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"Can I pump the bellows Uncle Horace?" How many times must I have asked that when I was growing up in the late 40s? It is funny how things get pushed to the back of your mind and something you read brings it back to the forefront. This happened to me when I read Ernie Rathmel's account of growing up in Knottingley in the July edition of the Digest, of him watching Mat Birkett (sic) in his canal side blacksmith shop. But I think he must have meant my Uncle Horace.

There were two brothers, Mat Birkitt had his blacksmith shop in Banks Garth and my Grandad, William Henry, had his business on canal side, Sheperds bridge, where Fernley Green Close is now built.

He had six children, the eldest, Leonard, died in childhood, Miriam who married Harry Bean, then my mother Elena who married George Fozzard, William Henry Jnr. (Billy) who married Alice Schofield, Clifford married Cora and Horace who never married and lived at home with grandma. They were all born in a little cottage adjacent to the blacksmith's shop, which was later pulled down, and grandma bought a brand new house in Springfield Avenue. Granddad had died in 1926 leaving grandma to raise the family herself. Uncle Billy ran the business before he went to work at Gregg's Glassworks then Uncle Horace took over.

The blacksmith shop was an old building with a stable door entrance to a large room with the forge - a big open fire with a long arm on one side, which worked the bellows. Uncle Horace would put a piece of iron, held by long pincers, into the fire and pump the bellows to heat it up. When it was red hot he would place it on the anvil and hammer it into shape then plunge it into cold water to cool it down. I think he made special 'one off' moulds for the glassworks, but his main work was making horseshoes. Years earlier, his father had made horseshoes for the horses that pulled the barges along the canal and my mother used to tell us stories of when she was growing up; of the bargees who travelled along the canal and there were some right characters. Can anyone remember the mussel boat, which came up from Hull every Saturday night? Mother said you could get a dinner plate full of mussels for a shilling to cook for your supper.

Back to the blacksmith shop, and at the side was a lean-to with double doors where the horses were brought in to be shoed. I can remember watching Uncle Horace fashioning a piece of iron into a horseshoe and trying it onto the hoof then going back to the forge to re-shape it until it fit perfectly. The smell of burning hoof is a smell I will never forget and the sound of a hoof being filed sets my teeth on edge even to this day. I used to love to visit him and pump the bellows handle, which would lift me off my feet if I didn't let go quickly enough. There was also a large vertical cogged wheel which was turned by a wooden handle to bring down a drill bit to make holes in metal sheets placed underneath. When there was no drill bit in, I used to turn the wheel faster and faster, then let go and watch the handle spinning round but Uncle Horace would shout at me to stop as it could quite easily have hit me on the head, but being young I didn't see the danger in this. I spent many happy hours watching him but I was married and moved away when the land was sold for building on and sadly the blacksmith shop was demolished bringing to an end an era of blacksmithing in Knottingley. Uncle Horace spent the rest of his working life at the shipyard and he died in 1980.

Renee Huby
16 September 2007


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