NAILMAKING IN ATHERTON
Though it would be an exaggeration to say that nail making was confined to Atherton, Shakerley and Hindley in the late sixteenth century, there can be no doubt that it was from this area that it recruited its
The Lancashire nail industry lasted for at least six hundred years. Nail making was carried on in the townships surrounding Wigan from the fourteenth century and died out in the early 20th century in the face of competition from machine-made nails.
The Alred family of Atherton was one that extended far and wide, nailers of that name being found in Preston and Lancaster in the eighteenth century.
Of documents written by the earlier nailers, the only ones to survive are probably those preserved among the Lancashire probate records, i.e., their wills, and the inventories of their goods and chattels compiled upon their decease by friends, neighbours or fellow craftsmen.
It is fortunate that the nail industry would appear to have reached its greatest prosperity at the time when the probate records are at their most informative.
Of the five sixteenth century inventories examined only that of Peter Walkden of Atherton (1593) exceeded one hundred pounds in value, but in the l630s John Smith of Atherton, Richard Hampson of Westleigh, Richard Battersby and Thomas Higginson of Shakerley and John Withington of Westhoughton all left personal estate of GBP200, whilst Robert Smith of Little Hulton who died in 1628 was a rich man, having goods and chattels to the value of GBP542 and credits on his ledger of GBP177.
None of the inventories examined gives a complete list of the furnishings of a nailer's smithy.
Piecing the information together, however, some sort of picture emerges. The bellows, sometimes two pairs of them, are the most frequently mentioned item.
Richard Battersby of Shakerley (1637) had only one pair of bellows, value 16s, but two tuyeres (the nozzle through which the blast was forced into the forge-hearth) and the cantell (possibly the corner of the hearth containing the tuyeres.Since this was not regarded as part of the structure of the forge it may have been a metal fitting) are also mentioned valued at 4s. Battersby also had five little stiddies (anvils) in addition to the great stiddy (total value GBP1 3s. 4d.), and three arks, presumably for storing nails.
John Smith of Atherton (1632) had three stone troughs (10s), stalls (blocks) valued at 9s. and water-wheel operated bellows valued at 20s.
This is the only instance of power-driven bellows to occur in the inventories and it may be unique, for Smith appears to have been a man of energy.
Though he died quite young he had amassed a personal estate of about GBP230, had stocks of iron and nails in Manchester and Bury. On the other hand it may have been more usual to regard a water-wheel as part of the smithy and therefore as belonging to the landlord.
In Smith's case "the Tacke [lease) of the Smithie for foure yeares" was valued at two pounds. The other items in the smithy appear to have been balances and weights, often two pairs of them, for weighing the nails, presumably before putting them into bags for conveyance by pack horses to market.
The internal organization of a family smithy is illustrated in the arrangements made by Henry Walkden of Atherton (1582) in his will.
"Yt ys my will and mynde that Edwarde and John my towe yonger sonnes shall have the Hynderforestall and the Bellus shall yearelye to be chaunged betwene them (except they can agree otherwaie), duringe theire naturall lyves, yeldinge and payinge therefore yearelye at the feaste of St. John Baptiste the some of 25s of good englishe moneye to Christopher my eldeste sonne to whome I bequethe the residue of my whole Smythie. also I will that Christopher my sonne shall fynnde Edwarde and John my yonger sonnes Fire and blaste honestlye at the sighte of Wyiliam Chowle the elder and John Green of Athertonne. Item yt ys my will and mynde that my seid sonnes Edwarde and John shall have Free Iibertye to carrye and sell theire owne Nailes or suche nailes as they shall bye of Christopher theire brother and not any other menes, withoutt the lysence and good will of the said Christopher, in the Walke which doeth or shall belonge to my said Smythie, and also that my sonne Christopher shall have for his money suche nailes as Edwarde and John shall make before any other man."
Finally Christopher was to pay forty shillings yearly, in consideration of his having the appurtenances of the smithy, to be divided equally between his mother and his brothers and sister.
It is obvious that he was anxious for his sons to maintain the independence of the smithy by selling their own nails. The phrase " carry and sell" implies that the nails were to be carried to market, but on the other hand he visualised some of them being sold in the walk of the smithy. Walkden had 30s. 2d. owing to him by James Benson of Kendal and a smaller amount by James Swainson of Kendal. Though it is probable that these men bought their nails in Atherton, wider markets were probably opening up and with them they were bringing the dangers of capitalism.
Increased prosperity among the nailers is reflected in the inventories, principally by the larger amounts of ready money which they had. James Pomfrett of Atherton (1636) had GBP52 1Os. 0d. in cash. Other items to appear in the later inventories are books and clocks, whilst houses became more complex and featherbeds more common.
It is clear that the Civil War brought a check to this general prosperity. The disruption of trade is reflected by one of the principal nailers of the time, Nicholas Withington of Atherton (1646) having a personal estate of only GBP109 and the other nailers of the 1640s being in even poorer circumstances.
Many kinds of nails were produced in Atherton. Horse and ox-nails for blacksmiths would probably be made from tough iron so as not to splinter, but most other kinds of nails would be made from cold-short iron. Other nails mentioned are lath nails, slate nails and stone nails possibly for slaters, soling nails, hobnails and sparrow bills for cobblers, card nails possibly for clothworkers, stake pins for saddlers, harrow pins, single and double spikes, single board nails and tacks.
Prices ranged from between four and a half pence the thousand for sparrowbills to a little over five shillings the thousand for double spikes. The varieties of iron used show that articles other than nails could be manufactured, and items in stock included plough irons, iron crapes, scythes (Arthur Smith of Hulton, brother of Robert, left a stock of these valued at GBP11 in 1623), horse combs and spade irons.
It should be remembered that a man with water-powered bellows such as John Smith of Atherton, was probably able to blend his iron in the smithy to suit his requirements.
Whilst the nailers of Atherton and Shakerley found their markets in all parts of the county and outside it, there was a marked tendency for the nailers of the surrounding townships to supply the places nearest to them.
Among the Atherton nailers John Smith (1632) had stocks of iron and nails at Rochdale and Manchester and of nails at Bury.
Thomas Higginson of Shakerley (1638) had iron, nails and an old chest valued at GBP8 l7s. 0d. remaining at Manchester. The Battersbys of Shakerley had a shop at Warrington at least from 1621 to 1637 and in 1621 their customers included Robert Rigby, blacksmith, Ellen Hardman, widow and Thomas Twiss all of Lowton, Mistress Gryse and William Butler of Warrington, Mr. James Kenion of Bradley, Mr. Thomas Cheshire of Halton, old Isabel of Northwich, George Fenton of Knutsford, William
Higginson and Thomas Gatliffe of Cheshire, Lady Mary Cholmondeley and Sir Peter Leigh. Probably this market south of the Mersey was limited by the ability of north Staffordshire nailers to supply southern and eastern Cheshire.
The standards and stability of the trade were maintained in this period by regular apprenticeship for seven years as is shown by the will of Ellis Asley of Shakerley (1584). In one case the apprentice was to have 6s. 8d. after serving his time, and in the other case a piece of iron or 3s. 4d. The will of a later Ellis Asley (1627) also mentions apprenticeship.
A delivery note for 21 bags of nails to Whitby from Chowbent.
Though it would now be impossible to identify surviving examples of their craft, the probability is that the workmanship of the Lancashire nailers was high, and that the later metal-workers of the county-the makers of watches, clocks, files, hinges and pins-who attained a nation-wide reputation, owed something at least of their skill to traditions established by their nail-making predecessors.
* Do you know what a Chowbent Grub was?
It's an old term for an old nail left in a piece of wood which might damage a carpenter's saw.
They would say: "Confound these Chowbent Grubs!" (or words to that effect).
*** There is a reminder of the nailmaking trade still in Atherton in the shape of the Jolly Nailor public house on the town's main street - Market Street.
CLICK HERE TO GET BACK TO THE MAIN ATHERTON WEBSITE