Need Help Relaxing?

In these uncertain times occasionally we all need to just sit back and relax, in the sunshine,and listen to the birds sing

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The Coster Mongers Barrow

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A traditional Coster Mongers Barrow

Im sure many of us have used the long winter nights to stop and consider what improvement can be made in your life, in my case what I can do better to promote my wheelwrights business. Last year I took a stall at several country fairs, which turned out to be great. I didn’t get any wheel work out of it, but I met a lot of folk, heard a lot of very funny stories, and sold several of my other bits and pieces, and slowly my name as a wheelwright gets about. Building on that for this year I have decided I need to make a market cart to take with me. It would be an easy to transport example of my work, which I can then use to display some of my other goods, and you never know I might sell some.

So with the decision made I needed to do some research to establish the design, and this is where the story starts.

I have never given market carts any thought before, I knew they existed but had never come across them. What I discovered was what I have to describe as a secret world of the market trader and market carts.

Imagine if you can Inner City Victorian London in the 1850s, slightly before Jack the Ripper, but with the same famous Place names such as Whitechapel, and Bethnal Green, before the days of a supermarket on every corner, and amazon prime. Food Distribution was centred on a series of Wholesale Markets, Smithfield for Meat, Billingsgate for Fish, and Covent Garden for Fruit. The food then came down to a series of retail markets many of which remain today.

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A Ginger Beer Seller

A major part of the food distribution system was mobile food sellers, called Coster Mongers. A coster is a derivation of costard an ancient variety of apple. Originally selling their wares from a basket or trestle table, they would buy their goods from the wholesale markets, & then go off to sell them, shouting out their wares at the top of their voice as they go. Think of the film Oliver just not as squeaky clean. The need to transport larger quantities meant Baskets and trestle tables were replaced with what developed into the Coster Mongers Barrow a traditional style 2 wheel cart with a sloped front. From these carts the coster would sell all manner of goods walking many miles in a day. These were plain utilitarian carts, 1.5 – 2mts in length with a sloping front. Usually painted green with red wheels. I have seen some very ornate versions of these carts but these tended to be later not everyday carts.

Inevitably the coster mongers would find themselves congregating in certain areas which became the great markets of London, many of which remain albeit a shadow of their former self. As the markets became more established a four wheel market cart emerged.

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Market trader was always  a hand to mouth existence, it probably hasn’t changed, however some traders do better than others. A few saved their money and moved up into bricks and mortar shops, several of our major retail chains can trace their roots to market carts, and a few became for the want of a better term barrow masters. It would appear that each market would have a supplier of stalls that could be rented by the day from a local yard, pulled out into the market, and dragged back to the yard at the end of the day. As some markets could have 100 stalls this was big business, but as I suspect due to the market traders natural inclination to avoid scrutiny this was a secret world.

Each yard would be run by a family, who would build and maintain their own carts, including the wheels. For example Spitalfields market was supplied by “Hilliers” Bethnal Green Market was and still is supplied by the “Baker Family” The Hillier’s appear to have gone and there is a very sad article on www.spitalfieldslife.com entitled the last days at Hillier Bros 25/10/16 which documents their demise.

The design of the barrows appears to be consistent from one market to another. About 2mts in length x 1mt wide complete with a removable canvas cover, Most were painted green with red wheels and to differentiate between hirers they would carve the family name on the wheels. All the wheels were iron shod supported by substantial leaf springs, designed to take a load, and amazingly many still exist. All were designed to be hand pulled. Whilst I have read about the use of donkeys, I can’t find any pictorial evidence or examples of horse/donkey drawn.

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I recently went to visit the both Bethnal Green and Roman Road Markets in East London, and you can still see in use plenty of the traditional four wheeled stalls, admittedly some of which are past their best, interspersed with modern metal frame stalls.

Throughout history there have been a number of attempts to eradicate the Market traders & Costermongers from London. Highly visible Colourful characters with popular support, I suspect the term “Loveable rogue” would best sum them up. Markets became noisy lively places with displays of drunkenness so not much has changed. The stallholders frequently fell out with authority and the church which came to a head in the 1870s in Bethnal Green where a Street Regulation Committee was formed by the local church to enforce a set of rules, governing opening hours. A paid inspector enforced these rules leading to much unrest with stalls beings confiscated or destroyed. The stall holders organised and in 1888 the Bethnall Green Costermonger’s and stall keepers society was formed whose primary aim was to fight these prosecutions. This culminated with them seeking support of a noted philanthropist The Earl of Shaftesbury who supported them and managed to persuade the church to rescind the orders. I have seen a picture of a Costermongers Cart some say purchased by, others say presented to :The Earl

They wore a traditional unofficial uniform, a long waistcoat of sandy coloured corduroy with buttons of Brass or Mother of pearl, often in swirly patterns Bell bottom trousers, and a silk neckchief. In 1880 a man called Henry Croft took this a step further and declared himself the first Pearly King, the start of the famous cockney character known around the world.

After much consideration I have decided to build a costermongers barrow. Originally I had decided on a Market Cart but in discussion with other wheelwrights I am assured the ornate version of costermongers cart is far more desirable with the modern addition of a rubber tyre for the wheel, apparently shopping centres won’t accept steel rims. You never know I might even sell a few.

You can follow how I get on by looking on instragram at tom_green_craft or a may put some videos up on youtube – heritagecraft

 

 

 

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The Perfect Office Chair

A touching tale tale of love lost, love found and lost again.

For over 35 years I had a proper job, although don’t tell my mother she spent years waiting for me to get one. In this job I sat at a desk in an uncomfortable chair and got on with it. After 20 years, despite several running repairs, that chair fell apart, my dodgy employer (me) finally relented and purchased me a new chair. The old chair went to my work shop, and you will see in the video 10 years later I still have it.

However this is not a video about a 30 year old chair but rather the creation of a new one. A chair that’s sculpted to fit your body shape, a Chair that supports you The chair I wished I had when I worked in an office, The chair I wished I had now as this new one has been appropriated by my dearly beloved

Have a look at the video and let me know what you think. Have I discovered a new business here?

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North London’s Chocolate Biscuit Expert

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Over the course of the summer we have taken a stand at a number of Rural shows across the East of England to promote our Wheel Wrighting Business . Great fun and we have met some lovely people.

As you will discover when you work at shows, you end up having the same conversation several times a day. That’s fine at least it shows that people are interested, and you end up developing a patter which can then tailored to suit the audience.

A couple of times a day I will be confronted by a 7-10 year who wants to know what I am doing, and so the spiel changes slightly, explaining in simple steps the process of making a wooden carriage wheel, turning a hub, making the spokes, fitting the felloes ( wooden rims) and finally heating up the steel tyre in a fire and slipping it over the wooden rim. I then mention, assuring them that as a reward for working hard we roast Marshmallows over the fire. We never have but the children believe it. They all agree this must be the perfect job and leave convinced they will become a wheelwrights apprentice when they grow up. Their parents smile benevolently and everyone’s happy.

This has worked well all summer until last Sunday when I was helping the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights at the London Livery fair. Confronted by a 7 year old boy I decided to customise my presentation, and departed from my usual script. As I described the process I inserted the phrase ” then we had a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit” between each step even getting a little bit of audience participation with his parents and older sister joining in after a few repeats.

I was feeling good until I got to the end. When I ask – “so do you think that’s the job for you?”  Expecting an enthusiastic nod. What I got instead was – “it depends what type of Chocolate Biscuits do you have?” I had mistakenly come across North London’s Chocolate Biscuit Expert ( luckily he was up against Norfolk’s expert) and we had a serious discussion as to how good the biscuits would have to be before he would be prepared to come and work for me when he grows up. I fully anticipate he will turn up in 10 years time and demanding Mc Vities Chocolate Orange biscuits. I don’t remember being that confident at 7.

 

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A Dockside Cabin

A chance conversation about replacing a half size gypsy caravan led to us designing and building this Dockside Cabin at Canary Wharf, West India Quay. The Customer Skuna Boats who operate the UKs first floating Hot Tubs and Barbeque Boats wanted a modern stylish space in which they could greet customers. The Planners wanted something very traditional in keeping with the location and Heritage of the Area.

The final design is the product of several months discussions, during which time the scheme changed radically. The original carriage lost its the wheels turning it from a carriage to a cabin. When fully fitted it will incorporate a Bar, An Ice Cream Counter, and a Lounge Area. All within a very compact 3.5 x 4.5mts.

On the outside it is a traditional Dockside cabin with black corrugated Iron Sides with a curved roof, and porthole windows. On the inside however its bright and airy, with a modern trendy design reflecting the company and its customers.

From start to finish the project took six weeks with three weeks in the workshop making the roof beams, doors with portholes and porthole shutters. This was followed by three assembly weeks on site. In addition to the structure we have also made a copper pipe chandelier.

We have now been commissioned to create a very modern Bar and Ice Cream Counter so watch this spacendelier and illuminated mirror.

 

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What Shape is the Perfect Bath?

Looking ahead to the autumn one of the projects I am considering is to make a wooden bath. You could ask the question why? for which I struggle for an answer. I don’t particularly enjoy a bath, I struggle to sit still for that length of time, having said that I do really fancy having a bath tub in the Garden – Is that weird?

Putting that aside its a wood manufacturing challenge which has occupied my thoughts during many long sleepless nights – maybe I need to start having baths before bedtime. Now if I had a bathtub in the Garden ….

When you look online there are a couple of wooden bath manufacturers, and they tend to adopt a very traditional shape. This could be for a myriad of reasons, shape of the bathroom, manufacturing ease, or just tradition and customers are happy with it.

Recently I have been playing with steam bending and laminating strips of wood which makes it possible to create very interesting shapes, so a bathtub could work, but first you need a mould to work with , and that’s the issue I am working on right now.

In order to make the mould I need to know what shape is the perfect bath?

There are plenty of bath manufacturer’s out there and they seem to adopt a couple of basic shapes, but have they got it right? and more importantly can we do better?

So what I need your help with is what is the perfect shape for a bath?

The traditional shape seems to be rounded at one end, and squared off at the other to allow for the taps and an overhead shower. This may be the optimum shape for a family bathroom, but this is a statement piece. Would it be better with two rounded ends, in which case where does the plug hole go?

Having considered the shape how long should it be. As a 6ft man I am used, when I have a bath to wedging myself in, so I would like a longer bath ( whether that fits into the bathroom is a different question), but my wife who is shorter than me would find a longer bath difficult.  So therefore would it be sensible to ask who has the most baths? and build the bath accordingly. Is there any advantage to making the bath wider?

There is a  question as to the height of the sides? If you lean back in the bath do you want the top of the sides shoulder height? or level with the top of the head? Would you prefer top of the head, so it supports your head at the end but lower at the sides? Should there be a seat moulded in?

The final question, and one I hesitate to  mention in polite company, but I get an impression that sharing a bath is on the increase. I have no real evidence to base this on beyond a conversation in a pub with a plumber. Obviously the position of the taps and plug hole then makes a considerable difference. A wooden bath is for someone for whom having a bath is an important part of life. Do they share it and if so what adaptions do I need to make?

 

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Lay still whilst I measure for your Coffin!

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This week I spent two days at the Suffolk show a major rural show in the East of England, promoting my Wheelwrights Business.

As a modern wheelwright I am used to being a rare commodity. An educated guess would suggest there are approximately 30 wheelwrights left in the UK. But in the olden days every decent size village would have a wheelwright , and whilst we are going back into the 1800s you still meet folk, who can remember their grandparents as wheelwrights and of course are delighted for an opportunity to relive their memories.

In those days a wheelwright in order remain solvent would multitask, so as well as making wheels, they would also be the local carpenter, builders, and undertaker. Due to this multitasking in a small community they would know everyone, and everyone would know them. The first memory that was shared with me concerned a small village wheelwright who called to see a customer, in a house hold which included an elderly gentlemen relative, sitting in a chair by the fire. He perked up as the wheelwright comes into the room to say ” Oh your early I’m not dead yet”. It was rapidly explained he was here to discuss wheels not a funeral, when the old bloke insisted laying on the kitchen table so the wheelwright could measure him for his coffin, thereby saving him a journey in a few days time.

The second story I was told was a wheelwright who had just finished making a coffin, and laid the deceased inside. The lid was put in place and screwed down. No sooner had the last screw had been tightened when he became conscious of a scratching sound. In an effort to find the source our man puts his ear to the coffin currently residing on his workbench, and too his horror the scratching was undoubtedly coming from within. Uncertain what to do he went off and had a cup of tea, and on his return listened . There once more was the scratching. He calls for the boy to run for help, and starts to undo the screws. The local constable bursts in as he withdraws the last screw and together they lift the lid. A mouse scrabbles out.

For the last memory we come forward to be between the wars. Apparently Crematoriums were just starting to be built but were still a new thing, and mourners were very apprehensive about them. In this particular crematorium the cremator was situated in the basement, and to transport the coffin downwards the catafalque was a disguised lift operated by a winch in the basement. With great ceremony our wheelwright and assistants place the coffin on the plinth to discover the winch operator downstairs had forgotten to replace the locking pin in the winch mechanism, as a result the coffin descended unexpectedly, with great speed and a loud bang. The winch operator having a crafty smoke downstairs was shocked as his next customer came crashing down prematurely , causing him to shout and swear whilst at the same time exhaling cigarette smoke. The mourners upstairs who hadn’t quite known what to expect having never been to a crematorium before, were horrified to see the coffin disappear, into a cloud of smoke and profanity as they ran for the exit.

I am delighted to say as a wheelwrights these days don’t get involved in undertaking, having said that I have made some coffins but that’s a story for another day. Thank you the folk of Suffolk for two lovely days and sharing what are priceless memories.

 

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