1908 Bootmaker - Halstead & District Local History Society

Halstead & District Local History Society

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1908 Bootmaker
The following story appeared in the Halstead Gazette sometime in 1908. It contains the account of an interview with Mr Nash, a Bootmaker, who was still working at the age of 94.

Bootmaking at 94 in 1908. Some of Mr Nash’s Recollections

'Some interesting facts connected with a bygone period can often be obtained from old gentlemen who have lived to a ripe old age, and it is fascinating to listen to some of their experiences and to hear many bits of history they are able to recall, and the changes that have taken place during their lives. In order to interest our readers a Gazette Reporter has sought an interview with a remarkable person living in North Street, Halstead, who took him back to the days long passed.

This gentleman is Mr. Nash, who lives in a house in North Street with his daughter,  Mrs. J. Blyth, and at the age of 94 carries on his business of shoe-making by himself He is the father of  Mr. Geo. Nash, High Street, Halstead, and is a native of the town. On being visited he readily entered into conversation with our representative, and it was remarkable to what an extent the old gentleman has all his faculties. He is only a little bit deaf. Hale, hearty and cheerful he hobbles along on a stick, and can walk a fair distance too. The old man sat on his little chair, in an old shed, in Bois Field Lane, and, when accosted, proudly said he was mending a bit of canvas to keep his "shop" warm in the winter. Several pairs of boots, ancient articles, many engineering tools, old lathes, in the manipulation of which he is an expert, were clustered around him, many of them very old fashioned tools that he had made when a boy and used since. With evident pride as well as pleasure the subject of our sketch pointed out the different uses to which these things could be put with a bright smile, and it would be no exaggeration to say that very few people except experienced engineers could make better tools.

The way he handled them showed the pride he took in them, and their interest and value to him. Some more of his curiosities were a number of guns, which dated from 80 to 90 years back. The shed, for that is what it is, stands in a garden, and the wind must howl through the old place, and in blusterous weather, by the look of it, threaten to wreck it. However, it has stood 28 years, and he sits there daily, stitching away.

The old man said his father was a watchman at the Old Prison, where Messrs. Clover and Son's Flour Mills now stand. This worthy father who was also the billposter for the district was born somewhere more in the centre of the town. When our present Mr. Nash was about three years old, his family moved to North Street and used to live in a cottage there, which is now pulled down. "That was just over 90 years ago." he exclaimed. He now lives with his daughter, his wife having died during last year at the age of 91. They were married just 72 years ago. He has two daughters and two sons (of a family of ten) alive.

He was about 13 years of age when he commenced shoemaking. "I had engineering in my mind," he said with a twinkle in his eye.' During my shoemaking career, I was a gunsmith as well," he said, "and had done scores, well, hundreds of guns for people living in the district for miles around." He had an old scissors grinder, and he used to earn a little with that. Questioned as to the old "lock up" he said he could not remember how old he was when it was pulled down, but he had often seen men taken to be imprisoned there. "They used to give them as much as 18 months imprisonment." he said.

Going back to 1838 he recollected the Town Bridge being widened. There used to be two or three coaches drive over the bridge every day and they had a difficulty in getting over as it was so narrow. He knew the builder engaged in the work, and, after a short pause, he remembered his name, John Sudbury, who fell off a chimney, which he was repairing on the old prison, .and met his death.. ' I recollect old John Sudbury pretty well," the old man intelligently remarked.

The visitor asked Mr. Nash if he could remember any of the old vaults under St. Andrew's Church ever being opened for internment. Yes, he could just remember one being put in a good 80 years ago close to the pulpit. He recollected the high pews of the church being pulled down. He could recall the tall spire of the old St. Andrew's Church, and said it was a wonderful height. "I have heard that it was struck by lightning but that was many years before my time," he added.

He recalled how he used to gather mushrooms on the meadow now covered by the Hospital.

He used to repair the boots for the inmates of the Union Workhouse when the first master, a Mr. Johnson, was there. "He used to send me half a dozen pairs at a time," related the old man, "and the soles of the boots were stamped, 'Halstead Union'."

Against where the Town Bridge is now, there used to be a tanyard, before the factory was there, and close to the bridge he could remember.

Later, Mr. Nash said he, did not think there were many now alive who knew of the Ballingdon Hill, just this side of Sudbury, before it was lowered. He related an amusing experience of his, apparently pleased that so much interest was being taken in his remarks. "There was a man," he said, "who used to go to the Ballingdon Lime Kilns, and one day this man asked me to ride with him and his three donkeys. I consented to go, and after loading the cart, the owner of the vehicle had to stop, and he asked me to drive the animals over the hills for him. I saw a horse standing on the hill and on taking hold of its head, it dragged me up and down the hill." Soon after that the parishioners had, he should say, about 100 men, lowering the hill, which were the steepest in Essex.

He remembered the new road being made past Ashford Lodge which was about 80 years ago. Anyone riding on the old road, in the coaches could touch the windows of the lodge.

He also remembered a little model he had made of the gas works.

He told his visitor of some of his experiences on Guy Fawkes Day, many, many years back. They used to have a huge fire on the Market Hill. He and some of his mates had often been up all night, preceding Guy Fawkes Day, discharging their guns and pistols. One night he fired his gun and smashed a number of panes, of glass in a butcher's shop. He ran down North Street, to get out of the way. The next day a reward was offered, but he said he spoke to the butcher, who asked him if he knew the culprit. He did not own ­up, and so he was not found out, "That was close upon 80 years ago. " he said.

Asked if he had made application for his Old Age Pension, he said he had to get his register, as to when he was christened for his old "Mispensioner," as he appeared to call it. He had to send to the St. Andrew's Church, and it was found that he was christened there, which he did not know previously.

After an interesting chat, the old man said some of the tradesmen told him that he was a "wonderful boy.".'

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