Nostalgia: When smithy’s anvil was at the heart of every village

In an age of horse-drawn transport, the local farrier was as essential to the high street as the petrol filling station is today. But although it’s tempting to think of the smithy in medieval terms, these pictures demonstrate that the craft was being practiced on a fairly industrial scale well into the modern age.

UNDER THE VILLAGE SYCAMORE TREE, In these days of progress and mechanisation, the horse is taking a back place. Where farms once used ten horses to till the land, they now use a tractor. Consequently in rural areas the blacksmith is becoming garage proprietor and not many of the old smithies remain. - Mr Foulger still manages to keep busy at his forge at Horstead in Norfolk, where in summer time he works under the shade of two sycamore trees, Horstead, Norfolk. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
UNDER THE VILLAGE SYCAMORE TREE, In these days of progress and mechanisation, the horse is taking a back place. Where farms once used ten horses to till the land, they now use a tractor. Consequently in rural areas the blacksmith is becoming garage proprietor and not many of the old smithies remain. - Mr Foulger still manages to keep busy at his forge at Horstead in Norfolk, where in summer time he works under the shade of two sycamore trees, Horstead, Norfolk. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

While farriers specialised in the maintenance of horses’ hooves, the blacksmith was a general purpose toolmaker and very often a pillar of the community.

There had been blacksmiths in Britain since around 450BC and by the 13th century there was not a village in England without one.

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Even after the Industrial Revolution they remained part of the landscape, and during the 19th century, most of the more remote farms in Yorkshire’s East Riding had a smithy on site. It was considered better business sense than taking the horses to town.

1926: Blacksmiths at work at their smithy, which also has a petrol pump, at Wood Green. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

But the same acumen eventually brought mechanisation to the land and signalled the end of the equine era. By the end of the Second World War only a few local farriers remained.

Yet the fascination never went away, and there remain at least 600 traditional blacksmiths in the UK, shoeing horses turning out hand-made tools and crafts for discerning audiences.

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circa 1938: Blacksmith Eric Boon shoeing a horse. (Photo by David Savill/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
1938: Blacksmith Charlie Cole at work in his forge near Staines. (Photo by London Express/Getty Images)
England 's Oldest Blacksmith, Still working at the age of 87 years, Mr William Facott, of Cleeve, Bristol, Somerset, claims to be the oldest working farrier in the country. This wonderful old man started work as a smith at the age of 15 years and has never missed a dayís work in his life. He has been at his present forge for 60 years and still does a full dayís work. - Mr W. Facott shoeing a horse at his forge at Cleeve, Cleeve, Bristol, Somerset. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Blacksmiths At Work, The village smithy. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)