Tag Archives: Leicestershire

Lincolnshire to Cornwall, Twelve English Counties

Counties of England

Once a year I generally take a holiday in the UK with my daughter and grandchildren.  In previous years I have been to East Anglia, Yorkshire and Wales but on account of the distance never to Cornwall in the extreme South West.  An Australian motorist would no doubt consider four hundred miles to be a drive to the mini-market to get a loaf of bread but in England this is generally considered to be a long way and an arduous journey that requires rather a lot of meticulous planning.

I live in Lincolnshire which is on the north east coast so a journey to Cornwall requires a drive in a diagonal direction right across the country from north-east to south-west.  As I plotted my journey it occurred to me that I was going to pass through twelve (25%) of the forty-eight Counties of England so I thought that I might take you with me.

To be clear here I am talking about the traditional historic counties of England such as Warwickshire and not modern administrative areas such as for example the West Midlands.

01 Lincolnshire

So, the journey begins in Lincolnshire where I have lived for almost twenty years, at first in the South in the farming town of Spalding but now in the North in the fishing town of Grimsby.  It is the second largest County in England and even though my destination was south we began by going north because this is the quickest way out of the County using its only motorway, the M18, to go west towards Yorkshire.

The White Rose County of Yorkshire is the largest in England and for administrative convenience was once divided into Ridings, North, West and East, but no obvious fourth and I wondered why? Well it turns out that there is a simple explanation because the word Riding is derived from a Danish word ‘thridding’, meaning a third. The invading Danes called representatives from each Thridding to a Thing, or Parliament and established the Ridings System.

To this day, Yorkshire consists of three ridings, along with the City of York, and that’s why there is no fourth, or South, Riding (but to confuse matters there is a modern administrative area of South Yorkshire). I once lived for a short time in Yorkshire in the North Yorkshire town of Richmond.

02 Yorkshire

We drove through a part of the West Riding (South Yorkshire) past the town of Doncaster and the steel city of Sheffield and driving south now slipped into Nottinghamshire in the North Midlands and into Robin Hood country. I have never lived in Nottinghamshire but I did work there once between 1987 and 1990 in the town of Arnold.

03 Nottinghamshire

Shortly after that we were in Derbyshire following the route of the Erewash Valley, an area of great mineral wealth, particularly coal, extending from Yorkshire and into Leicestershire.  I lived and worked in Derbyshire for almost fifteen years before moving to Lincolnshire and we passed close to the town of Ilkeston where my family still do.

04 Derbyshire05 Leicestershire

After Derbyshire the M1 motorway took us into Leicestershire, the County of my birth and boasting the finest football team in England and then into Warwickshire, the County where I lived and grew up from 1960 until 1980 in the town of Rugby famous for its public school and for Rugby Football after William Webb Ellis cheated at soccer and picked up the ball and ran with it.

Warwickshire is probably most famous for William Shakespeare and for a short time (just a year in 1986/7) I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon.

06 Warwickshire

We passed through the West Midlands and close to the city of Birmingham and then into the rural county of Worcestershire, briefly into the farming county of Herefordshire and the town of Ross-on-Wye and on into Gloucestershire where we were breaking the journey with a two night stop at my Sister’s home in Lydney in the Forest of Dean because two hundred miles is just about the limit that most people will drive in just one day so a break half way seemed to make good sense.

07 Hereford & Worcester09 Gloucestershire

I will return later to tell you about the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley but for now I will continue my drive through the English Counties but before I can I have to report that we crossed for a short while out of England and into Wales and drove through the County of Monmouthshire before crossing the Bristol Channel and back into England and the County of Somerset

10 Somerset11 Devon

Now we were in the West Country but still with two hundred miles to our final destination.  The west country counties are all quite large so it took a while to pass through Somerset (seventh largest) and then through Devon (fourth largest) before we finally crossed the River Tamar into Cornwall (twelfth largest).  The Tamar almost completely separates Cornwall from the rest of England and is a geographical dividing line that kept Cornwall as somewhere rather remote and mysterious up until relatively recently.

The most westerly point of Cornwall and England is Land’s End but we weren’t going that far and fifty miles of so before the land ran out we drove to our holiday home in the fishing port of Mevagissey.

12 Cornwall

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.