Blacksmiths and Whitesmiths

Above: The Village Blacksmith
The Leisure Hour 1864, opposite p11

The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths was first mentioned in 1299, and in 1571 received a Royal Charter from Elizabeth 1st. Known as a Fraternity until the Reformation, the Company had strong religious links - St Loie is the patron saint.

On blacksmiths: ' is necessary to notice briefly the instruments that he employs. The first article that naturally occurs is the forge, without which his endeavours would be altogether fruitless. The great object in the construction of a forge, is to procure as great a quantity of heat at as small an expence as possible...The next object is to be able to furnish as powerful and steady a blast to the fire as possible...Smith's and Founder's bellows, whether single or double, are wrought by means of a rocker, with a string or chain fastened thereto. One of the boards is fixed so as not to play at all.

By drawing down the handle of the rocker, the moveable board rises, and by means of a weight on the top of the upper board, sinks again. A trough of water is indispensable to the Smith. Wet coals throw out a greater quantity of heat than when quite dry. By it also he cools the tongs when they become too hot - and by dipping the red-hot iron into the water it is thereby hardened.
There are several kinds of heat given by the Smith to iron. The white heat, when it must be forged both into form and size - the blood heat, when it has acquited both, but needs to be smoothed and filed - and the welding heat, when two pieces are to be united.
These operations are chiefly performed upon the anvil; the uppermost surface of which is generally made of steel, and very smooth and flat. At one end is a hole for the purpose of cutting red-hot iron, and into which is fixed a steel chisel or spike when necessary.
By means of the vice, which is fixed to the bench, the iron is held fast while he files or works it. Besides those which have been mentioned, he makes use of hammers, files, punches and pineers of various kinds.
A Journeyman Smith can earn from three to five shillings a-day.'
Artificiana, or a Key to the Principal Trades, Edinburgh, 1819,p71ff
Above and above right: Top and side view of an anvil
My own photographs 2016

A handmade nail, that would have been made by a blacksmith. This one was used in an Ashburton property circa 1909.
From my own collection

The definition of a white smith is usually given as a worker in tin or other light metals. However, according to Familysearch, whitesmiths worked an alloy of tin, antimony and copper which was introduced in 1769 as a rival to pewter. Originally called white metal, it was renamed Britannia Metal in 1797.

1484-85 John Cleve was paid 4s 9d for 'yreworke for the tabernacle of St Mary in the gilde'
According to Alison Hanham yre, ire, yer, yren etc all refer to iron.
Churchwardens' Accounts of Ashburton 1479 – 1580, Alison Hanham, Devon & Cornwall Record Society printed Devonshire Press 1970, p6

1634 John Ogier, blacksmith, is mentioned in connection with lands and meadows in Chewly Parke. South West Heritage Trust, ref

February 1737. George Helling faced a charge of assault and battery. Giles Mitchell of Ashburton, blacksmith, was one of those bound to appear in connection with the case at the next sessions. 
QS/4/1737/Easter/RE/74 Devon Heritage Centre - accessed 14-01-2023

1745 John Hacker jnr., blacksmith, a resident of Buckfastleigh but for a long time of Ashburton, faced a charge of abandoning his apprentice, Thomas Puddiford, leaving him to the charge of the parish.
QS/4/1745/Michaelmas/PR/5 - accessed 14-01-2023

December 1756. Christopher Harris of Ashburton, blacksmith, together with William Cousins jnr., cooper, was bound to appear at the next quarter sessions to give evidence against Humphr(e)y Wooton/Wooten.
QS/4/1757/Epiphany/RE/51 Devon Heritage Centre - accessed 14-01-2023

1768. William Halse of Ashburton, blacksmith, was bound to appear at the next session. Meanwhile he was to keep the peace towards Jane Oliver of Ashburton, his apprentice.
QS/4/1768/Midsummer/RE/53 - accessed 14-01-2023

1771 John Ferry, who was born in Ashburton, underwent a settlement examination in 1771 (ie questioning to determine which parish he belonged to, in case he needed financial assistance). He lived in the town until he was about 15 or 16, and then went to work as a journeyman smith for 6 months, living with Richard Farley. He married Mary Taylor of Stokeinteignhead, but for the last 18 months had lived in Coombeinteignhead, working as a smith. South West Heritage Trust, ref
3419 A/PO9/1
Above: The Smith
Artificiana, or a Key to the Principal Trades, Edinburgh, 1819,p70

December. 'Mr Woodley, a farmer at Loynton*, having purchased a quantity of gunpowder at Ashburton, took it in a bag to the shop of Mr Chalk, a blacksmith, and while waiting for his horse untied the mouth of the bag to put in a stone for the purpose of balancing the weight, when a spark of fire from the anvil communicating with the powder, it blew up the house and another adjoining. Chalk, his apprentice and three children, were buried in the ruins, but were dug out without sustaining any material injury. Woodley had an arm broken. The shock was felt throughout the town.' 
The Gentlemen's Magazine, 1812, vol 82, part 2, p 667
*Loynton appears to be a hamlet in Staffordshire

Various members of the Chalk family were blacksmiths:
Joseph Chalk, the son of William and Rebecca, was baptised at Ashburton in January 1813. William was a blacksmith.
Other children of the couple include Mary Ann Chalk, baptised at Ashburton in August 1815.
Elizabeth Chalk, baptised at Ashburton in April 1817. 
James Coleman Chalk,  baptised at Ashburton in August 1822. 
Parish records 

Prudence Jordan Chalk, the daughter of Samuel and Philippa, was baptised at Ashburton in April 1813. Samuel was a blacksmith.
Samuel Chalk, aged 37, was buried at Ashburton in March 1813
Parish records 

Richard Chalk, a blacksmith, was attested into the British army in 1818. He was 19 years old.
British Army Service Records

Mary Ann, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Hore, abode Ashburton, was baptised in March 1821. John was a blacksmith.
Parish records

John Horton, the 5 year old son of John Horton, whitesmith, died in January 1841
Western Times 23 January 1841 p2 col2

In the 1851 census 40 year old John Horton, a smith, is living in West Street with his wife Ann and their three daughters. All were born in Ashburton.

By 1871 John describes himself as a whitesmith, as is his 19 year old son Henry
1851 census HO107, piece no 1871, folio 313, p1
1871 census RG10, piece no 2080, folio 60, p32

John Peter Mann Lamble, the son of Samuel and Ann, was born and baptised at Ashburton in June 1818.
Non conformist births and baptisms, available through www.

65 year old (approximately) Samuel Lamble, a blacksmith, was in St Lawrence Lane in the 1841 census. With him was 20 year old John, also a blacksmith.
1841 census, schedule 13, p18

Samuel Lamble, aged 75, was buried at Ashburton in January 1848
Parish records

'In consequence of the death of the Proprietor' Samuel Lamble, a dwelling house and smithing shop were to be let or sold in 1848. A successful business had been run there for 40 years. Mr John Lamble could provide particulars.
Western Times 26 February 1848, p1 col2

John Peter Mann Lamble, a blacksmith from St James, Bermondsey, married Susan Wood Langler at Ashburton in June 1850. John's father was Samuel Lamble, also a blacksmith.
Parish records

John was buried at Ashburton in February 1904, aged 85. He had been living at West End Terrace.
Parish records
William Adams, a blacksmith, is living with his wife Elizabeth and 5 children at Rew Lea Cottages in the 1851 census. All of the family were born in Cornwall.
1851 census HO107, piece no 1871, folio 340, p2

Smiths and blacksmiths in the 1861 census:
John M Baker, aged 26, is a master blacksmith living in East Street.
James Balsden, aged 13, is a blacksmith living in St Lawrence's Lane.
James Butt, aged 40, is living in North Street. He is a shoeing blacksmith.
Jonas Campin, aged 34, is
a blacksmith living in Roborough Lane.
George Campion, aged 47, is a blacksmith living at Water Farm.
George Crocker, aged 17, is an apprentice blacksmith in James Butt's household in North Street.
George French, aged 19, is an apprentice blacksmith in Samuel Jewell's household in St Lawrence's Lane.
Elisha Harvey, aged 15, is an apprentice blacksmith living in Storm Downe Cottage.
John Horton, aged 50, is a general smith living in West Street.
Samuel Jewell, aged 37, is
a blacksmith living in St Lawrence's Lane.
William Leaman, aged 63, is a wheelwright and smith. His address is not given, but neighbours are in North St.
Edward Rice, aged 23, is
a blacksmith living in Western Road.
Andrew Shamler, aged 36, is
a blacksmith living in Roborough Lane.
Samuel Trenery, aged 51, is
a blacksmith living in East Street.
Henry Veal, aged 46, is
a blacksmith living in Browse's Buildings. Henry and his wife Rebecca were born in Cornwall, and two of their children were born in Ashburton. Their middle child, 9 year old Emily A, was born in Brazil.
Henry Veal, aged 12, is a blacksmith, the son of Henry Veal of Browse's buildings.

1862 Thomas Fox, a blacksmith of Ashburton, gave evidence at the inquest into the death of W[illiam] Foot. Daniel Skews, an Ashburton rifle volunteer, had allegedly fired a blank cartridge at close range.
Jonas Campion, blacksmith, also gave evidence.
Western Daily Mercury, 14 November 1862, p4 col4


In 1881 Annie French Horton, the daughter of Henry and Thirza, was baptised in October. Henry was a whitesmith.
3 days later James Thomas Waye was baptised. He was the son of James Waye, a blacksmith, and his wife Jedida.
Parish records


In 1881 Henry Veale, 32, is living with his wife Sarah, four children and his mother-in-law in East Street. All were born in Ashburton; Henry is a blacksmith.
1881 census RG11, pice no. 2161, folio 24, p4

By the time of the 1901 census, 52 year old Henry is a grocery store manager, living in North Street.
1901 census RG13, piece no. 2053, folio 40, p12

See Henry (as Veal) in the 1861 above.

                                       French and Sons, blacksmiths

Above: No. 50 North St. Mr French's blacksmith shop was behind.
My own photograph c. 2013                                                         

On the 1881 census 39 year old George French, a blacksmith, was living in North Street with his wife and children - amongst them James French, born in 1872.
The family were close to the Culloden Inn, now demolished, which was on the opposite side of the street to what is now No.50.

1905 Various properties are sold by auction, including a freehold blacksmith's shop and premises

Left: Auction particulars for various premises being sold at the Golden Lion Hotel 27 June 1905 

Below: Map accompanying auction (enlarged section on left). North St goes from top left corner to bottom right.

Many thanks to Jill Harrison for all the information re 50 North Street and surrounding premises.


Above and right: Lot 28: A freehold blacksmith's shop and premises, situate in Cad Lane in occupancy of Mr G French, yearly tenant, annual rent of £4

Lot 27 is 50 North Street


By 1911 James has followed in his father's footsteps, and is a blacksmith in St Lawrence Lane.

In 1935  French and son are trading as shoeing smiths in St Lawrence Lane
Kelly's Directory 1935 p35

In the book 'Horsepower' Bill Tucker, born in 1887, describes his life as a blacksmith in Ashburton. Although not born in the town, he got on with most Ashburton people, describing them all as friendly – all except the other blacksmith - Mr French, of St Lawrence Lane. Even he came round in the end, after Bill knocked on his door and said that he was not trying to take his work away from him. Later, when Mr. French retired, Bill took over the premises.


Other residents mentioned by Bill:

Bill Eales, the saddler.

Mr and Mrs Harry Baskerville, at Penrae, East St (Bill Tucker lodged there)

Colonel and Mrs. Stucley

Horsepower, Dartington Rural Archive, publ Spindlewood, 1985, p70 foll.                                                                                                                                   

'The blacksmith provided interest for retired and unemployed men. They watched the horses arrive and be tethered; patiently awaiting their turn to be shod. The furnace would blaze and the smithy would extract a red hot shoe and knock it into shape: the sound of the hammer on the anvil resounded in the street. The heat from the fire and the singing of the shoe being immersed in water, the smell as it was placed on the animal's foot, are memories of a craft now the work of a mobile farrier. '
Thanks to Hazel Bray for the above account

Above: The old blacksmith's forge, St Lawrence Lane
My own photograph circa 2013

1940s and 50s. 'At Great Bridge Mr Hatch had a smithy which was later replaced with a garage by Peter Prowse'
With thanks to Adrian Daw. See his memories in the 1950s section of Growing Up

From Susan Roberts: 'Mum thought the front of Terrace House (there had been no fence originally) was used to shoe horses (when the Hatches lived there?), so maybe it was a combined blacksmith and wheelwright which would make sense in those days of horse transport, although the main blacksmith continued for some years and I can just remember it in St Lawrence Lane near the chapel steps - we always had to linger and watch if a horse was being shod!'
Many thanks to Susan