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Broadwoodwidger Blacksmiths

This research by David Tovey has been prompted by the kind donation to the Society by Colin Jones of an Account Book of a blacksmith, which covers the years 1901-7. It transpires that it is that of John Down, whose family had been blacksmiths to the village from the mid-1870s.

The first Directory that includes the parish is that of 1850. Unusually, this does not list traders alphabetically but by trade. Under the heading ‘Blacksmiths’, five men are listed – John Brown, Henry Burden, James Newberry, Richard Routley and William Shopland. No addresses are given and so their location has to be established from the 1851 Census. It transpires that they were based in Broadwood Village, Thorn Moor, Cross Green, Ashmill and Grinacombe Cross. Below is a history of the blacksmiths in these locations. If you can add information or anecdotes, then please get in touch.

Broadwood Village

In the 1851 Census, the blacksmith, John Brown, is recorded as living in the heart of the village and so will have run the smithy, the ruins of which can be seen by the village green. He had been born in Broadwood in c. 1807 and was married to Mary (b.c. 1815) and they had four children. He is also recorded as the village blacksmith in the 1841 Census. In the 1856 and 1866 Directories, he is recorded as ‘shopkeeper and blacksmith’, and, in the 1861 Census, he was being helped in the smithy by his eldest son, Thomas, then aged 19. The 1866, 1870 and 1873 Directories also list him as Parish Clerk, so he was well respected in the Parish.

By 1871, Brown, in addition to working still as a blacksmith, was also farming 45 acres. Another son, also called John, then 23, was helping him at the smithy. However, although still alive, he is not listed in the 1878 Directory at all – his position as village blacksmith having been assumed sometime between 1873 and 1876 by James Down. Clearly, on his retirement as blacksmith, neither of his two sons had been interested in continuing in that trade. In the 1881 Census, Brown is listed as still living in the centre of the village, but he is now a widower, with his daughter Harriet, aged 25, as housekeeper. Harriet subsequently became Headmistress of the local Infant School.

James Down, who took over the smithy in Broadwood village from John Brown, sometime between 1873 and 1876, was born in Black Torrington on 16th April 1826. He had been working as a blacksmith in Black Torrington previously from at least 1851 and had married local girl, Gertrude, in October 1852. They had 8 children, the last of which was born in Broadwood in 1876 and so they had moved by then. In the 1881 Census, James’ children James (b.1860), John (b.1863) and Samuel (b.1867) were listed as ‘Smiths’ and so were helping out their father. By 1891, however, only John and Samuel remained at home and whilst John was called ‘Blacksmith’, Samuel was a ‘Manager of Cattle’ and then in 1901 ‘Postman’.

Whilst John’s father, James, still referred to himself as a blacksmith in the 1901 Census, he was then aged 73 and it appears that he retired when John got married in 1902 to Mary Walter, the local headmistress of the Infant School.

Mary was born in Stowford in c.1866, her father, William, being a Farm Bailiff. She was the fifth of six children and, in 1871, they lived at Castle Farm. However, her father died in his forties and, in 1881, Mary, then 15, was lodging with her grandmother in 4 Ivy Cottage, Stowford, with her mother and several of her siblings next door in No 3. In subsequent Censuses, Mary adjusted her age! Accordingly, in 1891, she was 23 (not 25) and was a servant to Thomas and Elizabeth Squire in Broadwood Village. By 1901, however, she had become a certified teacher and was living on her own in the village, where she ran the Infant School, having taken over from Harriet Brown. Possibly, she had some accommodation there – this is now The Hub. On this occasion, she indicated her age was 30 (not 35), so perhaps she was concerned about being left an old maid.

Clearly, she will have often met the blacksmith on the other side of the Green, and the Account Book starts in April 1901. Its fine script and its accounting details suggest that it was much more likely to have been maintained by the well-educated Mary than by John, who had started work as a Smith at an early age. Possibly her offer to help with the Accounts led to their relationship, for the pair got married early in 1902 and had their first child (registered as ‘Emma Ruth’ but seemingly known as ‘Ena Ruth’) on 21st September 1902. To what degree, Mary wanted to continue as a teacher now that she had started a family is unknown, but her school was not taken over by the Local Education Authority under the 1902 Act and it was noted in 1905, that it was “no longer used as a public elementary unprovided school”. In February 1905, Mary had her second child, Lorna Elizabeth and, in February 1906, her third, Walter John.

Separate pages in the Account Book list the work done for individual clients and, in general, there seems to have been a settling up of debts owed to John each quarter day. A lot of the jobs involved sharpening, mending, straightening or soldering various bits of machinery – rods, chains, wheels and things such as harrow lines, harrow whippers, skirting shares, plough chains, plough shares, coulters, reapers, rabbit traps, turnip hoes, pig rings, etc. There were occasional references to repairing kitchen stoves or chimney crooks and soldering milk pails. Less common were items such as springs for rabbit traps.

What seems extraordinary today is the low charges levied for the vast majority of the work, with a large proportion of the jobs warranting a charge of less than 1s. A new horseshoe, for instance, was 7d, whilst sharpening a pick was 3d. It was rare for a job to exceed 3s.

One of the most regular clients – and the first listed – was ‘Mr Palmer’ – probably William Palmer, a farmer at Grinacombe (@1901, aged 45, widowed with 3 daughters and two sons aged 13 to 3). However, a new double iron whipper cost him 5s 6d, a new waggon wheel cost 18s 8d and fifteen new fingers for his mowing machine cost £1 1s 6d. His initial bill for the six months up to the end of September 1901 was £6 7s 6d, much the largest figure in the book, where the average quarterly account was between £1 and £3.

In most instances, the Account Book merely lists clients’ surnames, but other farmer clients would appear to be Thomas Gilbert of Combe Park, George Brimacombe of Downtown, Richard Jasper of Shop Farm (@1901, aged just 22), John Shopland of Tredown Farm, and Samuel Shopland of Roadford (@1901 aged 45), Clients also included Fred Shopland and Harry Shopland. A ‘Mr Rockey’ might be George Rockey of Winslade or Thomas Rockey of Westmanton. Interestingly, there were two female farmers who used John’s services – both widows, left with a number of children, who were continuing the farming enterprise in the hope that a child would take it over – Mrs Maria Hole of Goatacre (@ 1901, a widow aged 42, with 2 sons and 3 daughters aged 24 to 13), and Mrs Mary Nosworthy of Middle Grinacombe (@ 1901, a widow aged 50 with 4 daughters and 1 son, aged 25 to 10). A Mrs Smale was also a client.

Other names in the book are Martin – there were numerous farmers called Martin in the Parish – Moon, Moore, Jones, Cowling, Jordan, Avery, Yelland, James, Hamley, Hambly, Hutchings, Northcott, Percy, Fosse, Jones, Seccombe, Orchard, Parsons (of Combe Park), Pengelly, Jeffrey, G.Bailey, J. Davey, Cory, Littlejohns, Able, John Vanstone (a rabbit trapper living at Witherdon), Rowland, Veysey, Lobb (for whom he made 50 rabbit traps for £2 10s 0d) and Symons.

In the 1911 Census, Francis Balsdon, aged 18, who lived with his grandmother, Ann Balsdon, in the centre of the village, referred to himself as a blacksmith, and so was presumably working as an apprentice to John Down.

It appears that, on the death in April 1911 of Rebecca Jackman, who then ran on the Green the Temperance Hotel (formerly the Hare and Hounds Inn), John Down acquired the property. He renamed it ‘Church House’ and this remained the Down family home until 1977.

Sabine Baring Gould indicated that he attended musical and poetry evenings at ‘Church House’, showcasing another unusual aspect of a blacksmith’s life, with John’s interest in these arts perhaps being encouraged by Mary.

John Down died on 30th March 1922. Mary subsequently ran a shop at Church House. In the 1939 Census, she is recorded as ‘incapacitated’ and she died in 1941.

Bill Cole took over the smithy in 1922 and is remembered by many long-term residents.

Jack Voaden took over from him.

Thorn Moor

The 1851 Census reveals that the blacksmith, Henry Burden, lived and operated at Thorn Moor. He had been born in c.1803 in Stoke Climsland, Cornwall and was married to Mary (probably née Martin), some four years his senior, who had been born in Dunterton, Devon. They had clearly been living in the Parish for some time, as their son, James (Henry), then aged 20, had been born in Broadwood. He also referred to himself as a blacksmith and so was helping out.

In 1861, both referred to themselves as Master Blacksmiths, with James, now married with three children, living next door in ‘Thorn Moor Cottage’. James, though, seems to have branched out into farming. In the 1866 Directory, he merely referred to himself as ‘Farmer’, but in the 1870 Directory, listed himself as ‘Farmer, Blacksmith and Rate Collector’. As at 1871, he was farming 65 acres. However, by the 1881 Census, he had six children and was farming 126 acres. His father, then aged 77 and a widower, was living with him and referred to himself as ‘Retired Smith’.

In much more recent times, Steve Luxton set up a forge in the Old Baptist Chapel at Thorn Cross.

Cross Green

James Newberry, who was born in Lifton, operated as a blacksmith in the 1840s and early 1850s at Cross Green. At the time of the 1851 Census, he was aged 46, married to Sally, who was a Broadwood girl of the same age, and had seven children. In the 1856 Directory, he refers to himself as ‘Blacksmith and Farmer’ and, by 1861, he had moved to Kellacott, where he farmed seventy acres. He appears to have given up being a blacksmith by this juncture, and continued farming in Kellacott.

There is no record of a blacksmith at Cross Green in either the 1861 or 1871 Censuses, but, during the 1870s, Thomas Rich, who had been born in Broadwood in 1849, set up there. In 1871, he was a blacksmith’s apprentice to William Stracey at ‘Tinney’ (presumably Tinhay), near Lifton. He married Jane at about this time and ended up having six children, the first of which was born in 1872. Rich is listed as a blacksmith in the 1878, but not the 1873, Directory. He was sufficiently well-respected to be one of the initial Trustees of the Thorn Cross Baptist Chapel when it was established in 1881. However, whilst he is still resident at Cross Green in 1891, he is not listed in the 1893 Directory and appears to have moved to Treburley where he is recorded as a blacksmith in 1901 before moving again to Altarnun by 1909.


Richard Routley was the blacksmith based at Ashmill in the 1851 Census. He had been born in Thornbury, Devon in January 1813 and, in 1841, is recorded as an agricultural labourer, but about that time, he married Mariana Fry, who came from St Giles-on-the-Heath, and their three children were born in Broadwoodwidger, the first in 1842. In the 1851 Census, in addition to being a blacksmith, he also described himself as a farmer of twenty five acres and, at that time, he had two agricultural labourers living with him and an apprentice blacksmith, Samuel Fry, a local lad aged 20, clearly a relative of his wife.

By the 1856 Directory, Fry had taken over as blacksmith and, in the 1861 Census, Routley was now farming sixteen acres, whilst Fry, next door, had married Elizabeth, had a young daughter aged 1, and had Routley’s son, John, then aged 19, as an apprentice. Richard Routley had moved to Hollacombe, Devon by 1871, but Samuel Fry continued to be listed as the Ashmill blacksmith in the Directories up to 1893. However, in c.1886, the old Smithy was demolished in the major reconfiguration to make way for the railway and a new one was built to left of new bridge over the River Carey.

Archibald Cole is recorded as the blacksmith at Ashmill in the 1914 and 1919 Directories and Walt Gliddon in the 1923 and 1930 ones. Henry Gliddon took over from his father.

When the property was later bought by the Moon family, the vendor was William Fry.

Grinacombe Cross

William Shopland was the blacksmith based in Grinacombe in the 1851 Census. He had been born in Colebrook, Devon in 1798 and had married Judith Rich Blackmore on 13th April 1927 at Inwardleigh, Devon. They moved into the area in the late 1820s and ultimately had 13 children, albeit several died young. He was working as a blacksmith by 1841, his address being given as ‘Grinacombe Cottage’, and in the 1851 Census, he is recorded as living at ‘Blacksmith’s Cottage’, Grinacombe Moor, with six children including James (aged 12) and William (aged 8) and a Blacksmith’s Apprentice, William Harris, from Germansweek. Son William was the third child to be given that name – the previous two having died young.

In 1861, William (father) was being helped by his sons, James and William, but by 1871, James, now married to Jane, who had been born in Stowford in 1839, had taken over, whilst William described himself as a farmer of 26 acres. However, he died on 3rd December 1871, his address being given as ‘Smith’s Cottage’.

In 1881 and 1891, James’ address is given as ‘Grinacombe Cross’ and, in 1891, his two daughters, Emma Jane, aged 20 and Jessie Ann, aged 15, are recorded as Assistant Smiths. By 1901, however, he had retired, his wife, Jane, having died in January 1900. He was living in Plymouth when he died in 1925.

Interestingly, at the time of the 1901 Census, Owen Dennis (aged 55) and his son Edwin Dennis (aged 25), both blacksmiths, were visiting, but they do not appear to have taken it on immediately, as, in the 1911 Census, the blacksmith is Ernest Thorne, then aged 32, who had been in Langtree, Devon and who had two children, the youngest of whom, then aged 6, had been born in Buckland Brewer. Thorne is still recorded as the blacksmith in the 1914 Census, but not in the 1919 one, when Edwin Dennis, who had been born in Totnes, had taken over. He is also recorded there in the 1923 Directory but not the 1930 one. The old smithy is still standing next to Grinacombe Cross Cottage.