Tag Archives: Family

Insley’s Lane, Shackerstone, Leicestershire

Following my visit to Hull Museum and the recreation of the Wheelwrights workshop there I was reminded of my post about my great-great grandfather.

He was Thomas Insley (on the left) a splendid Victorian gentleman,  whose son Joseph married my great grandmother (Florence) Lilian Hill in or about 1908.  I remember her well.  The Insley family lived in Shackerstone in South West Leicestershire.

Today Shackerstone is a pretty unspoiled rural village and in the mid-nineteenth century the village was a successful self-supporting Victorian community that had four farms, two pubs, two shops, a builder, a carpenter, brick works, a post office, a coal merchant, a dressmaker, a shoemaker and a blacksmith.

Nearby Shackerstone Mill was situated by the River Sence and was operated by my other great-great grandfather the Petcher family who owned Bridge Farm where there was a bake house and a bakery.

It also was the home for a successful coach building business that was first established in the 1770s.  It was run by the Insley family, which provided employment for a coachbuilder, a wheelwright and up to thirty other employees. The coach works were situated in Insley’s Lane in the centre of the village and convenient for the railway station from where it supplied wagons and later on wheelbarrows throughout the country.

The invention of the wheel was arguably the most important ever and the skill of a wheelwright in building a wheel was considerable and this made the Insley’s very important and influential people in the village.

The hub, or nave, of a wheel was made from seasoned wych elm that would not split even with mortises cut in it for spokes.  It was barrel-shaped to accommodate two iron stock hoops that were shrunk to fit direct from the red-hot forge.  The hub was then set in a cradle and the spoke mortises marked, drilled and cut.  The mortises had to allow for a tapered fit and also for the angle of dishing of each spoke.  The hub was augered to receive a cast-iron ‘box’ or ‘metal’, which was driven in and was the bearing for the axle.  Finally, the top of the hub was cut away so that a cotter pin could be later inserted to retain the wheel onto an axle.

The spokes were usually made from oak, which had been seasoned for a minimum of four years.  They had square ‘feet’ that fitted into the hub and circular ‘tongues’ that fitted into the felloes.  Two spokes would fit into each felloe, which was made of ash or hickory.  The felloes would have preferably been grown curved so that when the wood was sawn using a template, less grain of the wood was cut resulting in a stronger component.  Felloes were joined together with an oak dowel.

Carriage Wheel wheelwright

The complete wheel was held together with a tyre made from iron.  The tyre would start life as an iron bar, perhaps four inches wide and three-eighths of an inch thick for a working cart-wheel.  It would be shaped using a tyre-bending machine, which is a set of rollers operated by a handle that bent the bar into a perfect circle and after welding the two ends of the bar to form a ring the tyre was heated in a circular fire.  Meanwhile, the wheel was mounted on a tyring platform – usually a large stone or metal plate – using a clamp to hold the hub of the wheel.

When the tyre was ready it was carried from the fire with tongs, and placed over the rim of the wheel.  After hammering into position, water was poured onto the hot metal to cool it before the wood of the wheel became burnt.  As the metal contracted it crushed the joints of the wheel tight and so completed the job.

Two genuine Insley farm carts…

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the traditional craft of the wheelwright faced increasing competition from the manufacturing industries and factory produced cast iron wheels and they had to diversify and find new business.  One way was to expand into the coach building business and by the 1901 census both Thomas and my great-grandfather Joseph were recorded as ‘coach builders’.

From documentary evidence and first hand accounts we can be sure that the Insley coach-builders manufactured a full range of carts and wagons for local farms and businesses including the nearby water mills.  Their catalogue included the ‘gig’ which was a light two-wheeled sprung cart pulled by one horse or a pony and a ‘dray’, a versatile four-wheeled flat-bed cart usually pulled by two horses but they were also well-known for a specialist cart of East Anglian or Lincolnshire design called the ‘hermaphrodite’

This was a unique type of two-wheeled cart that could be converted to a four-wheel wagon when extra capacity was required in the fields at harvest time.  Although they were all rather similar and were based on the same overall design, each had their own distinct differences in regards to their place of manufacture and according to records the Insley design was quite unlike anything else made locally at the time.

For smaller farms that could not afford a barn full of expensive specialist vehicles the selling feature of the cart was that it was a multi-purpose vehicle that could be used throughout the year.  For most of the time the top frames, raves and fore-carriage could be removed and the rear part was used as a conventional tip cart, whilst at harvest time an ingenious conversion provided a wagon with the large carrying platform and the additional length and the temporary advantage of four wheels converted it into a high-capacity hay wagon.

This multi-purpose design explains the name hermaphrodite which is a term that derives from Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology, who was fused with a nymph, Salmacis, resulting in one individual possessing physical traits of both sexes, i.e. it was interchangeable.  Locally the wagon was referred to as a wagonette, the morphy or the moffrey.

The drawing is of an Insley wagonette that was probably built in the 1920s for the farmer H S Foreman of Stapleton, Leicestershire, about ten miles from Shackerstone.  The maker’s name, Insley, can be clearly seen on the front of the wagon on the front board of the tub. It was in regular use until about 1965 and was eventually transferred to a rural museum in Herefordshire for safe keeping.  The drawing is by the grandson of the owner M A Foreman, himself a Leicestershire farmer.

Coach building was another trade that required enormous skill and to complete a single order could take as long as six months.  They were very successful at this as well but what they probably didn’t need was the motor car, Henry Ford and the assembly line and the business ceased trading in 1935.

 

Travel Memories – Family Holidays

Until last year I had not been on a proper holiday in the United Kingdom since 1986 when I went to Wales in a self-catering chalet near Caernarfon and it rained so much that the wooden chalet leaked and it was so cold and damp that I gave up after four days, returned home and vowed never to do it again.

Since then I have spent my summer holidays on Mediterranean beaches where the sun is guaranteed, the beer is always cold and ladies wear fewer clothes.  It wasn’t always like this of course.

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.  To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was totally absurd, I knew of people who had been to France or Spain of course (or said that they had) but I always regarded them as slightly eccentric and certainly unusual.  As for going further than Europe we might as well have made plans to go to the moon!

Body Builder

In the 1950s about twenty-five million people went on holiday in England as life returned to normal after the war.  Most people went by train but we were lucky because grandad had a car, an Austin 10 four-door saloon, shiny black with bug eye lights, a starting handle, pop out indicators and an interior that had the delicious smell of worn out leather upholstery, which meant that we could travel in comfort and style.  Although there were not nearly so many cars on the road in the 1950s this didn’t mean that getting to the seaside was any easier.

There were no motorways or bypasses and a journey from Leicester to the north Norfolk coast involved driving through every town and bottleneck on the way which meant sitting around in traffic jams for hours and worrying about the engine overheating.  Well, I didn’t worry obviously but I’m sure the driver did.  Just getting to the coast could take the whole day and usually involved stopping off along the route at some point for a rest and a picnic.

Grandad would find a quiet road to turn off into and then when there was a convenient grass verge or farm gate he would pull up and the adults would spread a blanket on the ground and we would all sit down and eat sandwiches and Battenberg cake and they would drink stewed tea from a thermos flask and I would have a bottle of orange juice.

I seem to remember that one of the favourite places to go on holiday at that time was Mundesley which is about ten miles south of Cromer where there were good sandy beaches and lots of caravans.

I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no fun in it whatsoever.

In 2000 the National Statistics Office estimated that British families took 4,240,000 towed caravan holidays a year year; how sad is that?  To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a six-year-old child but I certainly wouldn’t choose to do it now when I am ten times older.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach however and even if it was blowing a gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.

As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is even too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

It was rather like being submerged in liquid nitrogen and whilst swimmers in Australia were worrying about sharks we were busy avoiding bits of iceberg that had broken off in the Arctic Ocean.  I can remember one holiday at Walcote, Norfolk, in about 1965 when it was so cold that there was a penguin on the beach!  That is seriously true and I can only imagine that it had escaped from a nearby zoo or aquarium.

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After the paddle in the sea we would cover ourselves up in a towel and making sure we didn’t reveal our private parts struggled to remove the sopping wet bathing costume and get back to our more sensible woolly jumpers.  Then we would have a picnic consisting of cheese and sand sandwiches and more stewed tea from a thermos flask.

If the sun did ever come out we used to get really badly burnt because when I was a boy sunscreen was for softies and we would regularly compete to see how much damage we could do to our bodies by turning them a vivid scarlet and then waiting for the moment that we would start to shed the damaged skin off.  After a day or two completely unprotected on the beach it was a challenge to see just how big a patch of barbequed epidermis could be removed from the shoulders in one piece and the competition between us was to remove a complete layer of skin in one massive peel, a bit like stripping wallpaper, which would leave you looking like the victim of a nuclear accident.

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We didn’t always go to Norfolk and we didn’t always stay in caravans.  If we went on holiday with Mum’s parents who lived in London we would get a train to Herne Bay or Margate in north Kent and stay at a holiday camp in a chalet which was just about one step up from a caravan.

Actually my grandparents were probably some of the first people that I knew who went abroad for their holidays when in the mid 1960s they went to Benidorm and came back with gifts of flamenco dancers and bullfighters and I can remember thinking how marvellous that sort of travel must be.  I went to Benidorm myself in 1975 and although the sun shone most of the time I think on reflection I probably preferred Mundesley and Herne Bay.

I Spy At The Seaside

Beach holidays in the fifties and sixties were gloriously simple.  We would spend hours playing beach cricket on the hard sand, investigating rock pools and collecting crabs and small fish in little nets and keeping them for the day in little gaily coloured metal buckets before returning them to the sea at the end of the day.  There were proper metal spades as well with wooden handles that were much better for digging holes and making sand castles than the plastic things that replaced them a few years later.  Inflatable beach balls and rubber rings, plastic windmills on sticks and kites that were no more than a piece of cloth (later plastic), two sticks and a length of string that took abnormal amounts of patience to get into the air and then the aeronautical skills of the Wright brothers to keep them up there.

I remember beach shops before they were replaced by amusement arcades with loads of cheap junk and beach games, cricket sets, lilos, buckets and spades, rubber balls and saucy seaside postcards.  I can remember dad and his friend Stan looking through them and laughing and as I got older and more aware trying to appear disinterested but sneaking a look when I thought no one was watching.

For a treat there was fish and chips a couple of nights a week but this was in the days before MacDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken so most of the catering and the eating was done in the caravan or the chalet or if we were really unlucky in the dining room of the holiday camp.  I think that this is what put me off school dinners later in life.  I once worked in a holiday camp kitchen, at Butlins on Barry Island in 1973 and based on what I saw believe me you really don’t want to eat in a holiday camp restaurant because it isn’t Masterchef I can assure you.

Later, after dad learned to drive, we used to go to Cornwall and Devon and North Wales, to the Nalgo holiday camp at Croyde Bay and the Hoseasons holiday village at Borth, near Aberystwyth.  The last time I went on the family holiday like that was in 1971 to Llandudno and by my own confession I was a complete pain in the arse to everybody and I don’t remember being invited ever again.

In 1976 I went to Sorrento in Italy and nothing has ever persuaded me to go back to British holidays in preference to travelling in Europe.

Do you have any family holiday memories to share?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

Germany Black Forest Schiltach Fastnacht

The Fasnacht Parade in Schiltach, Germany

The sun was shining now and outside the café a crowd was beginning to congregate because at two o’clock there was an afternoon children’s fasnacht and more and more people in costumes were beginning to gather.  There was half an hour to go so we had a second drink and then walked out into the pleasant sunshine and took up a position to watch.

Read the full story…

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

Greek Party Night – Family Night Out!

A couple of weeks away in Greece are just not complete without going to a traditional Greek food and entertainment night and this really must include participative Greek dancing.  A real enthusiast will prepare for such an evening by purchasing a CD of Greek music to practice beforehand but this is not strictly necessary and all you really need to be able to do is to recognise the opening chords of ‘Zorba’.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand (Dads)

I suppose I was fortunate because for the first twenty years of my life I had the privilege of having and knowing all four of my grandparents, five if you include my great grandmother who lived to a wonderful old age.  There were boys and girls at school who had one or two missing even when we were quite young so although I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time I was privileged to know them all.

I recall my granddads really well as we lived with them for a while, visited them frequently and every year one or the other of them would come on holiday with us.

This is really unfair I suppose but grandad Ted was always my favourite because he seemed to have a better understanding of children.  Going to visit him was always something to look forward to.  He was the one that I remember had all of the patience and the unlimited time to spend for hours in the back garden at Cleveleys Avenue playing cricket (it might only have been ten minutes for all I know but my memory tells me that these sporting sessions lasted as long as a test match) or taking me to the brook with a fishing net, or fiddling about on a Norfolk beach in rock pools and flying kites on the beach.

He was about forty-five when I was born and must have had a job but as far as I can recall he was always around when I was a child.  He could drive a car and used to take us to Groby Pool near Leicester to feed the ducks or to Bradgate Park to see the deer and he liked football and cricket and was a safe and reliable grandad to be around.  He took us on holiday to Lincolnshire and Norfolk and everyone seemed to like him.  Granddad Ted died on 17thMay 1975 and it was a shock because it was unexpected and sudden and we were making plans to go on holiday in a month’s time to Devon.  He was the first granddad and also the first close relative that I knew to die and I think his funeral was probably the first that I ever attended.

Grandad Ernie was quite different.  He was Londoner and worked as a bus conductor on the old London double-decker Routemaster buses operating from the Catford depot in South London.  I can still remember him in his dark blue London Transport uniform with his red conductors badge and his leather satchel slung over his shoulder walking home from work in a jaunty sort of way all along Barmerston Road back to the flat my grandparents lived at, at number 50.

Grandad Ernie liked to have a drink (or two) and would always give my dad (who was a hopeless drinker) a headache after a night out and he used to smoke forty Embassy cigarettes a day until the doctor told him to quit or die.  He spent a lot of time sitting in his favourite chair watching the horse racing on the TV and didn’t seem to have any particular interest in children.

He was a really nice man but he never quite seemed to have the time for or the understanding of children that granddad Ted used to have.  He was generous and kind but just didn’t seem to have the time to spend with us on all of the trivial things that the other one did.  He like history and reading and he bought me a book about Winston Churchill shortly after he died and I like to think that perhaps I inherited my own interests here from him.  Granddad Ernie died two years after Ted in 1977.