George Eliot wrote “ …with a neat or handsome parsonage and grey church set in the midst; there was the pleasant tinkle of the blacksmiths anvil, the patient carthorses waiting at his door; the basket-makers peeling his willow wands in the sunshine; the wheelwright putting the last touch to a blue cart with red wheels; here and there cottages with bright transparent windows showing pots of blooming balsams or geraniums, and little gardens in front all double daisies or dark wallflowers; at the well clean comely women carrying yoked buckets, and towards the free school small Britons dawdling on, and handling their marbles in their pockets of unpatched corduroys adorned with brass buttons.”
Mary Mitford described a village shortly before Queen Victoria’s accession in 1837.as she went through the village, she passed tiny cottages where labouring families lived, the shoemakers and the blacksmiths houses, the village shop, “multifarious as a bazaar”, the inn, the dwellings of a few better off retired people, the village carpenters, the home of the gardener at a large house nearby.
Not every village was like hers. By 1901, when Queen Victoria died there were fewer craftsmen in a typical English village because of the effects of the Industrial Revolution. The road running through it of stones and gravel while lanes and tracks had a dirt surface, white with dust in summer and deep with mud in winter.
In Dorset villages, women and children made buttons; in parts of Oxfordshire and Somerset, particularly around Yeovil, they made leather gloves, the best ones of kid. But in the later years of the Victorian age, many of these cottage industries were in decline, the victims of factory machinery and the vagaries of fashion. The invention of
By the end of the 19th century, traditional cottage life was disappearing. The inconvenience of living in dwellings with mud, or even cold stone and brick floors, with the most basic form of heating, were being overcome just as their inhabitants in favour of the towns were deserting the villages. Eight years after Victoria died, there existed a strong nostalgia for the simple cottages and Stewart Dick wrote” houses live longer than men, and change with the times less rapidly. The same roof serves as a covering for many generations, and if one were asked what is the most typical thing in England, one would reply at once, the old English cottage.”
A range of different craftsmen were needed to maintain the village and many of the larger villages would have been virtually self sufficient, especially in the days before factory mass production of machinery and clothing.
The “ prince of tradesmen”, as he was called-usually the strongest man in the community and as such noted for his usefulness on the cricket pitch-was the blacksmith. Longfellow provided an enduring image of the village blacksmith at work:
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 a village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
The wheelwright, who usually doubled as wainwrights, was also an essential craftsman in any village. His was the specialised task of making for the horse drawn farm carts and wagons their wheels with wooden stocks and spokes, and repairing them. Every locality had its own particular type of cart, the product of local requirements and traditions, sometimes gaily painted in a style peculiar to a small knot of villages.
Also dealing in wood was the village carpenter, but his was a less specialised craft. The carpenter’s skill lay in knowing what timber to use and how to saw and season it. Some were also woodsmen, felling trees and sawing timber in the sawpits.
The Thatcher, the cobbler, the carrier, and the miller, all would die out in a remarkably short time span.
Likewise the charcoal burner, the woodsman, the tanner,the sawyer, the cooper,
The Village Inn
The Knife sharpener