Monday, 2 January 2012
Three old trades - trunk-maker, wheelwright and hawker
Whilst researching The Gilded Lily, and London low-life of the 17th century, I was often impressed by how labour-intensive simple manufacturing was, before the industrial revolution, and also how ideas of ethical ways of making a living have shifted over the centuries. I thought I'd share some of the trades that are now almost lost to us in England.
A trunk-maker made trunks, chests, portmanteaux and cases for holding knifes or weaponry. He needed to be skilled in woodworking, metalwork and leatherwork in order to carry out his craft. So that although it was not highly regarded, he must have had to master a number of different skills.The wood needed to be shaped in the same way a barrel-maker made barrels, and then the structure covered with horse or sealskin with the hair left on, or hide tanned in the tannery. To stretch the leather over the wooden frame it was first boiled and pummelled with a mallet to soften it. Once it was stretched over, metal bands secured the whole thing in place. The bands were heated in the fire and hammered and nailed on. Travelling trunks had rings to strap or chain them before or behind the carriage. Portmanteaux and buckets were made solely of leather. The Portmanteaux carried linen clothing or hats, gloves and stockings, and could be shaped to sit over the horses back or attach to the saddle. Buckets for watering horses, or carrying other liquids were also stitched together by hand and then sealed with rabbit-skin glue and the seams greased to make them watertight.
The wheelwright made wheels for road-waggons, carriages and carts.This is why the name "Wheeler" was quite common. I used the name Wheeler in The Lady's Slipper for one of my characters who I felt 'turned' from his original ideals. When making a wheel, it consisted of several parts.There was the nave or centrepiece, a circular wooden boss, and the spokes which were inserted into the nave, and also into the fellies or outside rim of the wheel. An iron tyre was fitted to the outside edge whilst red hot so that it moulded well, and also so that it burnt a small depression into the wood.This made it lay flat with the wood and roll easily.Considerable strength was required to bend the wood to make the fellies, and for the stretching of the iron band around the rim. Picture and more information about wheelwrights from