The Ancient Trades & Crafts of Rural Cheshire

 

The ancient trades & crafts of Cheshire were no different from those emerging from human activity systems everywhere. Hard work, honesty & thrift produced surpluses from the farms which meant folk had available time to acquire all manner of skills & 'know how' in the production of goods & services which they could exchange in the markets for their daily bread. Different folk specialised in different 'trades' and 'traded'.

The Cheshire farmers specialised in their own specific 'trades' for the markets ... cheese, shire horses and, later, potatoes ...

Cheshire cheeseCheshire Cheese ...

Cheese making goes back a long way, it followed the spread of civilisation from Sumeria ...

Wherever folk settled there were domesticated animals, wherever there were domesticated animals there was milk ... and wherever there was milk there was cheese ... 'cos on a warm day bugs get into milk ...

Milk didn't travel very well, it soon started to sour and become objectionable but when turned into butter or cheese the prospects were dramatically improved. Cheese solved the problems of preservation with ... salt ... with salt, milk proteins (80% casein) could be stored and exploited as a nutritious food in winter when the cows were dry ... and furthermore the cost of transporting water to far away places was avoided ...

Probably the Romans bought cheese technology to Cheshire via their stronghold at Chester. This was the time when cheese making skills and knowledge developed to a high standard. The ripening process had been understood and it was also known that various treatments and conditions under storage resulted in different flavours and characteristics.

During the Middle Ages, monks became the innovators and developed many of the classic varieties of cheese marketed today. Camden's Brittania originally published in 1586 recorded -

 'Cheshire cheese is more agreeable and better relished than those of other parts of the kingdom'.

The 1637 edition refers to cheese making in Cheshire -

'the grasse and fodder there is of that goodness and vertue that the cheeses bee made heere in great number of a most pleasing and delicate taste, such as all England againe affordeth not the like, no, though the best dairy women otherwise and skilfulest in cheesemaking be had from hence'.

Cheshire cheese was different, an age old speciality, produced in Roman times, mentioned in Domesday,  and probably the oldest English cheese. Full-bodied, sharp, and acidic-fresh, true Cheshire derives a mildly salty flavour from the salt deposits that permeate the soil of local pasturelands. Moist and white or red in colour, a semi-firm cows milk cheese, loosely-textured and crumbly. Mild when young, acquiring a sharper and more full flavoured pronounced tang when allowed to further mature. Ripened an average of two to three months ... an excellent all-purpose cheese, its flavour made it especially delicious with crusty bread and warm beer!

In 1623 the first instance of Cheshire cheese being shipped to London by road was recorded. These would have been aged cheeses, sufficiently hard to stand up to the rigours of the journey by horse and cart. Cheshire cheese was originally the generic name for cheese produced in the county, but Cheshire men spread their specialisations to their neighbours and cheeses from South Lancashire, North Wales & Shropshire were warehoused & shipped from Chester and were all known as 'Cheshire Cheese'.

There were many different types of Cheshire cheese but until the 18th century most of the cheeses would probably have been aged & hard.

The breakthrough for Cheshire Cheese sales in London followed floods and cattle disease in Suffolk in 1640s. Until then large amounts of Suffolk cheese went to London. After these misfortunes the Suffolk farmers switched to making butter for the lucrative London market and consequently made a poorer tasting skimmed milk cheese. After this period, Cheshire Cheese would have been sold at a premium to the now inferior Suffolk Cheese. Port records show the growth in Cheshire cheese landings from 1650. This was a full milk cheese but cheaper to make & ship than the original Suffolk competition.

The pioneering shipments to London at this time were by boats which sailed from Chester, even though the city with its gentry culture and silting estuary didn't readily encourage new traders in new products from new farmers in Sevenoaks! However by 1670 Chester had enterprising competition at Frodsham when the Warburtons built a new cheese warehouse on the Weaver.

In the 1690s trade with London slowed as sea shipment was disrupted during the long war with Louis XIV but by 1713 cheese ships were again busy down the estuary at Parkgate and at Frodsham. From 1739 the Navy was buying Cheshire cheese.

London was the major market for Cheshire cheese which had established its enviable reputation and in 1678 Samuel Pepys concurred with a recorded visit to The Cheshire Cheese Tavern at 145 Fleet Street, London. By the late 18th century 'Cheshire' was the most popular cheese on the market. In 1718 some 2,600 tons of Cheshire cheese was shipped to London by 1729 this had risen to 5,766 tons. In 1758 the Royal Navy ordered ships be stocked exclusively with Cheshire cheeses. Henry Holland estimated in 1808 that Cheshire produced 11,500 tons of cheese from 92,000 beasts on 600,000 cultivated acres with a third of that pasture ... and by 1823 production was estimated at 10,000 tons per year.

Cheese TechnologyThis was dramatic growth, how did they do it?

'Know how' ... specialisation & scale! More cows and more quality! Larger herds on larger farms! More milk and more salt made more Cheshire Cheese ...

It was an inspiring sequence of innovation & investment in process and organisation ...

A far cry from the initial 30 tons shipped by William Gandy from Frodsham in 1670.

 Each cow produced a minimum of 2 cwt of cheese year, so a 3,000 ton increase could have meant 30,000 additional cows in production!

Small farmers were selling off their land and others were accumulating more whenever and where ever leases and freeholds came onto the market, the trend was to larger units and tenant farmers. The price of acres in Cheshire rose and many farmers pocketed substantial capital sums. There was evidence from the Arley estate that the Warburtons were enclosing commons around this time and sharing them out amongst the principle freeholders to make viable 100 acre units. Cheshire farms were enlarged from an average of 25-30 acres to between 65-10 acres, which was the most efficient size for producing the large cheeses that Londoners liked.

One dairymaid could handle cheese production from a 10 cow herd. Hand milking three times a day six cows an hour, productivity was important. This kept a dairy girl fully utilised each day making standard sized round cheeses at 20lbs. But the smaller cheeses associated with smaller herds brought lower prices in the London markets. By 1750 better techniques and better quality fodder had reduced the farm acreage required per cow from 10 to 6½ so an economic farm was now pushing 100 acres. Only 2 acres were needed for grazing but supporting crops to make the farm self sufficient and particularly hay making requirements for winter feed made up the 6½ acres. Each beast could be expected to produce about 2 cwt of cheese from 250 gallons of milk in 1715-20 but about 2½ - 3 cwt of cheese each year by the end of the century. Big cheeses at, say, 40 lb a piece could bring in £80 pa in 1750?

Around 1729 new technology was introduced in Cheshire involving massive 1½ ton stone presses which enabled 60 lbs cheeses to be hardened. The separation of pockets of whey by repeated skewering was also necessary. The 60 lbs cheeses were world beaters, less prone to drying out and with delicious centres. The larger cheeses were products of the larger herds and the usual practice of making one cheese a day from the herd. The thin cheeses rapidly became shamefully second class.

Charles Foster summarised the situation, 'In 1808, the whole of Cheshire was organised for cheese production', '11,500 tons were made in the county, but at least as much was made in the surrounding counties and identified as Cheshire', 'Stilton and Cheddar cheeses also reached London in the 18th century but only in small quantities, these cheeses were so scarce that even noblemen complained they could not get one'  ... Cheshire was ahead of the game - farmers, dairymaids, warehousemen, factors, mongers, shippers & grocers had solved the transport & logistics problems and larger herds produced larger cheeses once the skewering and pressing technology had been developed ... the delectable 60lb Cheshire cheeses were the envy of the world ... Bagshaws summarised the cheese industry in 1850 ...

Things also moved at the London end. The London cheesemongers of the 18th century were wealthy & powerful,

'in 1770 they formed themselves into a club owning 16 ships employed between London, Chester & Liverpool. They have factors in Cheshire who buy up the cheese for them and lodge it in warehouses in Chester, they control quantities and they command whatever price they please. The ships went North light so they could carry freight that way and cut rates, consolidating their monopoly which was a scandal and a wicked means of oppressing the poor. In 1783 barley bread, milk and cheese was the food of the whole of the working class, a couple eating 1lb a week. The factors, as middlemen were also resented by the farmers for taking their cut, however the organisation of the trade was so concrete it enabled the rapidly growing population of London to obtain its supplies with regularity and with little fluctuation in real price' ...

By 1750 the Industrial Revolution and the growth of the northern mill towns and the Potteries opened new markets for Cheshire cheese. Sales into the Mersey basin increased, not just of cheese but also of milk and butter. The canals and then the railways opened up further opportunities and demand for cheaper, younger cheese started to develop especially among the poorer industrial workers.

The cheese trade was a well integrated system involving the whole family, their invested savings, ancient honed skills and access to an oiled distribution chain. Hard work kept the cows happy and meticulous attention to the detail of cheese production kept the farm profitable. Selling cheese to London was the highly organised way the smaller farmers in the Whitley Lordship accumulated their capital. The economics were carefully considered and costs of alternatives compared to the reality of gallons in the pail. This was not the traditional way of the Lord of the Manor, he had more leisurely ways of maintaining his capital, through rent!

But the Warburtons of Arley were positive and rented out more and more of their estate to enterprising tenants who found the cheese trade not only paid the rent but also provided handsome profits. The profits attracted new investors as absent landlords, thus reinforcing the trend to tenant farming. In this way the technology of cheese production replaced rent as a source of wealth.

Sustaining urban populations also required solutions to the problems of transport, urban poverty, food and disease. Transport and public health revolutions followed; canals, railways, potable water, sewage disposal, cotton and soap ... a wealth of innovations ... and don't forget the habit of boiling water for tea drinking which saved the country's health from water born evils!

Cheese making capitalised on the skills of husbandry accumulated over the generations, and around 1650 the Cheshire farmers like William Gandy slowly started 'factory' production of Cheshire cheese ...

Cheshire Cheese shipments from the farm 'factories' -

1623 the first recorded instance of Cheshire cheese being shipped to London by road 
1650 shipping from Chester & Parkgate
1670 on 10 October 1670 William Gandy shipped 30 tons of his prime Cheshire Cheese in the 'Ann of Brighton' from the new warehouse at Frodsham Bridge to eager customers in London
1689 - 1713 - sea shipping interrupted by war with Louis XIV, shipping on the Trent
1713 from Bank Quay
1718 2,600 tons shipped to London
1729 5,766 tons
1739 to The Royal Navy, perhaps 30,000 tons
1750 more & more diverted to industrial South Lancashire
1777 Trent & Mersey canal to the Potteries, Birmingham & London
1800 the whole of Cheshire was organised for cheese production, largely by tenant farmers renting large acreages and exploiting new technology ...
1823 10,000 tpa
1960 40,000 tpa peak

Cheshire cheese originated in the county but has gone on to be produced in four neighbouring counties, Denbighshire and Flintshire in Wales, and Shropshire and Staffordshire in England.
Cheshire cheese is thought to be one of the oldest if not the oldest cheese in Great Britain. Cheshire is still today one of the most important dairy Regions in England. During the early 18th century the cheese was so popular that the ships of the Royal Navy were stocked with Cheshire. In 1823, 10,000 tones of Cheshire cheese was made. In the late 19th century there were several varieties of Cheshire, the cheese had to be hardened in order to transport it from Cheshire to London for sale. Later, other varieties of the cheese that were younger and more crumbly were produced and sold more locally.
Authentic Cheshire cheese made today in the region is of the harder, more dense variety but is also moist and crumbly in texture and has a mild flavour. Cheshire comes in three varieties: red, white, and blue.
The red Cheshire is produced in the North Wales and is coloured with annatto, a plant extract, until it is deep orange. The annatto does not affect the flavour of the cheese.
The original version of Cheshire is the plain white (or pale yellow) version and is the most widely produced.
Blue Cheshire has blue veins as does Stilton cheese but is not as creamy as Stilton is known to be.
Some claim that Cheshire cheese is a variety of Cheddar, but Cheddar cheese is not aged as long as Cheshire and has a totally different texture.
An interesting side note of the history of Cheshire cheese is that one of the early labels on the cheese sported a grinning cat. Lewis Carol grew up in Cheshire county and it is thought that this was the inspiration for his Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.

The Cheshire soil produced good, rich grass and this fed a lot of cows which gave the creamy milk which went to produce the world famous Cheshire Cheese. The rainfall was very even through out the year, with an average of 740mm so farmers could rely on getting a good crop of grass.

The cows and their the milk were carefully selected and nurtured for quality and quantity. The work started with last night's milk standing until morning before being mixed with the early day production. The milk from the herd was pasteurised, or heated and held at temperature for a short period to destroy any harmful bacteria. The milk was then acidified as bacteria from starter cultures were added to the warm milk and a small amount of the milk sugar was turned into lactic acid. The acidified the milk was the ready for the next stage where rennet enzymes (chymosin) were added and churning started which caused coagulation and separation of curds & whey. Rennet occurred naturally in a cow's stomach to help with the digestion of milk and was no doubt discovered way back as the result of some strange accidental coincidence which was noticed by some curious folk ... 

Heat was then applied to start a shrinking process which, with the steady production of lactic acid from the starter cultures, changed the curd into small rice-sized grains. At a carefully chosen point the curd grains were allowed to fall to the bottom of the cheese vat, the left-over liquid, the whey, consisting of water, milk sugar and albumen, was drained off and the curd grains allowed to mat together to form large slabs. The slabs were then cut, milled, and salt is added to provide flavour and help preservation. Finally the cheese was pressed, and subsequently packed in traditional sizes for maturing over many months.

Cheese was nutritious with a high content of fat, protein, calcium, and phosphorus ... the dairies were equipped with pails, tubs, barrels, hair sieves, screw presses, churns and vats ...

Cheese MakingThe definitive description of traditional Cheshire Cheese making was written in 1896 by James Long and John Benson ...

Charles de Gaulle once asked 'how can you govern a country in which there are 246 kinds of cheese?' ... he missed the point ... diversity is strength ...

The varieties were endless ... the country/region of origin influenced the breed of cow, the fodder and the type of milk, the pressing influenced the texture, the salting, aging time and the natural bugs and moulds determined the flavour which was sometimes adjusted with added spices & smoke ... there was intriguing scope for creativity ... and William Gandy produced excellent cheese ... ask the folk in London ...

In 1801 Britton & Brayley produced an interesting summary of the established Cheshire cheese method ... without doubt this would have been the production system used by the Gandys on their Sevenoaks farm ... 

Cheshire farms also provided improvements to transportation. Grassland farms were used to rear cart horses. Northern horses were usually used for road transport to London. Charles Foster records that in 1672 carts only carried 10-12 cwt but by 1761 it was up to one ton, following innovations carts, harness and roads ...

and then came the canals ... 

Cheshire Shire on the CanalsCheshire Shire Horses

The canals were the motorways of the 18th Century and Cheshire was served by a formidable network of waterways - the Weaver Navigation (1721) and the Bridgewater Canal (1761) then Chester (1772), Trent & Mersey (1777), Ashton (1796), Ellesmere (1797), Peak Forest (1800), Rochdale (1804), Wardle (1829), Macclesfield (1831), Shropshire Union (1835) and later the Manchester Ship Canal ... the Cheshire ring linked many of the centres of the industrial revolution ... the wheel was a great invention but wheels needed roads and roads to Frodsham Bridge were appalling ... come to think of it ... roads to anywhere were appalling ... the canals solved a problem but the canals needed horsepower ...

Pack horses coped but working horses on the canals were a breakthrough. At a steady walking speed the Cheshire shire horse could move fifty times as much weight in a boat as it could with a cart on the old roads, may be a hundred times its own body weight. Water offered little resistance to a continuously applied force. Some say if there was no air resistance you could push an ocean liner with your little finger. So the loads on the canals moved easily and the horse's strength was linked directly to the barge with little wasted energy ... it was this efficiency that inspired the development of the canal system ... old fashioned horsepower kept the canals profitable for a century and a half ... it was suggested that there were almost as many horses in Cheshire as cows ... and when Cheshire folk did occasionally plough the fields it was to grow oats to feed the horses!

And what finer example of the selective breeding of new animals with new benefits, than the Cheshire shire horse? The shire horse had a long history, first as a war horse carrying knights in armour and then as the main source of power in agriculture. The shire became a war horse again in the 1st & 2nd world wars, pulling the heavy artillery in appalling conditions. A heavy horse was first mentioned around 1066, and from this developed the English Great Horse of the Middle Ages. During the reign of Henry VIII special attention was directed at protecting the advantage of strong war horses. Acts were passed in 1535 and 1541 forbidding the use for breeding of horses under 15 hands in height and prohibiting all exportation of the species. From the end of the 16th Century heavy horses were required to haul heavy wagons & coaches across the countryside at a time when roads were no more than deep rutted muddy tracks. Both in commerce and agriculture shire horses literally made the wheels of Britain go round. They worked in fields, in towns, on docks and quays, in mills and on the tramways as well as on the canal towpaths. There were millions of them. There was a huge demand for massive horses with great muscular strength and an even temperament ... and the breeders applied their skills to develop these important traits.

The Cheshire men had always bred from the most prolific beasts and as early as 1600 they knew all about the Durham men on Teeside who had bred the famous shorthorn ... later, folk like Robert Bakewell (1725-95), were applying methodical science to breeding the 'Border Collie' sheepdog, the 'Bakewell Black' draught horse, the 'New Leicester' fleecy succulent lamb, and the 'Dishley Longhorn' creamy cow ... all these new wonders appeared together with all sorts of outrageously productive hogs and roosters ... but Cheshire has always boasted a particular bent for the grand old shire ... and they're still at it in cotebrook ...

Although not suitable for grain the Cheshire farms did cultivate spuds ...

Cheshire SpudsCheshire Potatoes

 Antrobus was noted for excellent Cheshire Spuds which appeared around 1729. Roger Scola wrote -

'The cultivation of potatoes was a significant feature of agriculture in Cheshire. By 1800 there had been important advances both in the extent of potato growing and the intensity. Marl was the principle fertiliser and after being induced to sprout, by being kept inside in warm conditions, the early harvesting of the crop was often followed by the planting of a second one later in the season. Potatoes are cultivated in the parish of Frodsham, with as much success, and probably to as great an extent as in any other parish in the kingdom'.

And much earlier in 1795 John Aikin put in a word for Frodsham -

'In the parish of Frodsham, potatoes are cultivated to a great extent. It is estimated that not less than 100,000 bushels of 90lb weight each have annually, for some years past, been grown in it. They meet with a ready sale in Lancashire, to which they find an easy conveyance by the river to Liverpool, and by the Duke of Bridgewater's canal to Manchester'.

But potato production didn't really excel until the Napoleonic troubles and food shortages. Even then there was some resistance ... the way down south was bread and ale, but the Cheshire folk smelt a bargain and new fangled potatoes and and a drink of tea took the biscuit ... after all Cheshire was much more suited to potatoes than wheat ...

With a calorie yield per acre @ 9.2 million, much higher than maize @7.5 million, rice @ 7.4 million, wheat @ 3 million and soybean @ 2.8 million, potatoes were a nutritional breakthrough. However it appeared 'Cheshires' were nothing more than potatoes grown in Cheshire. 

Ploughing techniques were also evolving, the wheel-less swing plough with 'butts & reeans', ridges & furrows, the two wheel Yankees and shares, sucks, reests, bucks, skelps, stilts, cooters ...

Draining was important in the damp Cheshire environment but the old butt & reean system kept the land well drained.

From the middle ages marl had been used productively in Cheshire -

'He who marls sand, may buy the land,
He that marls moss, suffers no loss,
He that marls clay, throws most away'. 

Almost every field in the county boasted a marl pit where lime rich mud was dug out and added generously to the acreage ... agricultural marl was an intimate mixture of clay, lime and sand, and was found to be a highly effective when even when added to the heavy Cheshire clays, improving both the texture and resilience. The excavations left their legacy which are still seen today as ubiquitous ponds ... by 1800 Cheshire had 17,000 ponds, 25% of the totality in England & Wales ... no wonder Cheshire spuds, grasses & fodders were luxuriant.

But the cows themselves provided the best manure ... and from 1840 the quantity of night soil removed from Manchester amounted to some 63,000 tpa ...

Sand, salt, burning, refuse, rags, soap lyes, ashes, soot & sea mud were all tried in an attempt to lighten the heavy Cheshire clays ...

The cows excelled ... horsepower was indispensible ... the potato was nutritious and these surpluses for trading freed up time for a whole host of other crafts ...

Everybody knows about the old activities & crafts of the potters, millers, brewers, bakers, blacksmiths, spinners, weavers, fullers, shepherds, ploughmen, dairy maids, butchers, tailors, barbers, drapers, mercers, ironmongers & carpenters ... but much less is known about ...

CordwainersCordwainers, Tanners, Coopers ...

George Hindley of Antrobus called himself a 'Cordwainer'. This was an Anglicization of the French word cordonnier, introduced into our language after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The word itself was derived from the city of Cordoba, in the south of Spain, a stronghold of the mighty Omayyad Caliphs. After the decline of Rome and the descent of the West into the Dark Ages the ancient Greek sciences were preserved and enhanced in the Muslim world, to be rediscovered in Spain following the fall of Toledo in 1085.

The Moors in Cordoba specialised in two trades, the silversmiths and the production of cordovan leather, called 'cordwain' in England. Originally made from the skin of the Mouflon sheep, found in Corsica and Sardinia, this leather was tawed with alum, tanned with sumac and finished with oils to produce leather of unequalled quality.  The method was supposedly known only to the Moors. English Crusaders brought home much plunder and loot, including the finest leather the English shoemakers had ever seen. Gradually cordovan leather became the material most in demand for the finest footwear in all of Europe. Leather was to Cordova in the same way as glass was to Venice ... specialisation brought excellence ...

Cordwainerr at workThe English term Cordwainer, meaning shoemaker, first appeared around 1100. By the late 13th century a distinction grew in England between Cordwainers, who used only alum 'tawed' cordwain, and the other shoemakers who worked with the inferior 'tanned' hides. However since this period the term cordwain has also been applied to the 'vegetable tanned' leather, but popular usage applied the term to only the highest quality leathers and shoes. It was not surprising that the title of Cordwainer was selected by the shoemakers themselves. The first English guild of shoemakers to call themselves Cordwainers was founded at Oxford in 1131. It was also the choice of the London shoemakers, who organized a guild before 1160, and also the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers likewise used this title in 1272. It seems that whenever shoemakers have organized, they have shown a clear preference for the title Cordwainer, conscious of the distinguished history and tradition it conveyed. Cordwainer George of Antrobus was no exception!

Another distinction George Hindley inherited and preserved from the earliest times was that a Cordwainer worked only with new leather, whereas a Cobbler worked with old. Cobblers have always been repairers, frequently prohibited by law from actually making shoes. Some even going as far as collecting worn out footwear, cutting it apart, and remanufacturing cheap shoes entirely form salvaged leather. Cordwainers have proudly distinguished themselves from Cobblers since at least the Middle Ages. In 16th century London the Cordwainers solved their conflicts with the Cobblers by merging them into the powerful authority of the Cordwainers Guild.

St CrispinWas 18th century Antrobus special for shoes? Maybe not, nearby Nantwich was a larger centre and famous for the 'Nantwich Boot', and Northampton had an established reputation. But the grass plains of Cheshire were a ready source of hides, the manufacture of leather was readily to hand and clustering in Warrington, the surrounding forests provided the oak bark and charcoal necessary for tanning and there was an abundance of water for washing the hides from the Mersey. It seems probable that the availability of local leather led to leather processing in the Warrington suburbs. Cheap labour was around for the unskilled work and it is known that Peter regularly employed vagrants at his Barnton premises later in 1891. 'Shoe Factors' were busily eager to buy and to sell in the burgeoning urban sprawl of industrial Manchester where the shoe market was at Shudehill. In 1759 shoes were selling there for five shillings. Shoemaking was still a cottage industry but there was money to be made from feet.

Around 1800 George would have abandoned 'straights' for many of his customers and offered them right and left foot pairs for snug comfort. But still hand sewn leather of the highest quality, with laces and eyelets not buckles and maybe a little glue or rubber or velvet, possibly some spats and pumps but no plastic, assorted fabrics, flip-flops or stilettos! He would work alone or the with the help of one or two 'stitch men', journeymen or apprentices, for sure Margaret his wife helped out and George junior was involved in rigorous training from an early age. He fashioned his shoes in the tradition of centuries in his home workshop, creating a shoe from the sole upwards, stabbing and stitching with his own hands. The world in which he plied his craft knew no machines. I can see him in my mind's eye, last between his knees, hands busy and a supply of tacks and springs held ready in his mouth, and all about him rich supple leather, strong waxed threads, awls, files and hammers. He would produced six or seven pairs a week, some made to order, some hawked around and some sold on to his contacts in nearby Warrington.

Tan your hideTanners ...

George Hindley was a connoisseur of good quality leather and knew all about the extensive and varied treatments the hides required before they could be fashioned into quality footwear.

Cheshire, of course, was famed for its oak forests. These extensive forests provided not only the playground for kings but also building timber second to none and furthermore they were a fine source of fuel for the salt pans ... and then there was the bark ... oak bark was rich in tannins which were essential in the early days for tanning hides ... Cheshire became an important centre for the ancient craft with a particularly thriving cluster of tanneries around Warrington ...

The problem was that without treatment animal hides are susceptible to bacterial action when wet and putrefy. If they are dried hides become stiff and unusable and useless for clothing, tents or fashioning into shoes and many other useful artefacts, wineskins for sure! Tanning is the ancient process which converts skin collagen protein into stable material which is flexible, resists bacterial attack and enhances resistance to water and heat. Undoubtedly one of the oldest crafts know to man as inedible skins from hunting and then from breeding have always been available for exploitation.

George would have also been aware that animal skins are vulnerable to heat and the fibrous structure first becomes 'rubber' like and as the temperature rises becomes amorphous as gelatine. And further heating results in degradation and residues can be used as glue. No doubt intimate family knowledge of such processes help Edward make his fortune at Acton Bridge. There was money to be made from animal waste.

Before tanning it is necessary to remove all unwanted flesh proteins, fatty glycerides and keratin hair proteins to produce a 'rawhide or 'pelt' composed largely of collagen.  -

Flaying - stripping hides from the carcass with knives

Trimming - cutting out the hooves, horns and inedible sinews and offal

Curing - salting for preservation, done quickly to prevent putrefaction of protein from bacterial infection

Soaking - cleaning of slat and dirt

Liming - alkaline pH helps the removal of keratin hair proteins and collagen fibre cross linkages

Scudding - removal of loosened flesh & fat remnants and hair with a blunt knife 

Tawing - alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) soaking in vats for days with a variety of binders and protein sources, such as flour and egg yolk followed by scudding. The process produced a white hide which is not technically tanned because the product will rot in water.

N B - the purpose of producing leather is to permanently alter the protein structure of the pelt so that it can never return to rawhide and degrade, the hide becomes durable, supple, soft and washable

Pickling - weak acid and salt solutions are used to bring the pelt to the weakly acid state required for most tanning processes. Stronger pickling solutions are used to preserve pelts so that they can be stored or transported in a stable form over periods of several months.

Bating - to make leather pliable, the rawhide requires an enzyme treatment called bating, which takes place before tanning. This treatment dissolves and washes out certain protein components. The degree of bating depends on the desired properties of the finished leather. Glove leather, for example, should be very soft and pliable and is subjected to strong bating, whereas leather for the soles of shoes is only lightly bated. An early method of treatment involved  enzyme action using urine and dog dung! Flat, relaxed, clean and ready for pickling and tanning. Tanning was always a smelly business.

Brain Tanning - an unlikely alternative was to use the animals own brain by beating in the natural emulsified oils -'Every animal has just enough brains to tan its own hide dead or alive'!

Vegetable Tanning - tanning converts the protein of the raw hide into a stable material, which will not putrefy and is suitable for a wide variety of purposes. Tanning materials form cross links in the collagen structure and stabilise it against the effects of acids, alkalis, heat, water and the action of micro-organisms. Immersion in increasingly strong tannins stabilise the protein connective tissue collagen and thus protect the leather from degradation. Various plant extracts produce brown coloured leathers which tend to be thick and firm. This type of tanning is used to produce stout sole leather, belting leather and leathers for shoe linings, bags and cases. The bark of Cheshire oak was particularly rich in tannins.

Mineral Tanning - chrome tanning became attractive at towards the end of the 19th century. It is effective on skins which will be used for softer, stretchier leathers, such as those found in purses, bags, briefcases, shoes, gloves, boots, jackets, pants, and sandals. Hides which are tanned with minerals are pickled first in an acid and salt mixture. From there, hides are soaked into a chromium-sulfate solution. This process is much faster than vegetable tanning, and is usually a 1-day project using rotary drums whereas the successive vat processing could take up to six months. Most shoe leather eventually resulted from tanning using salts of chromium

Aldehyde Tanning - tanning with aldehydes, originally from smoke, and oils produce very soft leathers and this system can be used to produce drycleanable and washable fashion leathers and also chamois leather

Splitting - A splitting machine slices thicker leather into two layers. The layer without a grain surface can be turned into suede or have an artificial grain surface applied.

Shaving - A uniform thickness is achieved by shaving the leather on the non-grain side using a machine with a helical blades mounted on a rotating cylinder.

Neutralisation - Neutralising removes residual chemicals and prepares the leather for further processing and finishing.

Fatliquoring - Fatliquoring introduces oils to lubricate the fibres and keep the leather flexible and soft. Without these oils the leather will become hard and inflexible as it dries out.

Samming - This process reduces water content to about 55% and can be achieved by a number of machines, the commonest being like a large mangle with felt covered rollers.

Setting out - The leather is stretched out and the grain side is smoothed. This process also reduces the water content to about 40%.

Final drying - Leather is normally dried to 10-20% water content. This can be achieved in a number of ways and each method has a different effect on the finished leather

Staking and dry drumming - A staking machine makes the leather softer and more flexible by massaging it to separate the fibres. To finish off the leather may be softened by the tumbling action inside a rotating drum.

Buffing and Brushing - The flesh surface is removed by mechanical abrasion to produce a suede effect or to reduce the thickness. In some cases the grain surface is buffed to produce a very fine nap, e.g. nubuck leathers. After buffing the leather is brushed to remove excess dust.

Finishing - The aims of finishing are to level the colour, cover grain defects, control the gloss and provide a protective surface with good resistance to water, chemical attack and abrasion.

Final grading - Leather will be graded before despatch to the customer. This grading may consider the colour intensity and uniformity, the feel of the leather, softness, visual appearance, thickness, design effects and natural defects such as scratches.

Drenching / Rinsing / Theshing  - to remove residues

Staking - mechanical flexing and stretching to soften

Finishing / Smoothing / Feeding - The final step in the tanning process involves finishing the skin. This is done by covering the grain surface with a chemical compound and then brushing it. Light leathers are buffed and sandpapered to cover imperfections. Leathers which are buffed for long periods of time become suede. Waxes, pigments, dyes, glazes, oils, waxes and other solutions are also added to make the leather more appealing to the buyer. High polish produces patent leather. Various dyes for colour, and oils for polish, flexibility and water resistance.

Tanning in Cheshire evolved close to the oak forests and the rivers. Copious amounts of water were needed for the vats and for effluent disposal. Rural riparian locations would be particularly attractive as local residents were a perpetual thorn. Perhaps the site by the Weaver originally hosted a tannery? For certain Warrington on the Mersey had become a centre for tanners when George practised his shoemaking skills in Antrobus. Northampton and London were the rivals. The clustering of trades has always been associated with the location of raw materials, in this case hides, oak tannins and water together with the availability of skilled manpower. The tanning skills in Warrington were undoubtedly passed down from father to son just as the cordwainer skills were passed down the Hindley lineage. These were family businesses.

But things were changing. As Cheshire oak forests were cleared for farming and urban centres exploded there were shortages of tannins and hides which led to increasing importation. The tanneries along the Mersey were ideally placed to receive deliveries from the Port of Liverpool.

But in didn't stop there. From the 1860s tanning with chrom salts cut processing times and with it working capital and rotating drums replaced vats for more efficient mass transfer. Furthermore local authorities were pressurising businesses to improve environmental pollution both river effluents and obnoxious smells by relocate away from city centre populations and investments in effluent treatment plants. The industry was exploiting new technologies which required capital investment and economies of scale. Small family businesses with little capital were under assault. Many Warrington tanneries moved to rural Howley and amalgamations helped to finance the new capital investment. By the 20th century tanning was becoming a factory operation.

barrelsthe Coopers ...

Edward Hindley encouraged his elder sons to train as coopers, after all everybody would always want containers for their liquids and powder ... everybody uses a bucket!

A cooper makes and repairs wooden buckets and barrels, a skill that takes many years to learn. An apprenticeship would last four to five years, although you would have a hard job becoming a coopers apprentice these days. Apprentices usually started at the age of fourteen and then worked as a cooper for the rest of there lives.
A cooper would work in a cooperage, using many different traditional tools including - dowelling stock, side-axe, bick iron, round shave, topping plane, chive, croze, bung-hole borer, hammer, driver, flagging iron, adze, diagonals, heading knife, jigger, hollowing knife, buzz, swift, downright and a inside shave ...  

The traditional cask capacities were -

Pin - 4.5 gallons
Firkin - 9 gallons
Kilderkin - 18 gallons
Barrel - 36 gallons
Hogshead - 54 gallons
Puncheon - 72 gallons
Butt - 108 gallons        

Many of the tools were short handled to enable accurate one handed use, the other hand is free to support the cask. When the cooper was making a larger cask, like the 108 gallon Butt, it would be difficult to hold the staves together by hand so in these circumstances the cooper would use a windlass. The windlass would have hemp ropes and would be operated by hand.
Both the top and the bottom of a cask is called a head. The heads are made from boards that have been dowelled together, cut out with a bow saw and then shaved smooth.
The staves are created by cleaving from a tree trunk. A cooper cleaves rather than saws the trunk in order too utilize the ribs of strength that run out from the heart of the tree to the bark. In order to make the staves liquid-proof the cooper has to keep the medullary rays unbroken.
Why use wood? Oak casks breath, allowing an exchange between the air outside and the contents. This results in some of the contents being lost but this also allows the contents to mature. In Scotland whisky has to mature for at least three years.

Coopering terms -

Stave - the boards making up the sides of the cask
Bung hole - the hole used to both fill and empty the cask
Bilge - the bulge in the middle of the cask
Chime hoop - hoops at the heads of the cask
Quarter hoop - the hoops between the Chime and Bulge hoops
Bulge hoop - the central hoops after the Quarter hoops
Rivet - used to attack the hoops to the cask
Heads - both the top and the bottom of the cask
Middle - the middle section of the Head
Cant - the section either side of the Middle
Quarter - the sections after the Cant
Chime -the extensions of the staves beyond the head
Croze - the cut where the heads are fitted
Stave joint - the joint between the staves

As well a casks coopers would also make, Piggins, Buckets, Domestic Kegs, Butter Churns, Ale Vessels and Coal Scuttles.

When Peter died in 1961 his tools and wooden staves & cants, still carefully preserved in his home workshop, were museum pieces. They were eagerly seized on and carefully preserved by the local woodwork teacher, Julian Duffield, as examples for his pupils of an ancient craft replaced some time ago by the ubiquitous 40 gallon steel drum, mass produced in remote factories. 

Much more was known and written about the blacksmiths and the Hindleys of Antrobus had a fascinating link back to this ancient trade ...

Adam Hindley?The Blacksmith.

Adam Hindley b 1610 of Bedford/Astley was a blacksmith, skills his dad had acquired in the 16th century. Adam established a long line of craftsmen who plied their trade at Hindley's Smithy on the Bedford/Astley border close to Leigh.

If Jefferson Davis Chalfant (1856-1931) had been alive in 1610 he would have depicted Adam, the first Hindley smith we know of, in the Hindley Smithy in the midst of glorious, nostalgic, honest hard work ... The Blacksmith - 1907 !

The blacksmith's art had always been highly prized ... the blacksmith produced weapons & tools ... in 1610 blacksmiths were in their heyday ... lead, copper, bronze were easy ... but iron was different -

there were distinctly different iron ores. Ironstone, found and usually mined with coal, was largely iron carbonate and often contaminated with phosphorous which made the resulting iron to be brittle when cold 'cold short'. Iron oxide ores, haematites, were either brown limonite found in the Forest of Dean & Cardiff or redmine found in Furness.

 iron dissolved carbon readily and mixtures of carbon and iron could form a number of different structures with very different properties; understanding these was essential to making quality metal.  

Wrought iron = contained slag and was malleable.

Cast iron = >2.1 and up to 5% carbon and was brittle impossible to re-shape or welded. Cast iron as 'pigs' had to be 'fined' in a finery furnace to make it malleable and useful.

Steel = iron, with carbon content between 0.02 and 1.7 percent by weight and was strong and could take an edge.

 iron did not immediately go from a solid to a liquid at its melting point. Iron was solid at 427 °C, but over the next 820 °C it became increasingly plastic as its temperature increased. This extreme temperature range of variable solidity was the fundamental material property upon which blacksmithing practice depended.

 the melting point of iron was much higher than that of bronze. In western Europe the technology to make fires hot enough to melt iron was not available until the 16th century, when smelting operations employed large bellows from water power. Such forced draft produced blast furnace temperatures high enough to melt the ores; the result, cast iron. Cast iron was produced in a foundry, not a blacksmith's shop.

 the original fuel for forge fires was charcoal. Coppicing was used to manage the wood supply and extend production. Coal did not begin to replace charcoal until the forests of Britain were depleted during the 17th century.

coal was an inferior fuel for blacksmithing, because of sulphur contamination, which made iron and steel 'red short', at red heat the material became 'crumbly' instead of 'plastic'.

hardening and tempering processes were invented to improve the qualities of iron.

iron was abundant, but good quality steel was rare and expensive until the industrial developments of Bessemer process in the 1850s. But the old blacksmiths made tools from small pieces of steel which were forge welded into iron to provide the hardened steel cutting edges of tools - notably in swords, axes, chisel & ploughshares. The re-use of expensive steel was the reason few steel artefacts were found.

Prior to the industrial revolution, a 'village smithy' was a staple of every town.

Bloomery FurnaceBloomery Furnaces.

From the onset of the 'Iron Age' wrought iron was produced in 'bloomery' furnaces with charcoal and iron ore. The ancient trade involved -

'forge' = a hearth for heating the ore or metal 

'forging' = shaping the hot metal, with hammer and anvil

'black metal' = black fire scale forms on the hot metal surface as it oxidises as worked in contrast to the whitesmiths who worked cold white metals, pewter, brass, tin ...

'smiting' = (smith) with hammers.

The tools of the trade were the forge, anvil, hammer, tongs, vice & file.

The bloomery furnace produced a 'bloom' directly from ore which was then processed into wrought iron. The ore was smelted with charcoal and draft air was used to raise the temperature sufficiently to separate most of the slag from the 'bloom'.

The bloomery consisted of a pit and chimney made of earth, clay, or stone. Near the bottom, clay pipes, tuyères, entered through the side walls to allow air to enter the furnace, either by natural draft, or forced with bellows. Limestone was often used as a 'flux' in a bloomery to aid in the removal of impurities. In operation, the iron ore, limestone and charcoal were introduced through the top, in a roughly one to one ratio. Inside the furnace, carbon monoxide from the incomplete combustion of the charcoal reduced the iron oxides in the ore to metallic iron, without melting the ore; this allowed the furnace to operate at lower temperatures than the melting temperature of the ore.

The bloomery furnace didn’t actually melt the iron, the 'bloom' was a spongy lump of iron & slag produced as bits fell to the bottom of the furnace and became welded together to form the mass of the bloom. The bottom of the furnace also filled with molten slag, often consisting of fayalite, a compound of silicon, oxygen and iron mixed with other impurities from the ore. 

Because the bloom was a highly porous mix of slag, partially reduced ore, unburned fuel and bits of furnace clay, the bloom had to be reheated and worked with a hammer to drive the molten slag out of it. The bloom was consolidated by manual hammering (later by water-powered hammering) and then returned to the heat of a hearth and more hammering to produce the 'wrought' iron.

Once water power was available for bellows temperatures could be raised in 'blast' furnaces which were capable of producing cast iron or pig iron.

The blast furnaces used charcoal more efficiently than the bloomeries. First the pig iron was produced in the blast and then it was further processed into the bloom in a finery forge and finally the wrought iron was produced in a chafery forge. This separation of pig iron production and the forges increased flexibility in location at a time when charcoal was increasingly scarce.

The ForgeFinery & Chafery Forges.

In the finery forge, the blacksmith re-melted cast iron or pig iron, so as to oxidise the carbon impurities and produce the malleable 'bloom'. The fuel in the furnaces was usually charcoal, because impurities in any mineral fuel would adversely affect the quality of the iron.

The finery stage meant work by the hammer men. Repeated reheating and working was required to oxidize carbon and remove impurities. The task was to beat the heated bloom with a hammer, to drive the impurities out.

A second stage involved reheating, if necessary at higher temperatures, in the chafery, the task was then to draw the bloom out into a bar. The result of this time consuming and laborious process was 'bar iron'; a malleable but fairly soft alloy containing some slag but little carbon.

Although they were unaware of the chemical basis, smiths were aware that the quality of the iron could be further improved by heating & forging. From a scientific point of view; the reducing atmosphere of the forge could remove oxygen rust and soak more carbon into the iron, thus developing an increasingly higher grade of 'steel' as the process was continued.

From 1709 at Coalbrookdale, coke was used as fuel for the blast furnaces and pot founding with coke pig iron and green casting led to a divergence in the iron industry. One branch produced cast iron goods, and the other used charcoal to make forge pig iron, from which all bar iron came.

Cast iron or pig iron were the starting materials also used in the puddling furnace used coal as fuel from 1784.

The learning process was continuous and intensive; different ores, different refining techniques and different fuels produced different wrought iron with different properties ...

Puddling ForgePuddling Forge.

Puddling was the processes developed in the second half of the 18th century for producing bar iron from pig iron without the use of charcoal. It gradually replaced the earlier finery forges. It was invented by Henry Cort at Fontley in Hampshire in 1783–84 and patented in 1784. Cort's process consisted of stirring molten pig iron in a reverberatory furnace in an oxidising atmosphere, thus decarburising it. When the iron became a pasty consistency, it was gathered into a puddled ball, shingled, and rolled. This application of the rolling mill was also Cort's invention.

Cort's process only worked for white cast iron, not grey cast iron, which was the usual feedstock for forges of the period. This problem was resolved if the pig iron was melted in an old finery hearth and run out into a trough. The slag separated, and floated on the molten iron, and was easily removed. The effect was to desiliconise the metal, leaving a white brittle metal. This was the ideal material to charge to the puddling furnace. This version of the process was known as 'dry puddling' and continued in use in some places as late as 1890.

The alternative to refining gray iron was known as 'wet puddling', also known as 'pig boiling'. This involved adding scrap iron to the charge. The result was spectacular in that the furnace boiled violently. This was a chemical reaction between the oxidised iron in the scrap scale and the carbon dissolved in the pig iron. The resultant puddle ball produced good iron.

The production of mild steel in the puddling furnace was only achieved in about 1850 and was patented in Great Britain on behalf of Lohage, Bremme and Lehrkind. It worked only with pig iron made from certain kinds of ore. The cast iron had to be melted quickly and the slag to be rich in manganese. When the metal came to nature, it had to be removed quickly and shingled before further carburisation occurred.

The process was widely used prior to Henry Bessemer's breakthrough in 1850.

The Village Blacksmith - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
UNDER a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Toiling,---rejoicing,---sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

 

Any additional information gratefully received contact john p birchall

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