Blacksmiths and Farriers
Blacksmiths and Farriers
An article by Anthony Camp for the October 2009 issue of the Walkern Journal
The two photographs of Walkern blacksmiths reproduced in the July-August Walkern Journal have prompted me to look through my notes about Walkern families to see what can be said about blacksmiths in the village in the more distant past. With a population of less than 850 prior to 1900, Walkern seems not to have supported more than one smithy at any one time.
The first named blacksmith that I have found was Edward Wenham the Elder who was born at Walkern in 1604 (when the surname was usually spelled Wennam) and was described as a blacksmith when his son married at Ardley in 1655 and in his will made early in 1661. He was buried at St Mary’s in July 1661. His eldest son Edward, who died in 1671, was also a blacksmith and the father of George Wenham who was apprenticed to a gun-maker in London in 1682. The younger Edward’s brother Henry, whose trade is not known, was the father-in-law of Jane Wenham the ‘Witch of Walkern’.
In the eighteenth century blacksmiths were generally prosperous people and their social status was among the upper ranks of skilled craftsmen. Sometime before 1707 William Rotherham or Ratherum, a blacksmith, came into Walkern with his wife Elizabeth. He was buried at St Mary’s in 1739. His son Philip, also a blacksmith, died in 1741. In 1722 William had been described as a servant to John Crouch of Weston, maltster, whose malting house at Walkern together with 30 quarters of malt had been destroyed by fire.
Robert Bennett who had married Sarah Grubb at Ardley in 1724, came to the parish as a blacksmith and farrier the following year. Farriers were less frequent than blacksmiths and specialised in shoeing and treating horses, while blacksmiths carried out general forged metal work as well as shoeing. Robert seems to have worked with his sons John, born in 1725, and William, born in 1733. In 1763 Michael Welch, from All Saints, Hertford, came to help them and in 1769 he married Robert’s youngest daughter Susan, but died soon afterwards. Robert Bennett himself died in 1774 leaving a will in which he left all his stock and tools to his son John who continued the business until he died in 1777. John Bennett had no surviving sons, and although many Walkern families descend from his daughters (who married John Cox, Thomas Bray and William Ball) he seems to have been the last of the Bennett family to work in the village as a blacksmith.
Between 1758 and 1785 the lists of those liable for service in the Militia show, for very short periods, a number of men described as blacksmiths (William Peters and Kester Godfrey in 1765, William Izard in 1768 and William English in 1780) but the place of the Bennett family seems to have been taken by Underwood Dearman who had come from Weston to marry Sarah Warren at Walkern in 1755.
Underwood Dearman died in 1809, again bequeathing to his son William “all the utensils and stock in trade” in his blacksmith’s shop. His personal estate was valued at