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Bygone Village Crafts of West Hallam and Mapperley
The West Hallam Sawpit

Taken from Parish Magazine of February 2007

Thomas Martin (1768-1847) Farmer and Miller of Mapperley, and Hugh Fletcher (1781-1854) Baker and Sawyer of Mapperley, established a Sawpit about 1810. It was located in West Hallam on the site of the present Bottle Kiln.

Wheelwrights, Millwrights, Carpenters and Joiners required a constant supply of timber from the surrounding villages. Oak, Ash, Elm and Beech being the main types required. Trees were coppiced, and several removed on the west side of Mapperley Lane, following the West Hallam/Mapperley Parish boundary. (Hence Coppice Farm, today owned by Mr B. Boam). 

A typical sawpit measured 5ft deep x 4ft wide x 8ft long, lined with logs, preventing its sides from collapsing.

Placing a tree trunk over the pit was achieved by rolling it into position, first to the end of the pit using crowbars. Once in place it was levered up onto several stout branches, placed along its length. These acted as rollers, allowing it to be rolled into position directly over the pit. If the selected tree being cut was Oak, its bark was first removed and tied into bundles, ready for selling to tanners. Oak bark was the primary source of Tannin, used for making animal skins resistant to decay.

Clamping 'Dogs', ('U' shaped spikes) were used to prevent the trunk from rolling during the sawing operation. One end hammered into the trunk being sawn, the other into a nearby trunk acting as an anchor. Now it was the skill of Mr Fletcher, the Master Sawyer to mark out the trunk, achieving the maximum number of planks. A series of plumb bob lines were 'chalked' onto the end of the trunk indicating the number of cuts required. To ensure that the lines remained, they were 'scored' with a chisel. The first cutting line was then transferred along the whole length of the trunk, using a 'chalked' string. He could now proceed with the sawing operation; commenced by standing on the tree trunk holding the handles of the 8ft long pit-saw. The Bottom Sawyer was in the unenviable position of climbing down the ladder into the pit. To keep sawdust out of his eyes he usually wore a hat with a brim for protection.

Cutting commenced, with the Top Sawyer controlling the operation, working to the marked line. On reaching the first support roller, the saw was removed, after detaching the bottom handles. The Bottom-Sawyer climbed out of the pit and the trunk was lifted, allowing the roller to be re-positioned. A wedge was driven into the saw cut to stop any binding and vibration as the cutting operation continued. This process was repeated until the whole tree had been cut into planks.

Top-Sawyers were called 'Top-Dogs' and Bottom-Sawyers 'Under-Dogs', terms still used on certain occasions today.

Under the Newdigate Estate, the timber business continued supplying many collieries with pit props.

Roger Wood

Know your Village

Bygone Village Crafts of West Hallam and Mapperley
The Village Wheelwright

Taken from Parish Magazine of March 2007

Once timber had been cut at the saw pits , planks of timber were stored in a large drying shed, built with slatted sides. The timber was stacked, leaving a space between each plank. This allowed air to circulate throughout the stack, aiding the drying process. The 'green' timber was left in the shed for several months, sometimes years; occasionally each plank was turned and re-stacked. This ensured that the timber was thoroughly dried.

Mr John Toplis was the last West Hallam village wheelwright manufacturing carts, wagons, clay moulds, clay barrows and wheel­barrows. 

Wooden cartwheels were his speciality. The main parts of a wheel are the nave (hub), spokes and the ‘felloes’, (these being the sections forming the rim of the wheel). A term used in biblical times -King James version, 1 Kings Chapter 7, Verse 33. And the work of the wheels was like the work of a chariot wheel: their axle-trees, and their naves, and their felloes, and their spokes, .... Elm was used for the nave; Heart of Oak for the spokes and the felloes made of Ash, Elm or Beech.

A log of well-seasoned Elm was selected for the nave, turned and bored on the wood lathe, driven by a large wheel rotated by hand. Mr. Toplis carried out the turning operation, while his apprentice provided the power, keeping up a constant speed. Once shaped, the nave was sent to the Blacksmith to be fitted with iron end hoops, bands that gave the structure added strength and prevented the timber from splitting. Once fitted, mortices were marked out and cut into the hub ready to accept the spoke tenons. The spokes were now shaped and a tenon joint cut onto one end. This joint was referred to as the foot. On completing a set of spokes the tenons were driven into the nave. The spoke lengths and upper spigot joints (tongues) were cut, ready for fitting into the felloes. A set of felloes was marked out on a plank using a template, cut and shaped. Two holes were drilled to the size of the spigot, into their concave side, thus allowing two spokes for each felloe. Their ends were also drilled and fitted with a dowel. This ensured that the joints would fit tightly and produce a perfect round rim. Now all the remaining parts were assembled, leaving a complete cart wheel.

The final operation was to complete the boring of the nave, allowing for an iron 'box' (bearing) to be fitted. A special hand operated auger, called an 'engine box' was used. Various size cutters, increasing in size, were fitted to the auger's shank and the hole gradually bored out, to the correct diameter. The pre-drilled hole in the nave, produced previously in the wood lathe, fitted the shank of the auger, this kept the 'bearing' hole concentric and square to the wheel.
It was now ready for returning to the blacksmith to have an iron tyre fitted.

Roger Wood

Know your Village

Bygone Village Crafts of West Hallam and Mapperley
The Art Of Fitting An Iron Tyre To A Cartwheel

Last month’s article described the manufacture of a wagon wheel by Mr Toplis the village wheelwright. On completion it was sent to John Hunt and his brother Samuel, the village blacksmiths. Their forge was situated next door to the ‘Punchbowl’, opposite the village shop and post office.

To obtain the length of tyre required, Sam first measured the wheel’s rim with a ‘traveller’. A large free moving, metal disc fitted to a handle, which was rotated around the circumference of the wheel. The disc had a notch (mark) chiselled on the disc’s side, acting as a marker point. First a chalk line was drawn on the wheel’s rim, acting as the starting point, the ‘travellers’ notch lined up with the chalk mark. They were then ready to proceed with the measuring. Each full revolution of the disc was counted and marked on the rim. Any remaining parts of a revolution were also measured; this distance chalked on the traveller’s disc.

A length of flat iron was selected. The traveller’s notch lined up with the bar end. Then pushing the traveller along the bar length, each revolution was counted and marked. Once all the full revolutions had been marked any part of a revolution was also added. The length of the bar had now been established to make the hoop. A small difference was subtracted allowing for shrinkage, ensuring that the tyre would be a tight fit on the wheel. An allowance needed adding for the ‘scarf’ welded joint. This required the bar ends to be overlapped. Once these allowances had been calculated, the bar was ready for cropping to length.

Next the strip was marked out for the nail holes, allowing for a single nail, placed in the centre of every two spokes. After marking they were centre punched, this area was then heated in the forge. On reaching the correct temperature, each hole was punched through the bar on the anvil. A second punching operation was carried out over each hole, resulting in a counterbore indentation. This allowed the nails to fit flush with the tyre edge.

A ‘Tyre Mangle’ was used to form the hoop. This consisted of two iron rollers, which could be adjusted and turned with a large handwheel. Usually this meant 3 or 4 passes of the bar through the mangle before the loop was complete.

The ends were now heated, followed by hammer welding together. Once joined the tyre was ready for fitting.

On the floor of the forge forecourt was a large round metal floor plate, measuring about 4ft diameter x 2 ins thick. The plate centre was threaded, allowing the wooden wheel to be clamped to it.

The hoop was placed on a second floor plate; around this two circles of bricks were laid, allowing a space, which was filled with burning coke from the forge. More coke was placed completely covering the bricks and loop. Hand bellows helped to increase the temperature, resulting in the loop becoming white-hot. Once achieved, the blacksmith and striker, using tongs, removed the hoop, placing it over the wheel clamped to the plate. The Smith replaced his tongs with a pair of iron-tyre dogs; these special tongs allowed him to lever the hoop over the rim. As he carried out this operation, the Striker followed alongside with a sledgehammer, driving it onto the wheel. The smell of burning timber and smoke filled the air, almost hiding the men from view. Once hammered flush with the edge, water was poured onto the fitted tyre, causing it to quickly cool, shrinking it tightly to the timber. Clouds of steam were followed by a loud ‘siss’ as the water hit the hot iron, forcing all the wood joints together, acting like a clamp. To finally cool the rim, the wheel was undamped and placed onto a temporary axle stand protruding from the smithy wall. This consisted of an iron plate with several holes, through which the loose axle was fitted, according to the diameter of the wheel being worked. Once in place the wheel was rotated by hand, running in a trough of water placed beneath it.

To finally fix the tyre, it was nailed onto the wheel. These nails being previously manufactured by the Blacksmith from stock bar.

To aid this procedure, a hot spike was heated in the forge and driven through the pre-punched hole into the ‘felloe’. A ‘cheese-head tyre nail’, was driven home, into the counterbore.

The completed wheel was returned to John Toplis, ready for fitting to a cart.

Our last three months articles were produced from notes written by the late Mr Lionel Wood and the late Mr Medley Weston, both keen local historians. Thanks to Mrs Mildred Weston and Mrs Doris Wood for allowing them to be reproduced in the magazine.

Blacksmiths John Hunt and Samuel Hunt were brothers.

Wheelwright: John Toplis was Medley Weston’s great-uncle.

Roger Wood


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