Horse Days & Ways by Doug Titmus (August 1998)
When I walk along Church Street, past the alms-houses, I remember the smithy that used to stand there in the 20s and 30s, and the blacksmith, George Lawman. The smithy was on the comer of Stocks Lane; a private garage now stands on the floor where he used to shoe the horses. I and other boys used to watch what he was doing and we sometimes pumped the bellows for him to keep the fire hot.
On wet days there would congregate the farm workers who could not get out on the land to work. Perhaps half a dozen men would gather together for a cigarette and a chat, and they too would watch what the smith did. When he shod a horse, he held the back leg over his leather apron, cutting the hoof to shape, then he’d press the hot shoe to the hoof, which sent out a strong smell which carried along the street. The shoe would have been put in the furnace till it was red-hot, then hammered to shape on the anvil. The smith then tapped holes in for the nails, and dipped it to cool and harden in the water-tank. When it was nailed to the hoof he’d bend the protruding nails, and file it smooth. The front hoof he’d put on a tripod, and finish it off there. An assistant, Mr Tumer, helped in many tasks. As well as making horseshoes and bits and pieces for harnesses, Mr Lawman repaired all sorts of agricultural implements – harrows, ploughs, hand tools. He’d even make a trundle hoop for a boy from a piece of round metal, and with a hook to guide it.
I remember that he kept pigs in the yard opposite in Stocks Lane. There was a saying “If I come back to the world after death I’d not want to be a pig under George Lawman”.
Another of his interests was football, and you can see him in many photos of local football teams and supporters. He was also in the church choir, as was his son, another George. I, like other choir boys, sometimes got a tap on the head from George’s hymn-book for misbehavior. The smith and his wife are buried in the cemetery under a gravestone which shows that he died in 1968 aged 83.
There was another smithy where Chapman’s fish and chip shop is now. I remember Mr Bill Carter working there when I was a boy, and another man called Geary, earlier. A third blacksmith was in Dutter End, in the yard of what is now Jasmine Cottage. His name was Cross, and he had a number of trades.
Blacksmiths were needed because of the many horses used on the small farms and smallholdings of those days in the Gamlingay area. Those who used them included Mark Meeks, George Meeks, Tumer the coal-merchant, Turrell at Merton Farm, Marshall and Masters at Manor Farm and Avenell’s Farm. Many of them had several horses and had men who looked after them. There was Marshall and Masters’ horseman, Mr Housden, “Zaccy” ,who lived at Dutter End in a thatched cottage that still stands but has been renovated and looks rather different from its old self. There were Mr Baxter, Turrell’s horse keeper at Merton Farm; Fred Bettles, Mark Meeks’s keeper, and Mr Jones, Walter Turrell the coal merchant’s keeper. Some horses were in rented stables, others in their master’s meadow with shelters.
Horses did many jobs round the farm – manure-carting from the farm buildings, stables, cattle yards, etc. and also from the railway station where manure from London stables was delivered in trucks. They also did much hauling of potatoes and other vegetables. Some of us lads on school holidays earned a few shillings by leading horses at harvest time, from stook to stook in the cornfield, and sometimes from the farm where the sheaves were put in stacks. When the stack was completed, it was thatched to protect it from the weather, and then threshed at a late date. This was done by contract with a steam engine driver with thresher drum and baler. When the work was completed on one farm they moved on to the next. This was work that horses could not do; their days were ending, and tractors and lorries took over more of the farm work. And with the end of horses the blacksmiths too as we knew them had their day.