"The last waggon we made of that discription was in nineteen hundred. My father and brother made the body, I made the wheels and carriages, and the ironwork was made by Mr. Curtain's father. The beauty of it was to get it perfectly level. When the body was made, we used to turn it over, and it had to be perfectly level from nose-piece to tail-piece. From nose to outside of tail piece I think it was eleven feet. Then we did put on the pillar, and that had to be perfectly straight. In the front pillar there were the hounds, top pillar and under pillar, and did bear in centre; but at the ends there was three-eighths of an inch to spare, that allowed in the case of locking, it'd make it easier. There was one pillar at the back, and no hounds, that brought the wheels level on the ground.” He was running his eye from point to point over my drawing, to see if I had missed any detail of the construction. “safety- chain one side , drag shoe the other, your very true,” he said.
“We used to make an oak -framed waggon for thirty-two pounds,
ash framed for thirty. You'd have to charge eighty pounds now.
We made one for a farmer went from here”- to New Zealand I
think he meant- “he said their wood didn't last like ours. He
wanted it for bales of wool, they laid them across the porters.
We took of the shafts and wheels to send it. He sent us a pound
extra, to drink his health. Single-handed, it might take a man six
weeks to make a waggon; but sometimes there were six working
in my grandfather's shop. Father was a clock and watch- maker
too; and when people come to die , they'd send for him to make
“By the date , I would have helped make it. It looks like one of
our waggons waiting to go out of the yard-and then father would
be thinking, now I can ask for the money. It puts me in mind of
the old days; we did love doing it.”
He held out his hand to me , and the door closed behind him as
he went into the night. “Twill be a bad day when the Vincents
die out of Ham,” said the ploughman.”
© rescuingthepast.co.uk 2006-2011
In those days, if a man was a Liberal he'd have his waggon painted yellow. We worked hard as boys, we had to; all day to grind up enough paint for a waggon, one stone on another; but when the paint was once put on, 'twas like a board. We used to make our own arms, we used to cut and put in an old file for the steel. All the wood was sawn out by the pit-saw, there used to be seven or eight saw-pits in our village, the man below used to tie perforated zinc over his eyes, to keep out the saw dust. We only kept patterns of the main portions, if we cut out the side of a waggon, we might keep the piece it came out of. Small pieces, if you made 'em once or twice, you knew the way to make 'em. We always put the boards long-ways, to 'low the water to run out if did rain. The lades were ash; in the old laders, porter some do call 'em, the pieces used to go right through, they were morticed, and they fitted into an iron socket.”...The side of the waggon was not straight, it was five inches narrower in the middle, the wheels did turn in that; and there was a piece of iron let into the side to take the tyre of the wheel when turning; when you heard the iron touch, you knew you couldn't turn any further...the stanchion irons on the old-style waggon were heated in the fire, screwed in the vice, and twisted with the tongs while hot. Rams horn crooks took some making. They looked well. If the waggon was blue, we painted the stanchions irons red, and they did look pretty !
“You cannot quickly draw a thing made with such precision, with a purpose to every curve of it, as was that waggon on the back of which the wheelwright's father had signed his name half a century ago. Dusk was falling, and the ploughman home from milking, when I got back to the cottage on the second day, with my sketch finished. I placed my sketch on the table, away from the blackcurrant jam, and while I was having my tea the ploughman told me about the waggons on the farm where he worked. “Our people have got one waggon the style of the one you've drawn there. It weighs seventeen hundredweight, or more if he's a bit wet; I do know, for we've had it weighed so often when we've been after coal. If it's been out all night in the rain, it'll go eighteen hundredweight . I’ve brought four tons with two horses, and there's two good hills, one to come up and one to come down.” “Cruelty to waggons, I should call it,” said a voice, half proud, half laughing, at the open door; and there in the fading light stood Vincent the wheelwright with a borrowed paper in his hand. He expanded visibly when he saw my drawing of the waggon made by his father. “Five felloes in the front wheels, and ten spokes; and twelve spokes and six felloes behind. The hub and felloes were elm, the spokes were always oak. When I was a boy, we had to turn the hubs out on a lathe, and it was hard work; now you can get them ready-made and more even, because they're turned quicker.
But the wheels are older; it's a job to find a carpenter who can make dish wheels nowadays. Bason wheels some do call 'em. They turn shorter than straight wheels; straight wheels want an acre of ground to turn in. The front wheels of the waggons they make in town lock under the bed of the waggon; we didn't reckon that good. In the bason wheels, the spokes lean away from the sides of the waggon at the top, to allow more room for locking; but when they get to the bottom to take the weight, they are exactly upright...That is the wheelwright's art.” Then he said softly, as a man may speak of things belonging to his youth which will never come again, “Twas in the arm, the iron let into the socket and bolted to it; the nose of the iron would be dropping. We used to turn the waggon upside down to prove it, and try up our wheels. We'd have a strip, and measure at the ground and at the centre, to see if it was the same. If't weren't, we'd let the tail of the iron in a little more, and that would cause the spokes to fall back a little... Old Mr Sully used to say you could tell the sound of our waggons on the road; they ran well, they did hum.
A fine description of waggon and wheel making- by Freda Derrick, 1945
In a “Country Craftsmen” by Freda Derrick, 1945, a marvelous conversation between a waggon builder and the author (of Cheltenham), sums up the wheelwright's methods, love and pride of his craft.
“It would be an impertinence for anyone other than a wheelwright to attempt to describe in detail the work that goes to the making of a waggon. Every part has been perfected for its exact use, by generations of craftsmen working direct for the men who were to use it...I was staying in the ploughman’s cottage. I had first met the old wheelwright as I was coming home with a drawing in my hand. He looked at my sketch and said “That's Mr Hatch's waggon. He told me he paid nineteen pound ten shillings for a new body to it, just before he came here; and thats thirty years ago.
”The last I made was a little spring waggon for Mr Curry, up twenty years ago. When the house I lived in was sold, and I had to move to a smaller shop, I burnt most of my patterns; nobody didn't seem to take no interest...there would be some of ours about still,” he said.
“I found on one farm a waggon that had been made for the grandfather of the present farmer, and was signed with the name of the old wheelwright's father. The farmer told me this was a three-horse waggon, and realy too big for him, as he only kept one young horse and one old one. But he added “He's a good waggon; he'll run a lot better than some o' they two-horse waggons. I use it with one horse, without there's a steep pull-up or too big a load.”
Preserving rural bygones
Who knows! Perhaps this waggon was a locally built 'Vincent' waggon