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Binton Wheelwrights

My mother’s family, the Jordans, were the village wheelwrights in Binton for more than a hundred years. The last of the line was her father, Edward John Jordan (1876-1948), known as Ted or Teddy.

Ted’s son, William Edmund Jordan (1910-1945) was killed in action just a few weeks before the end of the Second World War, and so Ted had no-one to succeed him in the business; but its end had been hastened anyway by the advent of tractors on farms and the motor car on the roads.

Between them, they sounded the death knell of the horse-drawn vehicles on which the village wheelwright worked.

Before moving to Binton, the Jordans worked in Stratford in the early nineteenth century. It was Ted’s grandfather, another Edward Jordan (1793-1867), who came to Binton around 1835. Prior to that, he had been in partnership with his brother Samuel in Sheep Street, Stratford. I believe that it was their father who first set up the business. Samuel died in 1840 but before then Edward had made the move to Binton. He had married Ann Fairfax, a Shottery girl, in 1834 and I suspect that Binton was their choice firstly because the two villages are very close to each other, and secondly because Ann had relatives there; the Fairfax family had been established in Binton for many generations.

Binton James

James Jordan

Edward and Ann had four children. Their two sons, James (born at Binton in 1835) and Edmund (born there in 1840) both followed their father into the workshop at Vine Cottage, Binton and it is they, and James’s two sons, who are the main subjects of these notes.

My mother kept a lot of family papers, many of which came to me; but one item I was unaware of until 2011 was James and Edmund’s Jordan’s business ledger, which was in the possession of my brother. He kindly lent it to me and some extracts from it appear below, supplemented by some items from my Mum’s box. The fly-leaf is inscribed simply ‘J & E Jordan’ and from that, and the description of both James and Edmund in census returns as master wheelwrights, I infer that they were trading in partnership. Edmund never married, and lived all his life at Vine Cottage; he was the parish clerk at St Peter’s Church, Binton from 1867 up to his death in 1894.

Binton Emma

Emma Jordan

The ledger runs from 1892 to 1909, the year that James and Emma, his wife of 45 years, died within three weeks of each other, either side of Christmas. Emma Eden worked as a maid at Binton Rectory, in the household of Rev Charles Dupuis; she would have met James when he came with his father to do work at the Rectory, and they were married in her home parish of Emscote, Warwick in 1864. For me the book is a fascinating record of the work James and Edmund did for about 130 customers; mostly in Binton and the nearby villages but also as far afield as Mickleton, Cleeve Prior and the other side of Stratford at Tiddington and Ryon Hill. Most of their customers were farmers and as well as making and repairing wheels for their carts and waggons, the brothers supplied and serviced their farm implements. This is reflected in the 1891 census, where James gave his occupation as ‘wheelwright and ploughwright’, rather than simply ‘wheelwright’ as he had in the previous three decades. Edmund continued to be described as a wheelwright, so perhaps the ploughs were James’s speciality.

Traditionally, the wheelwright worked in conjunction with the village blacksmith, who provided the metal parts needed.

The Jordans’ ledger frequently refers to ‘putting the ironwork on’, wording that implies that they didn’t themselves make the ironwork that they fitted to customers’ vehicles. It’s probably no accident that their workshop was just across the road from the blacksmith’s forge of the Clark family. There must have been regular collaboration between Thomas Clark and his son John, and James and Edmund Jordan, as many of the entries relate to ‘cutting and shutting’ (i.e. joining) the metal hoop tyres. The wooden wheels made by the wheelwright were fitted with their tyres by the blacksmith (with the wheelwright as one of his helpers) using the traditional method of heating, then rapid cooling. This not only gave a good tight fit to the tyre, but also compressed into place the joints between the component parts of the wheel. Those were the stock or nave (the hub, made of elm for hardness) the spokes, made of cleft oak; and the felloes (curved sections forming the rim of the wheel and made of ash, elm or beech).

The Jordan brothers also worked in wood beyond the strict definition of their trade, including general carpentry and house repairs. A real find for me was the account for Mrs J Neale, with the entry: ‘27 October 1896, repairing the stairs at William Leek’s cottage, boards, nails & time – 3s 6d’. William Leek was my other great-grandfather; his daughter Emily (1881-1939) married Ted Jordan in 1910. William was a quarryman and later a farm labourer and he rented his cottage, near the school (now the village hall) from Mrs Neale.

Several pages are taken up by work for the Marquess of Hertford.

At that time the Ragley Estate owned most of the freeholds in Binton, and the Jordans maintained separate accounts for work done at Lower Binton Farm and Binton Hill Farm next to their workplace; and at nearby Red Hill Farm, Wildmoor Farm just outside Stratford and Hansell Farm at Shottery. I imagine that the separate accounting was a stipulation by the estate, but no doubt James, who did the paperwork, was more than happy to comply for a valued customer. From time to time, these farms were let, and the respective tenants then appeared in the ledger; at other times, the farms were back in possession and the work done was billed to the estate.

I think I detect a glimpse of rigid Victorian attitudes to differences of social class in the accounts for Mr J Tomkinson of West Hillborough and Mr D S Gregg of Grafton Court. Everyone else is described, politely enough by today’s standards, as Mr or Mrs; but these two people were surely ‘gentlemen’ and acknowledged to be such, by the use of the suffix Esq instead. No doubt the way James described people in the ledger was reproduced on the invoices; and if he had offended someone by not showing due deference, he might have lost their business.

On 6 May 1892 the Jordans supplied ‘a new long wood plough - £3.12.6’ to Mr C Coldicutt of Mickleton Wood, possibly their most distant customer. Less than a week later, on 12 May, they supplied an identical article to Thomas Knight of Tiddington, at the same price. In both cases the ledger records ‘Paid same time – JJ’. That was a terrific week for the cash flow, and I wonder whether Emma got a little present? Mr Coldicutt and Mr Knight must be the fastest payers in the book and they are quite untypical, as most customers took several months’ credit before settling up.

Mr H Badger of Lower Billesley was another good customer. Of six entries on 25 January 1894, five are for work on a cart.

They read: ‘new ringing a pair of cart wheels, 12 fellies; heating 2 hoop tires & putting on; new front board, 2 new side boards, a new bottom & 2 new skirt boards; a new pair of shafts & 3 new stands; cleaning & painting the cart & a new name’. It doesn’t sound as if there was much of the original cart left; maybe Mr Badger found himself a bargain in the form of an old one and paid the wheelwrights to ‘do it up’. Adding in a shilling for supplying a cattle prod, James and Edmund posted turnover of £4.13.0 for that day’s work – though they didn’t get paid for it until 6 April. James’s spelling of tires isn’t an Americanism; he spelled many words just as he spoke them – fellies (felloes) is another.

On Edmund’s death in 1894 James became the sole proprietor of the business. In 1896, perhaps the Christmas spirit was at work in another example of swift settlement by John Whitehouse of Shottery, who paid his account on Boxing Day for equipment supplied only a few days earlier, on 22 December. He wasn’t always so eager to pay though, having taken seven months to settle his previous balance. Mr Whitehouse’s account also contains the only example in the ledger of James making a delivery charge: ‘18 Nov 1907, taking plough to Shottery – 1s 0d’. I suspect that mostly his customers brought their vehicles or machinery to his workshop, although he probably did smaller jobs in situ for farmers in Binton village. Some jobs were necessarily so, such as ‘a new board to the directory post at the cross roads, Binton Bridge, painting board and writing Binton on each side & putting it up’ for Mr F Clark; and ‘a new handle and alter roller to a well in a field’ for Richard Corbett of Grafton, both jobs done in 1895.

Between 1897 and 1899, there were three occasions when James did work for Rev John Dixon, Rector of Binton from 1887 to 1902, which was labour-only. Usually he billed this as simply so many hours’ work by one/two men, but the entry: ‘28 July 1899, 26 hours’ work S Jordan – 13s 0d’ reveals the identity of the worker. This was Samuel Jordan, James’s elder son, whose labour was charged out at 6d an hour, while the account for Binton farmer William Clarke in 1900 tells us that younger son Ted’s work was charged at only 5d – perhaps due to the 11 year age difference.

According to family legend, Sam was the black sheep of the family, who allegedly frequented the Blue Boar and other pubs to excess.

Whether or not that is true, we do know that he did not succeed to the business on James’s death. Clearly, Sam learnt his trade from his father and uncle, as he was listed in the 1881 and 1891 censuses as a wheelwright, employed by James and Edmund and living at the family home. But he was no longer there in 1901, and by 1911 was employed by a different wheelwright, at Wellesbourne, and living there; whilst Ted, the younger son, was running the business at Binton. Had there been a falling out? James’s will, made on 28 November 1909, just days before his death, left his stock in trade, tools and implements to Sam and Ted to be shared equally between them; but he left Vine Cottage, and his workshop, to Ted. Even so, Sam did receive an inheritance (a house in College Lane, Stratford) so the family business must have been successful. Sam outlived his younger brother, dying at Alcester in 1949. He sounds like a fascinating character; his story may be one for another day.

Between 1899 and 1904 James did numerous jobs, mostly small repairs, for Mrs Agnes Wilson, a widow, at Binton Hill Farm – next to Vine Cottage. The mix of work was more varied than for other customers, including ‘repairs to chairs & a sofa’ and ‘painting three large flower pots’. A woman’s touch to the operations at Binton Hill Farm is clearly evident; perhaps other (male) farmers did such household repairs themselves and didn’t bother with such fripperies as flower pots.

A job for Mrs Wilson, in July 1900, was ‘painting four new names to carts & waggon’.

Probably she had only recently taken over the tenancy of the farm and, having acquired those vehicles, had her name put on them as was the custom of the time. She had more carts and another waggon done in November of the same year. James made similar entries throughout the ledger, indicating that this name inscribing was done for many customers. I assume he must have been reasonably skilled at it, or else his customers would not have paid him – although research tells me that the painting of names on farm vehicles was sometimes done by the ‘liner’, a specialist travelling tradesman. So it’s possible that the work was sub-contracted; but there is no evidence of that in James’s ledger and I like to think that he did it himself. Either way, I would love to find a photo of a waggon he worked on, showing the name of one of his customers.

Mrs Wilson did not stay long at Binton Hill Farm – by 1903 it was being farmed by Charles Hodges, son of long-time customer Thomas Hodges. In 1905 Mr Hodges Sen. died, and soon afterwards Charles moved back to the family farm at Church Bank, while his younger brother, Thomas Hodges Jun. took over at Binton Hill. More work for James, painting names on farm waggons, followed.

James also did work for Rev Dixon’s successor, Rev Lloyd Bruce.

His account, like that of Mr Dixon, relates mainly to the supply of consumables such as nails, paint and linseed oil, along with some repairs at the Rectory; but there is also a separate account for Rev R D Bruce, Lloyd’s Bruce’s brother. He was the Rector of St Anne’s Church, Dunbar, East Lothian and so I presume that it was on visits to his brother that he did business with James Jordan. His account features small farm tools such as a milking stool and a clay fork, so perhaps he was a farming parson at home and took these items back to Scotland. He would have needed a strong vehicle to get to Binton station with the subject of an entry dated 20 April 1904: ‘A new oak frame for grindstone & hanging the grindstone – 14s 0d’.

Another ecclesiastical customer, Rev William Smith of Dorsington, was a farmer too; in August 1892 he had a new throck and shellboard put on his plough, and purchased a second plough. The bill was £3 5s 6d but the Jordans allowed him 2s 6d discount. I wonder if they did so because of Mr Smith’s clerical collar. The family were active members of Binton church and in 1906 the ledger contains two unusual entries, which seem to be more to do with the church than with waggons or ploughs. On 29 September 1906 James charged to the Executors of Mr Thomas Hodges of Church Bank Farm: ‘half year’s voluntary rate - 10s 7d’. On the same date he charged Mr Hodges’ son Charles, at Binton Hill Farm, the sum of 6s 10d under the same heading. These entries intrigued me and I did a little research on the subject. It seems that although compulsory church rates had been abolished in 1868, parishes retained (and I believe still have) the power to levy a voluntary rate to support church expenses; and it looks if James was acting as an agent of the church authorities in collecting it. As it was a voluntary levy, I imagine that many people would have simply ignored the bill; but in both of the above cases, the amount was indeed paid.

A thing that fascinates me about people of the late 19th century (including many of the wheelwrights’ customers) is the long distances they managed to travel.

Rev Douglas Bruce came from Scotland to visit his brother, and Mrs Wilson of Binton Hill Farm was born in Scotland. A quick look at the census returns for the years covered by the Jordans’ ledger reveals Binton residents originating from Toller Porcorum and Winterbourne St Martin in Dorset, Smethwick in Staffordshire, Bloxham in Oxfordshire, Draycott and Long Compton in the Cotswolds and two born in the capital – one of whom is recorded, very precisely, as from ‘the City of London’.

The ledger contains many examples of goods taken in part-exchange for work – for example a pair of shafts from John Wilkes of Billesley, two pigs from Thomas & Solomon Hendley of Luddington, two pear trees from James Pardoe of Binton and another from William Wyatt of Lower Binton. When Mr Wyatt ordered a new plough, he got 2s 6d off the bill for trading in his old one; and James recorded that the account was settled by cheque. That is one of only two such references. Most customers would, of course, have paid in cash – but there must have been others (perhaps the Ragley Estate) who used cheques. On several occasions James obtained wheat and straw, measured in bushels, quarters and hundredweights, from his near neighbours, the Hodges family. In three instances in 1907, the credit for this farm produce exceeded the debit for wheelwright work and James had to pay the customer, not the other way round. James also did a little trade in market gardening, supplying broccoli and sprout plants to, in particular, the successive Rectors, Rev Dixon and Rev Bruce. These were sold by the score (20), another traditional measure but of course still in use today. Mr Bruce also bought ‘6 poles for flowering peas’ in April 1906 in readiness for his garden that summer. There is no reference to James supplying these plants, and perhaps the Rector grew them himself.

There is sadness in the fact that the last entry in the ledger, on 6 December 1909 when Mr William Longford of Bidford settled his account, was written by Ted Jordan on the very day that James died; and by Boxing Day, Emma too had died. James had bought Vine Cottage as sitting tenant in 1902 and Ted Jordan acquired the adjacent orchard from the Ragley Estate in 1911. Ted continued the business through one World War and on towards a second, in which he lost his only son, his wife Emily having died in 1939. I don’t know exactly when (or even whether) he retired from business completely but he was still sending produce from the orchard to market in Coventry, and to A M Bailey’s sale-yard at Stratford, just before his death in 1948.

Vine Cottage was sold in 1949, bringing the story of the Binton wheelwrights to its end; though their years in the village are commemorated in the present name of the house, Wheelwright’s Cottage.

Meet The Author...
Bill Cooper
Author: Bill Cooper
Who Am I?

Bill Cooper lives in Warwickshire. He began writing short stories in 2014; something that, before that, he didn't think he could do.

He also writes occasionally on local history, and is the author of A Century of Service, the history of the first 100 years of NFU Mutual, the rural insurance company, for whom he worked for nearly 40 years between leaving school and retirement.

Bill's other interests are watching cricket at Edgbaston, caravanning in Devon, and walking with his two dogs. He underwent triple bypass surgery in 2016, following which he regards every new day as a second chance, to be cherished and enjoyed.

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