The simple life of the craftsman

The restoration of a tipping cart at the Museum of Rural Life has provided the perfect opportunity to look back to the beginnings of another local business.

Mr Anthony Brown of Bag Enderby gave the cart to Alford Manor House some years ago, it had suffered some damage from a barn collapse which had pushed down the front onto the chassis. Recently the barn team got to work dismantling the front, so that the three main pieces could be replaced and reconstruction could begin, retaining as much of the original as possible.

Photos courtesy of Clive Sutton

A note from Ashley provides a little more background into the cart.

Once jacked up an inscription on the lowest front panel was visible “Cawthorpe Maker Alford” The cart, we think, was converted from horse drawn, probably with wooden wheels, to having a tractor drawbar and pneumatic tyres, either in 1947 or 1959 and seems to have been painted on both these dates.

Cawthorpe’s business in Alford is recorded as the premises of William J Cawthorpe, builder, West Street. The heart of the family business remained in Ulceby, the original wheelwright’s business had expanded to include the traditional associated trades of carpentry and a funeral directors alongside building and farming interests. William’s second son, Alfred Louis Cawthorpe, assisted in the Alford end of the business, which first appears in commercial directories around 1926. Before exploring the more familiar Cawthorpe business at Ulceby a previous wheelwright in West St. deserves some consideration.

The Scoffin Brothers

The Scoffin brothers already had a well established wheelwrights yard in the vicinity of Myers Mill and the ropewalk to the rear of the Half Moon. Clive Sutton tells me he can remember going to Harry Scoffins yard as a signwriter with his father, a busy place where the wood shavings were calf deep on the floors. William Scoffin of Anderby had come to Alford as a journeyman wheelwright in his 20s, recorded as lodging in Carnley’s Yard in 1851, William put down roots in West Street building his business to include coach and carriage building and painting. By 1891 he is recorded as an employer, residing next to Nainby on West Street, his wife Eliza Scoffin appears in commercial directories as the owner of a fancy repository.

Stamford Mercury – 1892

Walking down West Street in the 1880s you would be able to hear the men busy at work on the coaches and carriages to the rear of the buildings, on occasion seeing them emerge onto the street freshly painted for delivery to their new owner.

Nainby outside of his premises on West Street, in a carriage which may have been made by his neighbour.
Nainby’s shop is opposite to the left of the horse and cart, the second lamp post marks the spot.

William Scoffin died in June 1911 aged 80. Just a few months before, he was recorded on the census as the owner of a coachbuilding and wheelwright firm, assisted by his sons John and Harry who would continue the business. In 1928 John Scoffin died at the age of 47, newspaper reports revealed that he had been seriously ill for a considerable time.

Both Wm J Cawthorpe & Sons: builders and Scoffin Brothers: Wheelwrights are listed on West Street at the same time in a couple of directories. In 1932 Harry Scoffin and Alfred Cawthorpe are listed as bearers at an Alford funeral suggesting co-operation rather than hostility between the businesses.

WJ Cawthorpe ( JW Cawthorpe)

The Cawthorpe Makers Alford mark on the tipping cart suggests that it may have been made at Alfred’s yard in West Street rather than the Ulceby workshops. Alfred’s father William James Cawthorpe (whose initials were inexplicably used interchangeably) arrived in Ulceby as a young man and quickly created the business which would remain the centre of the firm for generations.

William was born at the Fox and Hounds near Brinkhill in June 1872, ( registered as James William but baptised as William James) to Samuel and Elizabeth Cawthorpe. Samuel was a publican and a blacksmith. Following the loss of his father William’s mother continued to run the inn for a further 20 years. The family worked hard young William had a gardening job at a Harrington, vicarage at the age of 12, he was then a plumber for a year before undertaking a 5 year apprenticeship to Charles Rutland, a carpenter and wheelwright at Swaby. In later years William recalled that he received bed and board plus a pound a year.

Despite growing up in a public house William was teetotal, having taken the pledge as a child. Several of his friends signed the book and took the two pence without conviction but William remained true his entire life. This may have been aided by recollections of those who stayed overnight in the outhouses of the inn after having a few too many. One regular in particular, a journeyman clock repairer, was to be found in the mornings with his head in his hands “groaning that he was going to die”.

Upon finishing his apprenticeship William went to work for Henry and Arthur Brown at Blacksmith’s House in Ulceby. Henry and Arthur worked as shoeing smiths alongside their brother Walter, a wheelwright and carpenter. Walter married and moved to Alford leaving an opportunity for William to acquire the business of his own. He lived with the Brown brothers for four years, until he married his wife, the couple lived in a small two bedroom place with one room and a pantry downstairs, until William had finished building “Oakley Cottage” for his growing family. By 1901 28 year old WJ Cawthorpe was living in his own home with wife Eliza and their three boys. He employed two wheelwrights who boarded with the family.

An advert in 1905 broadcast that William Cawthorpe was seeking an apprentice. A young man called Arthur Clay applied and the 16 year old began work one Monday shortly afterwards. On the Wednesday of the same week he cut two fingers off his left hand. A spell in Peterborough hospital ensured that Arthur kept his hand and he returned to WJ Cawthorpe’s for a further five years as a bound apprentice and a new found respect for the circular saw.

WJ Cawthorpe’s Wheelwright Yard Ulceby.

William and Eliza’s family continued to grow, three girls followed the three boys. The two elder boys Hubert and Alfred assisted their father and WJ Cawthorpe’s would later become Messer’s Cawthorpe and sons as evidenced by a report in 1942.

Louth Standard – Saturday 07 November 1942

In 1954 a journalist from The Standard interviewed JW Cawthorpe, (John William in the article ?) “a charming old woldsman with the right philosophy of life”. At the age of 82 he provided many tales of his life. He had lost Eliza in 1944 but she had left him with 3 sons and 3 daughters, along with 13 grandchildren. He still worked and felt that he was ready and able to do the same for local farmers and country people that he had in his twenties. William was grateful that he had two sons to help him, Hubert and his family had moved into Oakley Cottage in Ulceby, Alfred and his wife lived on West St. in Alford, his youngest grandson had just started in the family business.

On a Sunday William frequently walked across the fields to see his third son Wilfred at his farm in Sutterby. All three daughters had married farmers and William explained that he always farmed the small acreage surrounding Oakley Cottage.

The farming memories of William’s youth reveal a lost world, the labourers were paid two shillings and ninepence a day while the ratcatcher received four pence per rat. The large fairs at Boston would end with drovers moving the sheep to Hull along the Heath Road, via Spilsby, Driby Top and South Ormsby, the men having to lodge overnight as they went.

Throughout his life William had attended Church and Chapel, standing in for absent Godfathers in his youth, he also fulfilled the role of a school manager for 40 years.

The article ends with a touching tribute:

[William] Cawthorpe is a loveable institution, his knowledge of the ways of this farming county, coupled with his wide experience of everyday living, make his frank and shrewd advice welcome to his many friends. Rich and poor, humbled and titled take delight from his happy philosophy that has kept him contented throughout a long life. Many whose lives have been more colourful and eventful have marvelled at this fine old man who has found in the “simple” life of the craftsman, in the county he knows and loves, and to whose lustre he adds his own especial gleam, the serenity that is engendered by complete happiness” Louth Standard – Saturday 03 July 1954

James William Cawthorpe of Oakley Cottage, Ulceby died on 11th March 1962, his business continued in the hands of his sons and grandson.

Published by

Mrs T

Beyond the day job, and the garden, I love to delve into local and family history. While pursuing one project other snippets frequently distract me, resulting in the eclectic mix of tales from the past found here.

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