October 19, 2008

Daft Laddies – The trip to the blacksmith

Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on.

By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg

An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact donaldclegg@btopenworld.com

The smithy
By the 1950’s, the blacksmith was already an endangered species. Fewer and fewer farms employed horses for anything but the simplest tasks – scufflin’ turnips, rakin’ the hayfield, takin’ a look round the hill to check for oweld yowes atween lambin’ and clippin’ time, or occasionally, followin’ the hunt.

Cartin’ muck was now done by the tractor and spreador, tornips were brought in on the trailor or in the link box; even the coals were fetched from nearby Hareshaw pit by Fergie and trailer instead of Darkie and caert where you could carry 20cwts against 5cwts.

Nevertheless, in some areas of Redesdale and Tynedale, the smithy was still the place to go for shoeing the gallowa’, getting catches, latches, tools, bolts and chains made or mended. and seeking spares for any bit of machinery ye cared to mention.

One Tuesday morning, after breakfast, the boss announced he was off to Hexham mart ‘to check the trade’. He announced to me (DC) that “ye’d bettor gie the missus a hand wi’ the chornin’, then tek Darkie doon to Robbie Ormston’s after dinner, for shoein” Then off he went aal toffed up in his best Harris tweed jacket, corduroy breeks and shiny, brown, heather-lowpor boots.

Imagine the excitement! As the Daft Laddie newly started at the farm, ye didn’t expect to get such a prestigious job strite off. The chornin’ was ower by 11 o’clock and it seemed ages ‘til dinner time came and went and Darkie was prepared for action. The bridle slipped on easy, the saddle followed and the bellyband tightened (after a good dig in the ribs made Darkie let hor breeth oot!). The two-mile ride to Otterburn was sheer magic! The sun shone and Darkie clip-clopped along the roadside as clivvor as owt wi me on top like the Duke o’ Northumberland!

The smithy was just up the camp road as you gan inte Otterburn, where Snaith’s garage is nuw. Ootside was piled with all sorts of machinery awaiting repair - or the scrap man. Bindors, scufflors, plews, wufflors, harras, reapors, muck spreadors, caerts wantin’ fittin’s and fastenin’s, gripes wantin’ shanks and shanks wantin’ gripes. And everywhere, horse shoes, piled, stacked, hingin’ on plew hannles, owerflowin’ from wattor trows or just plain lyin’ aboot.

Photo: The Stannersburn Smithy, which stood for many years at Stannersburn near Falstone in the North Tyne, from the collection of the Bellingham Heritage Centre.
The smell of burning hoof
Inside was dark, mysterious, murky and magic all at the same time. It smelled of smoke and leather and burnt horn, and there was a sort of blue haze over everything. Tools of every kind were hanging on hooks and nails, racks of tongs, hammers of all sizes, fullers, swages, chisels and drifts were lying on dusty shelves and in old cupboards with nee doors. (It’s worth remembering that the blacksmith is the only craftsman to make all his own tools.)

There was the massive anvil, the forge glowing red and the blacksmith, Robbie Ormston himself standing with his back to the door, working on a pair of gate crooks. “Ye’ll be the bludy laddie from Shuttlehyaif!” he declared, without looking round. “Whey bludy come in, then! Divvent stand theor bludy gawpin’! Aa hevn’t got aal bludy day! I moved forward, Darkie’s bridle in my hand. “Howt man! Ye canna bludy bring the bludy horse in heor! Tie hor up ootside an’ we’ll get starteed!” Now I suddenly knew where the blue haze came from!

With a few deft twists of his shoeing hammer, the clenches were cut off the horseshoe nails and each shoe removed using the long handled pincers. New, ready-made shoes were fetched from a stack at the back of the forge. Robbie tried the first against Darkie’s off side fore foot, then took it inside to heat it up in the forge and make a few tap- tapping adjustments on the anvil.

Stand still
Oot came the hoof pick and paring knife and Darkie’s hooves were neatly trimmed level. All the time, Robbie was hissing between his teeth and muttering, “ Haad up, woman! Howld hor bludy heed, man! Howt! Howt! HOWT! STAND STILL, YE AAD BISOM!”

He worked swiftly and efficiently, moving between horse and forge, deftly hammering and checking the red hot shoes to fit perfectly, trying each one against a raised hoof and blowing away the acrid reek to see what he was doing. When he was satisfied, the nails were tapped in and the protruding ends clenched over. A final stroke or two with the rasp and Darkie stood resplendent in her new set of shoes.

As I nonchalantly swung up into the saddle and raised a hand to Robbie (as if I’d been bringing horses to the blacksmith to be shod all my life) his final words were: “Right, young’un! She’s fit! But tek hor canny! Divvn’t gan bludy gallopin’ ower them bludy rocky fells or ye’ll hev the beggors off again and Aa’ll hev yor bludy guts for bludy garters!” What a true master of his trade! And what a day to remember for a yung Daft Laddie – and nuw an owld Daft Laddie.

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