Friday, 22 June 2018

“heating and hammering” the story of the Clarke family who worked the smithy on Beech Road for over a 100 years

The memory of the blacksmith on Beech Road has yet to fade from living memory.

There was a smithy here from the early 19th century and I guess even earlier. From at least 1830 the mysterious job of heating and hammering was carried out by William Davis, but more about him later in the year.

Today I want to concentrate on the Clarke family. John Clarke took over the blacksmiths on the Row* in October 1860. I know this because I have a copy of the sale transaction he made between himself and the widow Elizabeth Lowe. He paid £55 for the “Goodwill, fixtures about the forge. Also the pig sty and wooden shed.....”

It is a remarkable document for many reasons. Not only does it shed light on what was in the smithy but it is in Clarke’s own handwriting which makes it one of only two dozen or so personal records from the period to have survived. But there is more.

 This was a time when many were still illiterate and Elizabeth Lowe was one of these. Just a decade before in 1851, 45% of the women who were married gave a mark rather than a signature on the marriage certificate.

The Clarke family were to remain on the Row well into the 20th century, and their shop would have been at the heart of the rural community.

 John Clarke and before him William Davis supplied the needs of the village, repairing broken tools, forging new ones and shoeing horses.

When he was hammering and heating at his forge on the Row he acted as a magnate for people. Some coming to collect a repaired tool or bringing a horse which was in need of a new shoe would stop and pass the time of day.

And there were always requests to personalise a farm tool. This might mean making a left handed scythe or widening or narrowing hoe blades used to chop out weeds. Then there would be the endless procession of labourers needing tools sharpened from bill hooks and scythes to axes and all the other types of edged tools. In the process William might well replace the broken or split staves

And all the time, gangs of children attracted to the smithy by the red hot metal and frequent shower of sparks would stand and stare rooted to the spot. Majorie Holmes remembers being late for school in the 1930s because she, like countless young people before her had been lost in the magic of the smithy.

But as busy as they were they could still pose for a photograph, and so sometime in 1913 John’s son Charles stood outside the smithy and had his picture taken.

 He was 55 and still lived beside the forge. He had been married for over 26 years and he and his wife Sarah had five children. 

The two boys had followed their father into the trade. In the 1911 census John described himself as a plumber, and Charles the younger son as a blacksmith striker.

Lillian the eldest of the daughters described herself as a machinist while Ethel worked in a laundry and Florence was still at school..

One of the boys was also active in the Chorlton Brass Band and in the summer of 1893 was also photographed when the band played at Barlow Hall. Sadly he was to die in Gallipoli in June 1915 aged 23.

Pictures; sale of the smithy October 1860, picture of Charles Clark, 1913 Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, picture of Charles Clark, DPA 328.18, Courtesy of Greater Manchester Archives, and photograph of Charles Clarke junior 1893 from the collection of Allan Brown

*Chorlton Row was later renamed Beech Road

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