Until the middle part at this century most villages had a
wheelwright's shop. They could not manage without one. The
wheelwright looked to the farmer for most of his work, for making
his carts and wagons, wooden ploughs and harrows, wheelbarrows,
horse stands in the stable and cow stands in the mistel, Dutch
barns, cattle troughs, sheep troughs, field gates and many other
things on the farm. All this and much more fell to the lot of the
wheelwright. In addition to the wood working, the wheelwright's
shop had its own blacksmith's shop as there was 50 much iron work
involved that the woodworkers would not have been able to carry on
without a blacksmith's forge. Host villages also had one or more
separate blacksmith's shops to shoe the horses and to do much
metal forging and repair work.
But sadly all this has gone, fallen under the tread of
'progress', so I want you to forget the traffic jams and stress of
travelling to and from your place of work. Let us turn round and
retrace our steps on this road of so-called progress and go back
60 years to that (in my view) idyllic decade of the 1930s.
March 20th. 1931 was my fourteenth birthday and I left Barwick
School at the end of the week. The following Monday I began work
at 'Henry Pullan and Son, English Timber Merchants and
Wheelwrights'. They were also the Village undertakers. The firm
was owned and run by the Pullan family, starting in the mid
nineteenth century by Francis Pullan. He had a saw-pit and
wheelwright's shop at Potterton, which was a larger place at that
time than it is now. When he retired the firm was run by his son,
Henry (Harry) Pullan, by which time they had moved to the lime
kilns in Potterton Lane, which had once been a lime quarry. The
building is still there and used as a woodworking business run by
I did not want to work at this place. I had no interest in
woodwork at all. What I wanted was a job in a garage to be with
motor cars and motor bikes. r had spent many hours as a boy with
a first class motor mechanic called Bob Walker, the son of 'Uncle'
Jim Walker who lived on Main Street. Bob had a 'bike hole' in the
lane where I now live and also lived then. It follows that I was
'well fit up' to work in a garage.
This job in the wheelwright's shop was only a stop gap until I
found the job I wanted in a garage. Twenty years later I was still
working in the same wheelwright's shop, with no desire to change.
Didn't old Harry Pullan tell me many times that any man who wasn't
a wheelwright was "a gormless bugger".
Let me then invite you to come with me as 1 make my way to
work at the saw-mills at the limekilns in Potter ton Lane. Work
started at 7.30am until 5.30pm with a lunch break from 12.00 noon
to 1.00pm. There were no tea breaks, these started during the
Second World War. On a Saturday morning we worked from 7.30am to
At this time 1 lived, until 1938, with my parents at 'No.1, The
Cross Hill'. We start off on foot at about 7.15am and turn into
Towler Fold between 'The Black Swan' and 'Ings House'. There were
four maybe five houses in this fold and one was still occupied by
Mr Fred Cheetham. The rest were semi-derelict.
At the end of the fold we turn left and see the Barwick Fire
Station with a cared-for look about it. We then turn right under a
huge sycamore tree, with the ancient earthworks on our left and Mr
David Cooper's garden on the right. It was single file all the way.
"Tony Shinn, the writer of this article, who used the skills
he learned in the wheelwright's shop to repair the church gates"
To walk down that path at 7.3Oam on a dark: winter's morning
was a pleasure indeed. You had to go through countless cobwebs
that you could not see. It was still and quiet and then all at
once there was the smell of pungent tobacco being smoked by XI'
David Cooper. He was at work in his garden. We would exchange
greetings and 1 would ask him what he was on with. His reply was
that he was "getting it blackened ower"; of course, that meant he
was digging. Tobacco never smelt so nice as on those dark winter
At the end of the ginnel you climbed over a stile and the
footpath went diagonally over a small field. In the summer time in
the meadow, the grass would be cut and the smell of the hay was
delightful. Also there was the view of the land over Whinmoor.
You could see the seasons come and go and the work that the
farmers did - the seed-time and the harvest. It was all around
you. This was the environment that you were working in. This was
rural England in which the wheelwright's shop played an important
The footpath led to a second stile and into another short
ginnel and out onto Potterton Lane at the limekilns. As you turn
off the road at the sharp left-hand bend you descend into the old
lime quarry, where lime was burned by the Pullans in former times.
This is where the saw-mill and wheelwright's shop stood.
The picture on the front cover was painted by the late Bart
Hammond and made available to us by Mrs Barbara Duckett. It shows
the wheelwright's shop and timber yard. When I started in 1931 it
was different, it was a low building. The end farther away from
Potter ton Road was the timber store and the other end was the
wheelwright's shop. In front of the building on the way down the
yard you passed the oak logs; they were always unloaded here. Then
there was an area where farm carts and wagons were kept and I can
remember as many as half a dozen 'reared up' waiting for repair.
Also in this area was the hooping fire All this was on the west
side looking onto Potterton Lane. Still further down the yard and
on the north side was a sliding door approximately 10ft. wide and
It is 7.30am on a cold morning at the end of March 1931, my
first day at work. The door was pulled back by my cousin, the late
Edgar Wilson, and what I saw would best be described as some kind
of museum from a past age. We stepped inside. It was very quiet
and so still. I could smell the sweet smell of sawdust from the
freshly sawn English timber - ash, oak, beech, elm, sycamore, larch
- all mixed together. There was a big circular saw bench just
through the doorway, with sawdust 2in. deep or so strewn on the
floor around the bench.
Looking further into the darkness, I could see a much smaller
circular saw and a band saw. There was a planing machine and
other machines that I could not see properly in the dim light. All
the machines were driven by flat belts and the motive power was a
steam engine with a big fly wheel. At the side of the engine was
the boiler house with an upright boiler. The steam pipe passed
through the wall from the boiler to the engine. Outside was a tall
chimney and the fire box of the boiler was connected to this
The first job every morning was to light a fire in the boiler
and raise steam. This took about half an hour and I remember it
was a pleasant job on cold winter mornings. It was a good start
to a long day. All wood waste, sawdust and chippings were
gathered up each morning and this, with a little small coal, was
the fuel for the boiler.
By this time it was much lighter and Mr Bill Stirk turned up
for work. He was a wheelwright and joiner. He started work at
8.00am. Soon after that, Mr George Pullan turned up for work and
then around 8.30am his father, Mr Harry Pullan, came in. Each of
them in turn went into the bailer house, looked at the fire,
shovelled on some rubbish, checked the water level in the boiler
and made sure that the water injection pump was working and that
the water level in the boiler was correct. This was the pattern
every morning and at regular intervals during the day.
On the first morning I was given an oil can and instructed to
oil all the bearings on the main shafting and also on the machines.
This was more or less a conducted tour as I had to be shown where
everything was. I did this every morning and it was a time
absorbing job. The press button electrical system had not yet
arrived in this part of rural England.
On my way round I passed and went between many piles of wood.
Stacked up in neat piles they were of different kinds and sizes,
all fresh sawn, sweet smelling and all home grown. There were
pieces of beech and sycamore for table legs. They were piled in
layers of six or seven with an air space between each one and each
layer laid at right angles to the one below. They were easy to
count when done in this way.
Then there were pieces of English elm, sixteen inches square
and one and a half inches thick. These were for chair seats and
with the table legs were for the furniture trade. There were piles
of Dutch elm discs, one and three quarters inches thick and 18 in.
in diameter. These were for dart boards and were going to
'Proctors Wire Works' in Leeds to be wired up.
I passed piles of cart wheel spokes. These were or English
butt-end oak i nothing else was good enough. Then there were the
cart wheel 'felloes' (pronounced 'fel11es') . These were curved
pieces that made up the cart wheel rims and were cut from ash, but
elm and beech would do.
But what were those beautiful cylindrical pieces of wood
standing an end near the spokes and felloes. These were the hubs
or 'naves' (pronounced 'naffs') for the wheels. They had been
turned in the lathe and had decorative beads on the nose and the
recesses far the nave hoops. They had two lines between which the
mortice holes far the spokes would eventually be cut. But mare of
this later. Remember that this was my first day at work.
At about 8.30am a small furniture van came to collect the table
legs and chair seats. The saw-mill floor was on two levels and
these table legs were on the lower level. They had to be carried
up three steps and out to the van. It was a slow job and took
quite some time. After this the fire in the boiler room was
attended to and the steam engine was started up. There was much
hissing of steam at first but when it reached its working speed it
was almost silent and ran smoothly. There was hardly any noise
and certainly no vibration. Then there was the pleasing smell of
engine oil and steam mixed together. Mr George Pullan used to say
that if a steam engine was set up correctly you could stand a
penny on the frame and it would not fall over. He should know; he
was an engineer. I was later to see that this was correct.
I have said that the steam engine ran smoothly and silently.
This could not be said for the other machinery. The whole building
rattled. There was a long piece of shafting across the building
under the floor with different size pulleys on and a flat belt for
each machine. These belts varied in width from 5in. down to 2in.
depending on the power required for each machine. The main belt
from the steam engine to its pulley on the shafting was about 6in.
wide and very heavy. It was my job every morning as a bay to oil
all the bearings in this tunnel-like shaftway under the floor. You
needed a lighted candle to do this. It was dark and deep in
On each machine there was a fast pulley and a loose pulley
with a lever to shift the belt from one to the other as the belt
was in motion, sa that when the machine was not in use the belt
ran on the loose pulley. Same of these loose pulleys were worn and
the noise they made together with all the other noise added up to
a terrific din, but then after a time one became used to it. There
was one sound that I shall never forget. It was the sound of the
flat belts running over the loose pulleys when the machines were
The ends of each belt were held together with a metal belt
fastener and each time it went over the pulley there was a 'clack'
every time it made a circuit. If this belt broke and had to have a
short piece inserted then there would be two metal joints and you
would have a 'clack-clack' every circuit. Some of the belts were
made up of three or four different pieces, all of varying lengths.
It was like listening to a percussion band. It was a very soothing
sound and I remember it with much pleasure.
In addition to the main shafting under the floor there was
also some up in the roof timbers, propped up here and there with
heavy support posts. There were pulleys and belts everywhere.
Some of the belts were running crossed, that is the belt went over
the top of the drive pulley and under the pulley that was being
driven, thus giving a reverse rotation.
The first day seemed such a long time. I was tired and after
my evening meal I went to bed. The second day, Tuesday, was much
the same as Monday. The furniture van came again and I helped to
carry the table legs up the steps and out to the van. After that
George Pullan, my cousin Edgar Wilson and myself went out to the
timber yard with a cross-cut saw to cut some lengths of oak to
make gate posts. By the end of the second day, my body ached all
over and on the Wednesday I could not go to work. My slender
frame was not used to that kind of punishment.
I went back to work on the Thursday and thought that would be
the end. But it wasn't. George Pullan set me to work to stack
some floor boards that had fallen over. Then he and Edgar Wilson
with Joe Walton and his motor wagon went to Becca Woods to load
timber. I was left alone. It seemed very quiet. After a while old
Harry Pullan came to see what I was doing and told me to pile the
boards best side up so that customers could see what they were
buying. Then he told me to leave that job and go with him. He
took me through the saw-mill into the wheelwright's shop, where he
and Mr Stirk were working. Mr Pullan told me that in future I
should report to the wheelwright's shop, otherwise I "wouldn't be
worth a light". I did not know it then but this was where I was
to receive my higher education.
Mr Pullan scorned the meagre education I had at Barwick
School. He told me that I could not write, that I had no 'rhythm'.
He seemed amazed that a lot of things had not been taught at
school. He seemed to think that I should know what everything was
- spokes, felloes, the square, the straight edge, etc.
At that time they had pieces of equipment with names that were
peculiar to the wheelwright's shop. I remember one day later on
when Harry Pullan asked me to go to fetch the 'little big hammer'.
I went to the workshop and told Mr Stirk what I had been sent for.
He painted to several hammers reared up against the wall. One was
a short one-handed hammer weighing about 2½ lbs. The next was a
large one, double-handed with a long handle weighing about 7lbs.
Next to that was an even larger one with a long shaft weighing
about 12lbs. And last of all there was a huge hammer with an even
longer shaft and weighing about 14 lbs.
"Now, lad", said Mr Stirk. "That big one is 'gur t big 'ammer'.
The next one is 'big 'ammer' and that one 1s 'little big 'ammer'.
And the next one is 'lump 'ammer'. Now, remember that!"
I thought "How stupid!" But later I found out when another
wheelwright came to the shop with his little horse and float to
pick up felloes and wheel spokes that he referred to them in the
same terms. It was the common language throughout the
But all this was in the future. At the end of my first week I
found that nothing had been deducted from my wages because of my
absence and I proudly collected the princely sum of 10s.0d.