four children were all daughters and from the research done by his descendant, Peter Harrison, it would seem the forge had already been taken over by Robert Mason by the time of Henry's death.

The Harrisons' blacksmith's businesses had been operating since at least 1743 in Peldon - possibly a lot longer - finishing in Abberton with Henry circa 1910 - 167 years.

The Green Family

In the obituary of shopkeeper, John Thomas Green, who died in 1938, we learn that he came from a blacksmith's family, his parents being James and Esther Green.

The deceased [John Thomas Green] was 68 years of age and had lived all his life in Peldon. He was the son of a former blacksmith, whose widow carried on a small tobacco and confectionary business until her death 12 years ago. Mr Green succeeded to the business and his little shop was a rendezvous for the youth of the village, with whom he was on excellent terms, and whom he often entertained with tales of days gone by. Essex County Standard 17.9.1938

John's father, James Green (although he used the name John in several censuses) was born in Monks Eleigh, Suffolk, c 1839, the son of an agricultural worker. The census of 1861 finds him aged 22 lodging near Peldon church working as a blacksmith and by 1871 he is married with three children (John Thomas only being 6 days old at the time of the census).

In 1881 James and Esther have added another three children to their family and are living near Bower Hall, Mersea, where there was a forge.

In 1891, back in Peldon and now probably in the house at the top of St Ives Hill, the Green family included daughters Elizabeth and Jessie, both tailoresses, Florence a servant and four boys. John Thomas, at 18, is working as a stockman on a farm.

In 1901 and 1911 the family is probably still living in Elm Tree Cottage. Son Leonard is also a blacksmith while James at the age of 79 in 1911 is still working as a blacksmith.

John's mother, Esther (née Puxley, born and bred in Peldon), was widowed in 1917 and ran a shop from the house assisted by her son John. Her son, following a works accident, had lost his sight and yet was able to give the correct change in the shop by the feel of the coins. His mother died in 1926 and John clearly kept running the business until his sudden death in 1938.

James and Esther's son Frederick was to spend his life in service and many years later (in 1971) his widow was to contact the Peldon rector.

I am the widow of the late Mr Frederick Green whose home used to be at Peldon, Essex whose parents lived quite near the Church of Peldon, It is many years since we visited the village, my dear father-in-law was the Village Blacksmith, the last time we were there was at his funeral as we went up to the North of England, my husband always being in private service, my husband passed away February 1st 1962 at the age of 84 years. Unpublished letter Jessie Green, St Mary's Peldon Archive

James Green died in 1917 and it would appear had worked as one of Peldon's blacksmiths from before 1861 for more than fifty years (with a spell of at least seven years in Mersea).

There are some excellent pictures of Abberton Forge with the adjacent carpenters' workshop from the 1920s and 30s in Peter Wormell's book Abberton and Langenhoe: A History in Photographs. By then Maurice Powell and Robert Mason, both living in Fingringhoe, a blacksmith/wheelwright and a master builder were in business partnership together, based at Abberton's forge.

Carpenters and wheelwrights had always worked closely together, the former responsible for the woodwork and the latter for the iron 'tyres' fitted round cart wheels. During the 1930s, perhaps a logical extension to the business, coffins were made at Abberton, and Powell and Mason acted as funeral directors during the 1930s and 1940s.

A document belonging to Maurice Powell's family makes it clear he was skilled at his work, winning a Certificate of Merit for an iron gate he had made at the Essex Show on 8th June 1939.

Maurice Powell retired in 1949 and the stock-in-trade of Abberton forge put up for auction.

Peldon's last blacksmith: William Greenleaf

In the 1922 trade directory the Peldon forge has been taken over by Powell and Mason for whom we know William Greenleaf, Peldon's last blacksmith, worked.

Alan Cudmore who lived in Peldon in the 1940s and early fifties recalls that Abberton's forge and wheelwright's shop and Peldon's forge were both operated by Powell and Mason and Peter Harrison's research would indicate they'd started in business circa 1910.

Mr Mason must have succeeded my uncle Henry [Harrison] at Abberton soon after 1910 and also taken over the Peldon business, still, I believe, owned but not operated by the family. Unpublished letter Peter Harrison, St Mary's Peldon Archive

From a building application it is clear that a Miss Harrison still owned Abberton Post Office next to the forge in 1940. [ERO D/RLW PB1/3518]

A Yorkshire Insurance Company Document dated 22nd March 1951 [ERO C1328 Blacksmith's Shop in Abberton] makes it clear that the family's properties in Abberton were still in the Harrison family (Misses M.A.L & N. Harrison, two of Henry's daughters) and the forge still in existence. Within living memory Abberton forge was still hot-shoeing horses in the late 1950s.

William Greenleaf was the last blacksmith to work at Peldon Forge and was recorded as such in the 1939 register. From Alan Cudmore's reminiscences of the forge it appears William was still working at the forge throughout the Second World War and into the 1950s working for Powell and Mason.

William Greenleaf was particularly known for being the Superintendent of the Sunday School and steward at Peldon's Methodist Chapel. During the Second World War he acted as ARP warden.

Born in 1893 to a journeyman baker, Frederick Greenleaf and Rosina Mary Mortlock (Green) in West Mersea, in the 1901 census William aged 7 is with his family in West Mersea close to the schools.

In the 1911 West Mersea census the family were living close to the church and William, at the age of 17, was working as a Blacksmith, a striker and shoeing smith.

William aged 22 married Eva Annie Talbot in Peldon in 1916.

In 1918's absent voter's register and in 1919's electoral roll William's home address is given as the White House (now Sampton Wick), Peldon, close to the forge and in 1929's electoral roll he was still living there but this time his wife, Eva Annie, is also listed. It is very likely he had already started working at Peldon's forge upon his return from his farrier's duties during WW1.

By the 1939 register he and his own family are living in Newholme, Lower Road, Peldon, and he is still working as a blacksmith shoeing and general work. His father-in-law and brother-in-law are also living with him, his wife and three children.

Longfellow's image in his poem of the Village Blacksmith as a mighty man with large and sinewy hands is something of a myth, for William Greenleaf who served as a farrier in the First World War was no muscular giant but nonetheless a very skilled man at his trade and of great stamina, often at the beck and call of farmers anxious to have their equipment repaired at a critical time. Alan Cudmore [ Recollections of the Village Blacksmith ]

The late Ethel Miller, Peldon's matriarch, who moved to the village upon marriage in 1953 remembers Mr Greenleaf still working as a farrier and Eric Coan who began work as a teenager at Games Farm in 1957 also remembers Mr Greenleaf would still make or mend tools as well as shoeing horses.

It's not clear exactly when Peldon's forge ceased working, William Greenleaf lived to a good age and died in 1980.

Mike Watson, moved to Peldon in 1971 (his parents moved to the village in 1961). From his memories it would seem that Peldon forge and the adjacent cottage were occupied by Luther and Doris Smith right through to their moving into newly built bungalows for the elderly in The Glebe, Peldon, in the early 1970s. Luther and Doris can be found in the 1939 register living in half of Forge Cottage while Luther's father and brother were living in the other half. At that date the forge would still have been working.

Mike Watson recalls

The Forge and cottage was the first property on the left as you go up Church Road. 'Smudger' Smith, a well-known character, and his wife lived there when I first came here. It's hard to say when it stopped being a Forge because the people there did repairs to motorcycles and so on. There was a connection with motorcycles used at the 'Wall of Death' in the Kursaal, Southend-on-Sea.

It is possible that the proprietor of Peldon's garage, Dudley Patmore, used the forge building as a workshop for repairing his beloved motorbikes. Several older residents have alluded to his connection with the Wall of Death motorbikes but this needs further investigation.

The forge overlooking Peldon Common has seen many changes over the years. In the Kelly's Trade Directory of 1844 it mentions there was a fair held in the village of Peldon on Michaelmas Day. In White's Trade Directory of 1863 it qualifies this by saying a small fair was held in the village, (most likely on Peldon Common). There are no other references to this fair in documents, school logbooks or later Trade Directories so we can only presume it ended in the 1860s as many village fairs did.

Peldon School Log Book reveals a treat for the children in June 1900 courtesy of the owner of Tronoh House (formerly Honor Villa) which overlooks Peldon Common.

Mr Going having invited all the children to a tea and entertainment this afternoon on Peldon Green a half-holiday granted

Alan Cudmore remembers the farmer from Games Farm grazing a Jersey bull kept on the common anchored by a chain to a large block of concrete which had to be moved regularly to change the grazing area, goats were also once grazed there and today a hollow filled with brambles is all that remains of a Second World War gun emplacement.

... there was during the war opposite the forge on the Common a dugout / gun entrenchment which with passage of time has probably disappeared. Army manoeuvres in the village were not unknown with vehicles etc camouflaged and parked up at various points. [Alan Cudmore]

Peldon Forge and Forge Cottage in 2021 with the site of the WW2 gun emplacement on Peldon Common overgrown with brambles.

Elaine Barker
Peldon History Project

Read More
Recollections of the Village Blacksmith by Alan Cudmore
Inventory Robert Harrison blacksmith, Peldon, 1808

Thanks to
Mandy Sainty
Chris South


Appendix 1: Elijah Fitch
Elijah appears in the 1851 census for Peldon with his lodger, Henry Dodd, aged 26, also a blacksmith. Born in Long Melford, Elijah was to have a son Elijah Hackley Fitch born in Peldon in 1852 who went on to be a blacksmith as did his son Elijah. Elijah Senior is to be found in the 1891 census for East Donyland with his second wife, Rebecca; he is described as a Master blacksmith. His other two sons, Frederick and Arthur, also became blacksmiths. At the age of 22, Frederick appears in the Peldon 1881 census as blacksmith, while his father who had been smithing in Great Bromley in 1861 and 1871, was now smithing in Colchester St Peter's ward. Arthur spent much of his life as a blacksmith in Great Clacton, by 1911 also working as a motor engineer. Interestingly, there is another Fitch, Alfred, a blacksmith, in Abberton's 1881 census. Alfred was born in Stansted, Suffolk and it seems very likely he was related to Elijah born close by in Long Melford.

Appendix 2
In the 1830s, there is an interesting exchange of letters between James B Harrison and an Overseer for the Poor in Kirby Le Soken, Robert Mumford, about a man called Davy (or Davey) probably James Davy. It would seem that Davy was working for Harrison in Peldon while his wife and five children were living elsewhere. In Kirby le Soken's baptism register where all his children were baptised, Davy's occupation is given as labourer. The family were also receiving some parish relief from their home parish's Overseers of the Poor.

Other letters which have survived fill in details of the story. In 1834 Davy writes to the overseers in Kirby asking for food. The same year, the St Botolph's Overseer, Mr Pretty, also writes from Colchester to the Kirby Overseers to say that Davy was applying for relief from them. He stated Davy's wife was ill, there were five children and he works some Miles from home earning 8 s per week.

The following letters about Davey from James Harrison are undated but it would seem likely it was in 1834 around the time of the other letters. Several details tally with those of the St Botoloh's overseer.

The letters tell us little about the blacksmith trade but are such fascinating documents not least because we 'hear the voice' of our Peldon blacksmith, James Borrodell Harrison, from close to 200 years ago.

Davy says that he must come home he tells me he has nothing to were his things are in pawn he has no shoe worth two pence therefore he must come home so I shall have to git another I think youd better give him something to help him forward he tells me that he has got five children and wife to live of 8 shillings per week weer is there Anything for Cloathes gentellman and I hop you will Consider him

In another letter Harrison notes that Davy

has Being not gitten to Work this week Allthow hee has keep At it Lost on Time yet hee seemes on Satisfied About something as iff Leaving me

and the third letter confirms his worst fears

Davy Gave me notice to leave mee the 26 Ins & fortnite the Landlord will not Stop no longer For his rent he says he Cannot pay it he has no Shoes to wear good for anything he means

Davy announced to Harrison

He shall come home he says he Cannot pay His rent.

mr mumford you told me to rite to you If anything accured so Answere it if you please Sr Directly Don't let him know I rite to you As you did before you told mee At the rose peldon you would No say you see mee he was angry With mee I did not say I see you. Essex Pauper Letters 1731 - 1837 ed Thomas Sokoll


Appendix 3: John Thomas Green

DEATH OF BLIND SHOPKEEPER
Could give change correctly

News of the death of Mr John Thomas Green, the blind shopkeeper of Peldon came as a shock to local residents on Monday. During the morning he carried on business as usual, but in the afternoon he was seized with sudden illness and passed away very quickly.

The deceased was 68 years of age and had lived all his life in Peldon. He was the son of a former blacksmith, whose widow carried on a small tobacco and confectionary business until her death 12 years ago. Mr Green succeeded to the business and his little shop was a rendezvous for the youth of the village, with whom he was on excellent terms, and whom he often entertained with tales of days gone by.

Although his blindness became absolute about 20 years back he was never at a loss when coins were presented for payment, his sense of touch enabling him to tell the difference between rough-edged silver and smooth-edged coppers, and to give change correctly. He will be greatly missed by his niece, Mrs Charlotte Mumford, who accompanied him on his walks, and by his next door neighbours, Mrs Thursby, who was present at the time of his death, and her son and daughter who ran errands for him between school hours.

According to the Parish Burials records John Thomas Green lived in Ives Cottage and was 67 years of age at his death. His mother's entry in the burials register also gives Ives Cottage as her address. It is likely Ives Cottage was an earlier name for Elm Tree Cottage. Both Chris and Archie Moore remember the house at the top of St Ives Hill had been a shop and Rob Riddle remembers his grandfather mentioning going up St Ives Hill to a shop to buy humbugs!

AuthorElaine Barker
PublishedOctober 2021
SourceMersea Museum
IDPH01_BSM
Related Images:
 Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale.
 Catalogue of the sale of Stock-in-Trade by Auction by Fenn, Wright & Co.  MSY_PWL_001
ImageID:   MSY_PWL_001
Title: Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale.
Catalogue of the sale of Stock-in-Trade by Auction by Fenn, Wright & Co.
Date:30 November 1949
Source:Mersea Museum / Mandy Sainty
 Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale. Pages 2 and 3.
 Conditions of Sale
 Catalogue - Miscellaneous  MSY_PWL_002
ImageID:   MSY_PWL_002
Title: Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale. Pages 2 and 3.
Conditions of Sale
Catalogue - Miscellaneous
Date:30 November 1949
Source:Mersea Museum / Mandy Sainty
 Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale - pages 4 and 5.
 Scaffold Boards and Ladders
 Carts - Four-wheel spring van, Cob tumbril, builder's hand cart, set of cob harness.
 Miscellaneous 
 - pair of Blacksmith's Bellows (as new)  MSY_PWL_004
ImageID:   MSY_PWL_004
Title: Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale - pages 4 and 5.
Scaffold Boards and Ladders
Carts - Four-wheel spring van, Cob tumbril, builder's hand cart, set of cob harness.
Miscellaneous
- pair of Blacksmith's Bellows (as new)
Date:30 November 1949
Source:Mersea Museum / Mandy Sainty
 Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale - pages 6 and 7
 Miscellaneous contd.
 ...
 139 A 6 H.P. Engine by Fairbanks, Moorse & Co.
 ...
 Timber  MSY_PWL_006
ImageID:   MSY_PWL_006
Title: Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale - pages 6 and 7
Miscellaneous contd.
...
139 A 6 H.P. Engine by Fairbanks, Moorse & Co.
...
Timber
Date:30 November 1949
Source:Mersea Museum / Mandy Sainty
 Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale - back
 Printed Wiles & Son Ltd., Colchester  MSY_PWL_008
ImageID:   MSY_PWL_008
Title: Powell and Mason, Builders and Wheelwrights, retirement sale - back
Printed Wiles & Son Ltd., Colchester
Date:30 November 1949
Source:Mersea Museum / Mandy Sainty
 Certificate of Merit awarded to Powell and Mason for Gate at Essex Show, Harlow. From the Rural Industries Bureau for work of outstanding merit.
 Powell and Mason ran the Forge in Abberton.  MSY_PWL_021
ImageID:   MSY_PWL_021
Title: Certificate of Merit awarded to Powell and Mason for Gate at Essex Show, Harlow. From the Rural Industries Bureau for work of outstanding merit.
Powell and Mason ran the Forge in Abberton.
Date:8 June 1939
Source:Mersea Museum / Mandy Sainty