The Old Forge on Peach Street

The Old Forge as it is today

The Old Forge as it is today

PEACH STREET SMITHIES By Jim Bell

The subject of the smithy run by Fred Painter in Peach Street has arisen in the local newspapers from time to time. There were actually two smithies in Peach Street. The first is still standing

According to Kelly’s and other directories, one horseshoeing blacksmith smithy was located in Star Lane off Peach Street and was run by a John Burrett. The earliest and only directory entry mentioning his name is dated 1854. He must have died at an early age because Jane Burrett, was a widow when their daughter, Alice (1864-1926) was only seven years of age. From 1883 until 1891 the proprietrix of the smithy was Mrs. Jane Burrett (1827-1894) who hailed from Stratfieldsaye. The last entry bearing her name is dated 1891. After that the smithy disappears.

Jane’s daughter, Alice (1864-1926), married George Hall carpenter (later carpenter at a private school) who hailed from Fairford, Gloucestershire. They had two children, Dorothy (b. 1895) and Albert George. (b. 1898). Alice died on Sunday 18th July 1926.

The other smithy, the building of which still stands and is referred to as the Old Forge, was run by William Loader from 1895 until, perhaps his death in November 1905 at the age of 52. 1907. From then it looks as if Harry Berry and Fred Painter took over.

Under the partnership of Berry and Painter the smithy flourished. It was the very the early days of the motor car and in this rural area, the horse was the common mode of transport, whether it was horse-drawn vehicle or by horse alone. The local hunt met regularly and many children owned ponies. .

Berry and Painter were also what they called, ‘general smiths’, and made utility products including hinges for barn door or hooks for hanging kitchen utensils. They also undertook “Memorial work of every description in marble, granite and stone designs.

Harry died in March 1943 at the age of 66 and Fred continued the business which gradually diminished as motorised vehicles replaced the horse.

In August 1959 Fred was summoned to the Town Hall where he was welcomed by the Mayor, Alderman Stanley Bowyer and Mr. W. Harold Lee who presented him with a framed portrait of himself as an appreciation of the town for his service particularly with regard to the pre-war carnivals.

Fred Painter 'The Blackie'

Fred Painter ‘The Blackie’

It looks as if Fred retired in 1967 and, until his death in November 1969 would visit his premises and chat to friends in the garage next door. He is buried in the Free Cemetery in Reading Road beside Margaret Sophia Painter, possibly his wife, who passed away in 1950.

24th July 1926 (RM)

FUNERAL OF MRS. GEORGE HALL

On Sunday Mrs. Alice Charlotte Hall, widow of Mr. George Hall, of 78 Peach Street, passed away after a short illness, aged 62 years. She was a daughter of the late Mr. William Burrett, member of an old Wokingham family, and some 50 years ago the well-known blacksmith, of Peach Street, Wokingham. The funeral took place on Wednesday, the first portion of the service being conducted by the Rev. R. Martin Harvey (pastor) at the Milton Road Baptist Church. The internment was in the free Church Cemetery.

The mourners were Mr. Albert G. Hall (son), Miss Dorothy hall (daughter), Mrs. A.E. Ayers, Mr. W. E. Hall, Mrs. A.G. Hall.

Sat 11th Sept 1954 (RM)

PRIDE IN HIS WORK – FIFTY YEARS A BLACKSMITH

For fifty years now, old Fred Painter has been bending over his anvil in the Blacksmith’s shop in Peach Street, Wokingham, attending with pride and skill to the shoes of countless horses. And fifty years, as most will agree, is a long time to stay in one place doing the same job—especially one that demands above average strength.

“You’ve got to be as fit as the animal you have to deal with,” Fred will tell his many visitors. And he will show them a scar behind his right ear which is a permanent reminder of a day many years ago that a horse kicked out in protest at what Fred was engaged to do. But the horse did not win the argument. Fred had to give it new shoes and it did not leave the shop until it had them well and truly nailed on.

Strangely enough, it was a midget-sized pony that caused Fred the most trouble he has ever experienced.

“Do you know, that pony jumped on my back to avoid being shoed?”, said Fred. “But I never gave up. He tired of his antics sooner than me.”

There was a time when Fred put on no fewer than 400 shoes a week. There were always horses in the shop and five men to attend them. In fact, there were once seven blacksmiths in various parts of Wokingham. Today, Fred and one other on the edge of the town are the sole survivors of their trade.

Unchanged

Everything else changes but the blacksmith’s shop. That is an undeniable fact. At 69, Fred is using the same tools, the same forge and making shoes in exactly the same way that he did when he gave up a job with a firm of engineers to become an apprentice “blackie.”

The sad thing is that because everything else changes and horses are replaced by mechanical vehicles and machines, Fred’s 150-years-old shop is often empty. He has no reason to keep his forge burning as fiercely as it once did. If he is lucky he will, perhaps have to put on forty shoes in a wee. His customers are mainly riding or hunting establishments. Today, only one local tradesman—a baker—sends his horse to Fred. The rest send their vans to the garage.

Fred is still fit and there is plenty of work in him yet. But there must, he admits, come a time when he will have to close the shop. And when he does, it will be unhappily permanent, for there is no son or assistant to carry on the business..

Till then, the sound of his anvil and the glow of his forge will continue to arouse the curiosity of sightseers who could be forgiven (in such an age) for thinking of horseshoes not as things which provide a man with his livelihood, but rather as—lucky charms.

Sat 29th Aug 1959 (RM)

A MIGHTY MAN IS HE

Half-a-century is a long time for anyone to remain in business in one shop in the town. Yet Fred Painter has been at the blacksmith’s shop in Peach Street, Wokingham for 53 years.—and still the ring of his hammer as it sends showers of sparks cascading over the anvil draws children—and adults—to his dark doorway, eager to see an old craft being perpetuated. Today his forge is flanked by garages on either side, and the days when he and other brawny men made and fitted no fewer than 400 shoes per week are gone forever. Fred has seen many changes in his street—he is one of the oldest still working there—but time has not changed his shop. He still uses the same tools, the same forge and the same technique that he was taught as a lad when he left a firm of engineers to become a “blackie.”

On Tuesday, however, the usually placid Fred was a worried man. He had been asked to attend at the Mayor’s Parlour at 10 a.m.—and could not think why. Perhaps the authorities were going to close his smithy…to retire after all these years, this was something he had not planned. But his fears were unfounded. He was welcomed by the Mayor, Ald. S.L. Bowyer, and Mr. W. Harold Lee, and, to mark the town’s appreciation of his services, particularly with regard to pre-war carnivals, was presented with a framed portrait of himself—taken by Mr. W.H. Lee.

Thur 29th April 1971

THE OLD SMITHY

The Old Smithy in Wokingham fell into disuse about 1967 four years ago and two years later (1969)  the last farrier who practised there, Fred Painter, died in his eighties. Until his death, Mr. Painter would still come up to his premises and keep a watchful eye while chatting to friends in the garage next door.

His former partner, Mr. Harry Berry had died way back in 1943. Under the partnership of Berry and Painter the smithy flourished. It was the very the early day of the motor car and in this rural area, the horse was the common mode of transport. Whether it be horse-drawn vehicle or by horse alone. The local hunt met regularly and many children owned ponies. There was work in plenty for the farrier.

The history of this smithy, one of three in the town (the others were in Station Road and Peach Street) is a little hazy. According to the Wokingham Society the building is definitely Victorian. It is also believed that the premises were originally owned by a veterinary surgeon before he sold out to Berry and Painter.

The smithy had a regular clientele as well as the casual customer who would pop in for a quick shoeing as one would now for a petrol fill-up. Berry and Painter kept a good stock of ready made shoes for clients such as the Garth Hunt and, as well as being farriers, or catering, as they put it “for practical shoeing,” they were general smiths. This included making utility products like hinges for barn door or hooks for hanging kitchen utensils. Berry and Painter also undertook “Memorial work of every description in marble, granite and stone designs.

Now the smithy lies dormant, its future undecided. Inside are all the tools of the former trade, anvils, hammers, bellows, immediately recognizable but now rusting.

The Borough has received 11 offers for the premises including at least one to return the smithy to its former use and another from Reading University for all the tools. The town and the environment may have changed in the sixty or so years since Berry and Painter first let off steam but the actual character of the smithy has hardly changed one bit.

 

The Wokingham Times reported:-

Thur 16th June 1983

THE OLD FORGE HAS NEW TENANTS

Wokingham’s Old Forge has new tenants. The former smithy in Peach Street now houses the offices of SavaCentre, owners of five hypermarkets. Previously the company’s offices were just down the road in Wokingham Market Place where they had been since 1980.

The Mayor and Mayoress of Wokingham, Cllr. and Mrs. David Ireland and Mr. Philip Robinson, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce were among the guests at an informal opening of the new offices last week. The ceremony was performed in the reception area of the old town forge which has now been completely refurbished and contains a small display of blacksmith’s tools and pictures of the smithy at work.

Although the building has been completely modernised, the architecture is of a traditional style to fit into the traditional market town townscape.

The Old Forge is now occupied by Berkshire Healthcare. On the ground floor is an area which accommodates memorabilia of the smithy.

 

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2 Responses to The Old Forge on Peach Street

  1. Fran says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this history. I write The Hoof Blog about farriers in America, and while it is such an old profession, there is a dearth of written history. So much was passed on verbally, both about shoeing horses and about the old forge buildings and how the businesses were run. It’s strange, but the documentation of farriers in military service actually is one place where we can find names and ages of people. I wish that towns and cities would identify the locations of their former blacksmith shops and shoeing forges and mark them for the world to know that an industry once thrived there. I loved reading your website and learning all sorts of things about your town. The muffled bell for Corporal Hall–and his disturbing death with the gas gone wrong–really touched me as well. Thank you.

    • admin says:

      Hello Fran. Thank you so much for your kind words – we tend to shovel the work onto the website and hope there is someone out there reading it once in a while. You’re living proof! Here’s something wwhich might interest you too: http://www.wokinghamremembers.com/wokingham-remembers-articles-for-the-wokingham-paper/ If you can copy and paste the link into your browser, it will take you to a page which shows the articles which go out every week in the local paper. Scroll down and you will come across a title ‘Stampede on the Barkham Road’. Click on the pic and a pdf should appear of the article. You won’t be disappointed! Thanks again. Mike Churcher

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