Village Craftsmen

Extract from ‘The Rayner Family of Great Wakering” by Albert Rayner Bsc (Econ) FCA [page 75]

Practically all trades were represented in the village of Great Wakering, many being partly or wholly subsidiary to agriculture. Today many of the trades are no longer carried on in the village as the factories, with their mass production techniques, have more than satisfied the requirements of the villagers.

There was no one in the census described as a builder as such but in 1871 there were 8 bricklayers and in 1881 there were 9, together with twice as many carpenters.

George Burgess appears to be the founder of the firm known as 'Burgess the Builders'. In 1871, when he was 47, he employed one man and by 1881 he was employing 3 men and 2 boys. Also in 1881 there were other members of the family who were presumably involved in the business: Henry, aged 33; George, aged 32 and Edward aged 28. The firm had a high reputation but in fact closed down in the 1950s. Members of the family still live in their grandparents' house at 112 High Street.

Whereas the family of Burgess supplied the village with bricklayers, the family of Wiggins supplied the carpenters. Records of the Wiggins' family go back as far as 1508, various members being fishermen, oyster dredgers and farmers. In 1871, Thomas Wiggins, aged 66 (son of Thomas Wiggins and Mary Cripps of Foulness Island), was head of his firm, employing 2 men. It is understood that he was apprenticed as a wheelwright and carpenter to John Freeman of Rochford. By 1881, Thomas junior had died and it would seem that the firm was in the hands of William Wiggins, aged 57, employing men and 1 boy, together with other members of the family probably involved in the business, namely William aged 34 (who lived to the ripe age of 90), Joseph then aged 43 and Charles, aged 31. The Wiggins' were also undertakers and wheelwrights and, in later years, boat builders. The business has been passed from father to son until the present day.

There were two village blacksmiths and farriers. Next to Cripps the baker, James Alp set up his forge in 1850, having been apprenticed in Rochford. His son, George Alp, with the nickname 'Bluey Alp', had taken over by 1871, when he was 27. It was essentially a family business, passing from father to son. George Alp was a regular winner of prizes at the village flower show, held every August Bank Holiday. His son, Wilfred George Alp (known to the younger generation as 'Young Bluey') had a stroke in 1963 following which he was unable to do any hard work although he continued to run the cycle shop next to the forge until 1971. He died in 1974 and there was nobody to take over the business as he only had one child, a daughter, Phyllis Alp, who still lives at 123 High Street, next to the forge. In view of the increasing interest in industrial archaeology, she has donated the contents of the forge to the Southend Museum.

The other blacksmith in 1871 was William Norden, aged 37, whose forge was on the north side of the High Street, between the Peculiar Chapel and the old vicarage, which is now the British Legion headquarters. The business was later taken over by Edward (Teddy) Brown and his son, Joseph, but has since closed down. Teddy Brown sang in the church choir, having a powerful bass voice; his daughter, Winifred, was church organist.

The village harness maker and saddler was as important to the farmer as the blacksmith. He supplied the farmer with harness and undertook repairs. To the horsemen he supplied brasses, braid and raffia, because the horses were always decorated when taking part in shows and also when not working in the fields but doing wagon or cart work through the village and to the local town.

The village harness maker and saddler was James Goodman, who in 1871 was 57 and employed 2 men. His son, William Goodman, then aged 12, was eventually the village photographer as well as harness maker. He also organised the vi 11 age drum and fife band. The lads of the band used to gather at his house and he taught them how to play the instruments. They took an active part in the affairs of the village and, when on parade, they wore pillbox hats. They often attended cricket matches and on occasions were present at funerals. Mr George Fulcher, the licensee of the White Hart, wrote the Rules of the Band - in fact he seemed to be the Village Rulemaker being also author of the Rules of the Cricket Club, which he actively supported. Goodman's premises have been demolished and replaced by a block of flats called 'Goodmans’, providing sheltered accommodation for the elderly.

The Salvation Army also, of course, had its own band; Ted Wade, a brickfield worker, was their conductor.

Another of the Goodman family, George, who was the eldest of twelve brothers, was a part time hairdresser for the village. He charged 2d for a haircut and 1d for a shave. One of the daughters was a schoolteacher who married Ernest French, a hairdresser. Their shop was part 'Tobacco and Sweets' and part 'Gents' Hairdressers'. The building still stands, such as it is, in the High Street opposite the 'Red Lion'.

In 1871, Henry Bennewith was a wheelwright, aged 56, employing 2 men by 1881.

Another important and skilled craft was that of thatchers and hay binders. In 1871 there were three members of the Rivers family so described: John, aged 71; William, aged 46 and James, aged 39. There was also Henry Lloyd, aged 49. All, except John Rivers, were included in the 1881 Census.

The thatcher and his mate were sometimes self-employed, travelling from farm to farm. Some of the farmers employed their own thatchers. Their main occupation was the thatching of houses and stacks. They trussed the straw, pulling it out of the stacks and binding it into rolls with straw bands, for there was no twine in those days. The straw bands were made by feeding straw on to a bow and twisting it by turning.

When the hay had to be carted from the stack, the thatcher would cut the hay out of the stack with the hay knife, truss it into oblong trusses and tie with straw bands. The trusses of hay were then ready for transportation to the stables, to the cowsheds or for sale. At other times of the year the thatcher and his mate would be occupied in cutting and laying hedges and in clearing ditches and dykes.

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