Friday, December 26, 2008

The Village Smithy

"Blacksmiths played a very important role in Victorian times. Before the days of complex electrical machines the local blacksmith could mend most machinery. Farmers would bring their tools to the smithy to be mended, and many smiths were also farriers and would put horseshoes on the horses. With thousands of horses at work in the countryside this kept the blacksmith busy.

The wheelwright was the skilled man who made cart wheels. With horse-drawn carts and coaches providing most local transport this was an important trade."

In early Auckland, the blacksmith was just as important as he was in the Old Country. The forge was the only place, for example, where the quality of coal could be determined by the fire it produced.

In the 1870s, a Mr John White appears to have been a local blacksmith, featuring in the accounts kept by John Bollard for his Whau Farm from 1871 to 1878. To date, he’s the first known in the district, appearing in Wise's Directory for 1878-1879. He may have started a forge up Blake’s Street (St Judes Street), just down hill from the later Myer’s smithy from the late 1890s.

In 1874 there is a record of a James Owen, “Engineer, Millwright and General Smith”. [Bollard papers, held at Auckland War Memorial Museum Library] In 1878, in Wises, he appears as a storekeeper.

By 1890, George Downing appears. He's also in the Village in 1896. His smithy was beside the Primary School on Great North Road, site of the later Salvation Army Hall and video store.

Perry’s Avondale Shoeing Forge on Great North Rd had an entrance at Geddes Tce [Avondale Road Board minutes, 5/4/16]. This could have become Trigg’s garage [by 1920s], later Avondale Auction House and Avondale Spiders.
Advertisement in The News, 11 November 1916
“Before you let your gig or trap go too far, run along to W.B. Perry. He’s the cheapest and the best – yes, by far – Wheelwright, Coachbuilder, Agricultural, Shoeing and General Smith.”
Thomas Myers (c.1881–1967), the blacksmith in Blake Street was the rival:
“Since we commenced business in Avondale we have built over one hundred carts and sulkies for the district.; We guarantee you better value than you can get elsewhere. Horse Shoeing, Ploughs made to order. All Kinds of Agricultural Implements Repaired.”
Advertisement in The News, November 1916, Challenge of the Whau, p. 73

His father William Myers came to New Zealand c.1895, starting up the family blacksmith business in Avondale, while living in Avondale South (according to William’s grandson, Roger Myers, the family were the first ones on what was to become Myers Rd, later Margate St).

Thomas Myers went into the business with his father in 1908, and remained in business there until 1962-63. During that time, the original building was cut down, and part leased.

“I started work with my father, the blacksmith William Myers, in 1908. I had served my apprenticeship with Hughes and Donger in Eden Terrace.

From Memories of early Avondale, by Tom Myers, Avondale Advance, 21 November 1960
“We did a lot of work then for Charlie Pooley, who was the contractor. There was always plenty of work at our smithy. I started work at 7.30 in the morning and we worked long hours especially in the summer.”
Myers’ was more than simply a farrier (Thomas wouldn’t do a lot of work for the Jockey Club, his son Roger told me, as he considered thoroughbreds as “too flighty, a young man’s job”) – he also did a lot of work for market gardeners, both in Avondale and as far afield as Oratia and Henderson. He’d do repairs to plows, disks, harrows. Farmers would bring up to the shed 3 or 4 spades at a time, to have handles repaired. Thomas Myers also made up wheelbarrows.

He also worked for Odlins timber at Karekare, a day’s work shoeing 8 to 10 horses. As a wheelwright, he would repair wagons, virtually anything that could be drawn by animals, so his son says, including drays and milk vendors carts. Roger Myers described to me how wheel rims were replaced. In the days of harsh roads, cart wheels were rimmed in steel, that was forged at the local blacksmith’s.

The wheel was first dismantled, leaving only the hub, then completely re-spoked. The wheel would then be dropped into a hole dug in the ground to lie flat. The steel rim was then made up, and dropped into the hole around the wheel while still hot, then could water was poured into the hole to shrink the metal snugly around the wheel, and to stop the wood burning.

His son would ask Thomas Myers how he knew that the steel rim would fit every time. The answer, with a tap to the head, was simply, “Ah, son …!”
[Conversation with Roger Myers, 28 June 2001]

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