Last year I traced my family tree back to the early eighteenth century and discovered that along the one line was a family of blacksmiths operating within a five mile radius in rural Lincolnshire for at least two hundred years. I published part of the story in Your Family History last March but there wasn’t room in the piece for one of my favourite parts of the story.
The story I told was of how the Wadd family blacksmiths can be easily traced to a John Wadd who was born in 1740 in Flixborough, but probably goes back further. John married in 1762, but unfortunately died in February 1764, and had a son born posthumously. This child was the father of Samuel Wadd, born in Flixborough in 1792. Samuel married a woman from Burton upon Stather, on Christmas eve 1812. They lived in Burton and had ten children in what would be a relatively short marriage. Their second child, a son Samuel, born there in 1814, had had a lot of responsibility from a young age since his father died in 1826, aged around 34. Samuel took over the family business as a blacksmith as a youngster. He lived a colourful life, marrying twice and having lots of children to each marriage. There were several moves and even some brushes with the law as I outlined in the article. The family remained connected to metalworking but as the steelworks became the major employer in the set of towns which would form modern Scunthorpe, they tended to become steelworkers rather than blacksmiths. One of Samuel’s grandsons became furnace labourer, for example.
The family line was complicated to trace since they tended to repeat the names Samuel and William in each generation and so there were a lot of cousins of the same name, also working as blacksmiths in the vicinity. For example, one William, the younger son of the Samuel born in 1792, was recorded as one of the two village blacksmiths in Wintringham until 1872. He died suddenly two years later and a gravestone carries this moving inscription:
In affectionate remembrance/ of/ William Wadd/ for 8 short months the beloved/ and devoted husband of/ Ellen Wadd,/ who died suddenly July 16th 1874,/ aged 52 years./ How vain the things beneath the skies,/ How transient every earthly bliss,/ How slender all the fondest ties,/ That bind us to a world like this/ Readers/ Be ye therefore also ready, for/ in such an hour as ye think not/ the Son of Man cometh.
The family seems to have had some level of literacy in the eighteenth century, with signatures on record of them standing as witnesses at wedding as such. One early example is from John who witnessed a wedding in 1757. Two years later when he was again called upon to witness a marriage he name is scored through and rewritten underneath. Perhaps someone had filled it in for him, but he was keen to show that he could indeed write his own name. The couple being married both made marks rather sign their names.
I suspect the painting at the top of this post shows a somewhat romanticised view of life as a blacksmithing family with a nursing mother sitting very close to the forge, observed by a small dog. But finding this information out did spur me on to travel to The Old Smithy on the High Street of Owston Ferry, not far from where the Wadds lived and worked, now a heritage centre, and which is very much how the smithies my ancestors owned or worked in would have been set up. The Old Smithy is preserved how it was left when it shut up shop in 1958, and is well worth the visit – you will be able to see the forge burning away. For fans (like me) of medical history, the centre has a fabulous display of historical medical apparatus on display amongst other artefacts on its upper floor.