Ecclesfield Crafts

Along with farming, the staple trade of old Ecclesfield seems to have been nail-making. There are records dating from 1672 showing that there were 24 smithies in the northern part of the parish.

In his will of 1506, John Hill is described as a nailer. The first traces of iron working go back to the 12th century, when the monks of Kirkstead Abbey had a smithy at Thundercliffe Grange.

The locally produced iron was slit into rods and these made into nails. Ecclesfield got its rods from Wortley. Local middlemen, called nailchapmen, fetched the raw materials and also took the finished products to Bawtry, the nearest inland port, from where they were shipped far afield. These nailchapmen were wealthy entrepreneurs, Nicholas Gill of Chapeltown left nearly 2,000 in his will of 1735/6.

Mr Ridge's Workshop

Nailmaking was a domestic craft, and was not organised on a factory basis. The smithies were usually in back-yards or out-buildings. The iron rods were heated in a coke fire which was kept hot by using hand bellows. A cutting edge was fixed to the anvil and this was used to cut the length required. The cut pieces were then placed in a hole in the anvil and given a sharp blow which formed the head of the nail. This blow also caused the nail to fly out of the hole. All these processes were performed at a great speed.

A craft workshop typical of Ecclesfield, owned by Mr Ridge, gimlet maker, of Wallet End

(drawing after an original photograph by David Hey)

Crafts...more John Birkhead Gimlet Making


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