Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Blacksmith's Workshop

click photo to enlarge
English surnames are usually classified into 5 groups: given names (e.g. Johnson), occupational names (e.g. Tailor), locational names (e.g. York), ornamental names (e.g. Ballard - "bald head"), and other names. Smith is the most common occupational surname in England, but also the most numerous of all names. The reason for this is likely to be the fact that the job of the smith (sometimes called "blacksmith") was such an important and widespread occupation for much of recorded history. We sometimes forget that English villages changed remarkably little until the last quarter of the nineteeenth century. Up until that time a farmer or agricultural labourer from the medieval period would easily have recognised the tools and practices of his Victorian counterparts. He would also recognise the self-sufficient nature of village life with its baker, shoemaker, saddler, wheelwright, smith and many other tradesmen carrying on their occupations in the small community.

The mechanization of agriculture, a process that began in the late nineteenth century and was complete by the end of the second world war, ended many of these occupations, and changed the character of village life. What was previously made in these small settlements now often had to be brought in from the nearby town, or even ordered from a city. The blacksmith lost a large part of his work, particularly that connected with horses and farm machinery. They didn't entirely disappear of course: ornamental metal work, repairs and the burgeoning equine hobbies provided (and still do supply) a living for some.

Then there was the specialist smith attached to a particular line of work. Today's photograph shows the preserved blacksmith's workshop of an employee of a South Lincolnshire drainage board. His work would involve dealing with all the metal-work needs of this large undertaking that kept the water flowing off the low-lying land. In the corner is the forge, next to it a leather bellows with a long handle to pump it, and nearby a big anvil raised up on a section of tree trunk. There are a couple of workbenches equipped with vices and lathes, and the walls are festooned with tools. The red, wheeled object in the centre of the photograph is a portable, petrol-powered engine. It could be used to drive machinery by means of a belt fixed to the drum on the nearest wheel. I don't know when this particular workshop closed but it must have been around 1950.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation:- 0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On