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.

Lockdown 2 and beyond …

Since the new machinery shelter was erected between the two containers, we have been able to house the “new” McCormick binder under cover. I have taken the opportunity to further renovate and restore this machine with lots of help from Grant and other volunteers.

The transport wheels have been removed and cleaned of mud grease and rust.
They were then primed and painted and are now ready for refitting.

The land wheel has been removed from the axle behind it.
It is ready to go home for cleaning and painting.

Now the wheel is out of the way, the framework behind can be cleaned up and painted.
The repainted crop divider(red bit) has been repaired, reassembled and refitted.

The wooden decking woodwork as removed. The condition is poor! Numbers have been applied to assist in their use as patterns and eventual reassembly.

The rusty metal panel fits above the wooden decking (above) where the sheaves are formed. It was very thin and rusted through in places, so I have made a new one from a new sheet of mild steel. It is fitted to the original metal framework which was sound.

The new wooden decking panels ready for refitting when the chassis of the binder has been painted. Grant cut and shaped the panels after DK and I had dismantled the originals and measured them. The originals were mostly badly warped, worm eaten and some were rotten!

There are lots of other bits and pieces that have come home and been cleaned, repaired where necessary and painted. It is quite a therapeutic process for me and a decrepit machine is gradually being returned to something of its former glory!

Ashley : at the close of 2020

Re-siting the combine …

The new position for the combine shelter was cleared by Gordon Smith a few days previously. Two days before lockdown was designated moving day. Simon was with us all day, and thoroughly enjoyed himself, as did we all! The site for the Thompson Workshop has now been cleared ready for the Ground Works to be started.

Historic Vehicle Day: Sunday 13th September : 10am to 4pm

We are holding an Historic Vehicle Day on September 13th in place of the Threshing Day, we are encouraging people to bring their vehicles !

Here are a few of our August highlights …

Tony and DK are working on the Maldon Elevator  in preparation for the Historic Vehicle Day on 13 September, when it will be on display alongside our other exhibits.
The machine has been packed away and sheeted down for almost a year since the Steam Threshing Day in 2019.

James Howe called in to the Manor House in late August with Ruby his three year old Shire and waggon. He has owned Ruby since she was a foal and is training her to work on the road and get used to traffic.

Gordon Smith has been busy, first he dismantled the old compost bin and spread the compost over a low area under the trees. Then he graded and levelled the site using some additional hardcore. The container will be re- sited close to the northern boundary, a second container will be purchased and sited six metres to the south, parallel to the original one. The “container top”which arrived from Hamburg last week, will be erected to span the area between the two and provide some 36 metres of additional covered storage. The extra storage provided by the new Container and the covered area, should enable us to store the Thompson Millwright artefacts on site, and also provide shelter for other large artefacts at present stored outside. Funding for this project has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund Emergency Funding.

It is a large cover ( 250 kgs !) that we plan to stretch between two containers where it will provide 36 sq metres of additional covered storage for us. We will acquire a second container shortly and reposition the existing one.


Gentle awakening …

Friday was a lovely sunny day and we were delighted that our friends Paddy and Ande from Nettleham travelled over the Wolds In their 1928 Austin 7 to spend the day at Alford Manor House.

Robin parked his vintage Velocette motorcycle alongside the two Austins making an attractive display.

We started the Combine and moved it out of its shelter, and Tony had several of the Stationary engines running. We had a steady stream of appreciative visitors, which was most rewarding!

On Tuesday 11th Aug. at least one other vintage Austin will be journeying from near Newark to join us.


Tuesdays and Fridays will be Summer run days

We intend to try and run some of our machinery every Tuesday and Friday during opening hours, throughout the summer.

Friday was such a lovely day we moved the  Fordson tractor down to the gate, and I parked one of my Austin Sevens alongside to add extra interest. We were delighted to welcome a steady stream of interested visitors for most of the day.

Tony was kept busy trying to keep four of the Stationary Engines all running! He gets bored if they all run faultlessly…….! He did manage it briefly.

See you soon Ashley

Our first day post lockdown …

Today was the first day post lockdown that we were open at the MORL. We were delighted to receive a steady flow of visitors from late morning until early afternoon.

One of our volunteers, Austin from Louth brought in this cast iron machinery plaque that he found amongst his late father’s oddments. He had connections with South Elkington and probably found this in an old farm building. Austin remembered reading our research on the panel relating to seed drills etc and the name struck a chord. He has restored the plaque and mounted it on a polished wooden block and presented it to the Museum today. A wonderful relic of local agricultural history!

Brian has just returned a collection of heavy horse harness that he has cleaned and beautifully restored during lockdown. It was in a dreadfully neglected state when he took it home, and it now has joined other harness in the Blacksmith’s shop and harness room where it looks well cared for once again


Checks on the combine …

We will be open on Tuesdays and Fridays from

14th July, 10am to 4pm

Last week was largely devoted to cutting the long grass in the orchard with the somewhat idiosyncratic Allen Scythe, so restoration projects took a back seat!

This week we started to check over the combine so it is ready to go if we get the opportunity. The triangular shaped double chain in picture one was rather floppy and had run out of adjustment, so Tony and I removed it and shortened by a link and rejoined it. It is now just the right tension! There are several others to adjust and shorten too…..!

Pictures two and three are of the top of the “new” grain tank showing repair patches that I’ve made and shaped to strengthen damaged areas. They have been temporarily “pop” riveted in position so that Grant can weld them in properly to make a strong repair. Once the welding is completed, the painting can be completed and it will be ready for fitting.


Time to attend to the McCormick “power” binder …

This is the lower elevator camvas
The second (lower elevator) canvas alongside (left) a very frail original that is being used as a pattern.

Museum of Rural Life May 2020 news

I have turned my attention, during this lock down period, to the McCormick “power” binder, so called because it is powered solely by the towing tractor’s “power take off” (pto).  Horse drawn binders, such as our Massey Harris machine, derive their power to turn the mechanism from the large “Bull” wheel .

We acquired this machine about 18 months ago from a local collection, and it has had very little attention since! The original canvases had previously been stored in a building with a leaking roof, and were found to be completely beyond repair on arrival.

About three years ago we acquired a large collection of “new old stock” canvases, knives, needles, rollers, and other spares. A few of these canvases fitted our Massey Harris binder, but quite a lot of them didn’t. I realized that I could adapt some of these to fit the McCormick binder so that it could be used again in the future.

I decided to tackle the “conveyor” canvas first, which fits behind the knife and conveys the cut cereal crop toward the elevators and on to the binding mechanism. This machine takes an 8 foot cut compared to the Massey Harris which is a 6 foot cut machine. The conveyor canvas is thus very long and so I decided to join together two of the new identical short canvases to get the length. The width also needed to be reduced by about 2 inches.

I sought the advice of Graham Kirk who founded his company, Farm & Rural Past, in Norfolk nearly 30 years ago to make binder canvases and supply spare parts. He was extremely helpful and supplied me with rivets and other materials for the conversion work.

I have been able to do this work at home over the past few weeks and have now finished the conveyor canvas and the lower elevator canvas, apart from a little fine tuning.

Tony Hogg and the binder with a trial fit of the first (conveyor) canvas.

Tony Hogg has come out of lock down now so at the beginning of June we uncovered the binder, cleaned it down, greased the bearings and lubricated the chains. It now turns quite freely, and we were able to try the “new” conveyor canvas for size. I’m pleased to say that it fits and moves as it should, needing just one minor adjustment.

I now have the upper conveyor canvas to make by adapting another spare in our stock!

Ashley Vincent :  June 2020