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England Metal Working Occupations D to S (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Metals (cont.)[edit | edit source]

Farriers[edit | edit source]

The farrier (pedolwar in Welsh) was originally a blacksmith who specialized in making and fitting shoes for horses and oxen, but because of his knowledge of the animal and the health of its all-important feet and legs, he developed into an early veterinarian. Before the railway and the combustion engine the horse was central to the economy of town and country, and cavalry NCO farriers were much in demand in WWI. As late as the mid-20th century horses were still common hauling delivery vehicles and thousands of pit ponies worked in the mines. Horses were brought to the local rural blacksmith-cum-farrier, but there was also the full-time rural farrier at the wayside inns on coaching routes whose reputation impacted on the success of the inn itself. The town farrier worked in a far less idyllic scene in more cramped and noisy stables and alleyways.

The vast numbers of people in various occupations associated with horses were described by Vickers (Old Occupations: The Horse Trades. Family Tree Magazine Vol 12 #5, page 18-19, 1996), and Davies (Old Occupations: Farriers. Family Tree Magazine Vol 12 #7, page 3-4, 1996) gives further details on town and village farriers and their veterinary skills. Descriptions of the horse shoeing process are given in Bailey (The Village Blacksmith. Shire Publications, 1977), Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968), and Dixon (A Heritage of Anglian Crafts. Minimax Books, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, 1981), and Sparkes (Old Horseshoes. Shire Publications) has written on old horseshoes. There was a Guild of Farriers in the City of London as early as 1356 which became the Worshipful Company of Farriers in 1674, and the apprenticeships 1619-1800 have been indexed by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 28. Farriers’ Company 1619-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1999). The apprenticeship scheme continues under the Farriers Registration Council (Bailey 1977).

Gold and Silver[edit | edit source]

Since 1300 England has required all except very tiny silver and gold articles to be hallmarked, that is, to be submitted for assay of the quality of the metal and have an appropriate stamp applied. There are actually four marks indicating by letters and pictures the maker, quality, assay office and the date, and a fifth used to indicate tax had been paid when that was required. Ferguson (Silversmiths and Hallmarks. Family Tree Magazine Vol 11 #4, page 36-37) wrote an introductory article on the subject and mentions the standard works for identification of gold and silver hallmarks (Pickford), and for London hallmarks (Grimwade). There is also a nice Shire book on the subject by John Bly.

Goldsmiths[edit | edit source]

The wealthy have always enjoyed the craftmanship displayed in gold jewellery and household goods and ornaments. The Goldsmiths’ Company, founded in 1667, was one of the great twelve. Culme (Directory of Gold and Silversmiths, Jewellers and Allied Traders 1838-1914: From the London Assay Office Registers. Antique Collectors Club. FHL book 942.1/L1 D3c.) produced short biographies of goldsmiths in the London Assay Office registers 1838-1914.

Gold beaters[edit | edit source]

Gold leaf hammered to a thickness of 1/240,000”, is used to decorate everything from books to church steeples. The gilding of wood, leather, paper and similar materials is done by using some form of glue or cement with the gold leaf. Metals are gilt by a chemical application of the gold to the surface (Hurley 1991).

Gold and Silver Wire Drawers[edit | edit source]

The drawing of metal through a steel plate perforated with tiny holes to make wire has been carried out since the 14th century. Silver wire and gold wire are both formed of silver, the latter being covered with gold. This is done by double gilding a silver ingot and then drawing it out, when the surface will be equally covered in gold. There are also counterfeit gold and silver wires made of copper which has been silvered or gilt. Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991) provides further details of the process. Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers’ Company apprenticeships 1693-1837 have been indexed (Webb 1998).

Silversmiths[edit | edit source]

English silver has a long history going back to at least the Anglo-Saxons, which is perhaps surprising as all of the metal had to be imported. In the days before the banking system silver was a useful investment with finer pieces appreciating in value, with churches and wealthier households being the main customers. The arrival of French refugees at the end of the 17th century brought a welcome influx of design and craftmanship, and at the same time came another impetus. The introduction of tea, coffee and drinking chocolate created a demand for tea services, coffee pots, trays etc. which to be elegant had to be in silver. The details of the craft are discussed by Wymer (English Town Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to the Present Day. Batsford, London, 1949) and a modern silversmith is featured by Dixon (A Heritage of Anglian Crafts. Minimax Books, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, 1981). Culme (Directory of Gold and Silversmiths, Jewellers and Allied Traders 1838-1914: From the London Assay Office Registers. Antique Collectors Club. FHL book 942.1/L1 D3c.) produced short biographies of silversmiths in the London Assay Office registers 1838-1914. Silversmiths were included in the Goldsmiths’ Company. Anneke Bambery has written on old Sheffield Plate, a bimetal of silver and copper sheets.

Iron and Steel[edit | edit source]

Iron Age man surface-mined iron ore and smelted it on hilltops where a good wind was available to supply air to the furnace. The liquid iron was allowed to solidify as a bar known as a bloom that the smith used in his forge to make various articles. This is wrought iron which has a fibrous structure and high tensile strength so can be shaped by hammering, squeezing and rolling. This process was improved during the Middle Ages and until the 17th century water-powered bloomeries were important in the Weald of Surrey, Sussex and Kent. The area contained iron ore, was heavily forested, and had small coal deposits—an ideal combination for the rapid growth of the iron industry. The hammer ponds which stored the water to run the forges can still be found, especially in Sussex, There was an increased demand for iron for building, agriculture, shipping and the arms trades during the 16th and 17th centuries. This was facilitated by a gradual changeover to the production of cast iron in charcoal-fired blast furnaces, using water power to work the bellows supplying the air for combustion (Burgess). This technique was introduced from France in 1496 to the Ashdown Forest, an area in north mid-Sussex which is part of the Weald. The first English metal cannon was made here in 1543 and the region was of immense importance to Henry VIII and Elizabeth I being so close to the capital. However the forests were not replanted, and the iron ore and coal were depleted. From the 1560s the industry started to shift to the midlands and the north of England, and by the 1630s production there had eclipsed that in the Weald. Staffordshire was a major site as were Barrow-in-Furness, north Lancashire, Sheffield in the West Riding of Yorkshire and Middlesbrough in the North Riding. The South Wales industry developed during the 17th century with rapid expansion from 1790-1840 when there was much in-migration, especially from Devon and Somerset.

Cast iron is a crystalline alloy of iron with about 5% carbon, has relatively low tensile strength so cannot be shaped by hammer, but can be melted and poured into a mould. The initial poured moulds resemble a litter of pigs around a sow thus these bars were called pig iron. At first much of the cast iron was converted to wrought iron by hammering with water-powered tilt hammers especially around Sheffield and other areas of Yorkshire. Slitting mills produced rod iron that was used for nails and wire. Coke was introduced in 1709 in Shropshire and the puddling process in the late 18th century; steam-powered hammers came in 1839. Advances in the design of blast furnaces around 1830 doubled the production and ushered in the 19th century boom period for iron and steel.

Steel is the most versatile form of iron and the most widely used today. Chemically it can take a variety of forms involving several elements in addition to iron. Small quantities were being made by 1811 (Hurley 1991) but in 1856 the Bessemer process allowed bulk production of steel. The Northamptonshire iron deposits were discovered in 1879 and a huge steel industry developed around the little villages of Corby and Weldon, importing large numbers of Scottish workers during the 1930s, but by the 1980s the bubble had burst.

The history of the British iron and steel industry is summarized by Hey (The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History. Oxford University Press, 1996), Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982), Gale (Ironworking. Shire Publications., 1994), Tyler (Old Occupations: Ironworkers. Family Tree Magazine Vol 9 Part I in #8; Part II in #9; Part III in #10) and Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991). Chaloner (People and Industries. Frank Cass, London. FHL book 942 U3ch, 1963) has chapters on the ironmaster Wilkinson and Bessemer’s importance in the steel industry. More specific sources include Fearn (Cast Iron. Shire Publications) on cast iron, Upham (Anchors. Shire Publications) on anchors, and Munday (Naval Cannon. Shire Publications) on cannon. The Armourers Company was founded in 1322 and the apprenticeships c1610-1800 have been indexed by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 22. Armourers and Brasiers’ Company c1610-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1998) who has also indexed the those of the Founders Company 1643-1800 (London Apprentices Volume 21. Founders’ Company 1643-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1998) although the company dates from at least the 14th century.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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