Wheelwrighting

This is again from Ronald Blythe’s book about the Surrey village of Akenfield:

This is a skill that is largely lost, but was a common trade in town and country. This is from the wheelwright and blacksmith, Jubal Merton, in Akenfield:

‘You’ve got to have a good eye’… What we do here isn’t like ordinary carpenter’s work. When you get the hub of a wheel it has to be morticed once and only once the first go.

..All the shafts were cut out by handsaw from heavy pranks of wood about 3 1/2 inches thick and about 2 feet wide. We planed these and shaped them up fine…. When I got so that I could use a plane and a wheel-shave I started to make wheelbarrows. They were a difficult job… Especially the front pieces that were called the stumps. The stump was another thing you had to cut right the first time else it was no good. …

One of the most exciting things was making the fellies for the wheel. There would be 6 fillies and when they were put together they made the rim of the wheel. These were all cut out by an old bowsaw which belonged to my grandfather and the inner part shaped with an adze. They were made of ash and the wheelwright always chose roadside trees for his fellies. He’d never touch a low-meadow ash because that wouldn’t do at all. Of course, ash that grew down by the river was lovely timber to use, but a wheelwright … went to the hedges, where the wood was tough and hard. He’d walk through the lanes and not the ashes and when he saw a good one,he’d buy it, cut it down and let it lie in the ditch for a couple of years until the bark fell off. Then it was ready. He also looked for shaft wood. If you look at ashtrays you’ll find that many of their boughs grow in the shape of shafts. The my father saw a good shaft shape a growing, he’d keep his eye on it until it was just the right size to cut and plane. Then he’d have it.

For making the hubs we always chose which elm. A which elm twists in the growth and it is impossible to split it. You cut the hub out of a ring of the trunk and fixed the jellies to it by 12 spokes. The bodywork of the wagons was made of oak, although  some farmers had a fancy for poplar wood because you couldn’t scratch splinters out of a poplar with a rake. ..

When I had helped to make a wagon I had to learn to paint it… The farmers were most particular about the painting. The colours were all bought in Ipswich., There was red lead and vegetable black, which was like thick distemper, and there was Chinese red and Venetian red,all these were the old colours made by the wagon-makers. The body work was all painted blue. .. The blue rode well in the corn. The wheels were done in Chinese red and lined-out with Venetian red, which was marvellously expensive – about £1 an ounce. We mixed all the paint here…. You had to grind the paint very, very slowly so that the mill didn’t warm up. Its it did it would discolour the paint.

My father mad the first bus ever used in this part of Suffolk. In 1919. He bought the chassis from Ford’s of Dagenham and built a tall old 30 seater top for it. .t had straight sides and an oval roof and it ran to Ipswich every Tuesday and Saturday. It went with crates of chickens strapped to the back and it came home with timber for my father strapped to the roof.

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