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Doug Bradbury - `Forged In Clay Cross'

Posted Saturday, June 23, 2007

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The Story of Doug Bradbury – Master Farrier

According to the history books the railway pioneer and industrial engineering magnate George Stephenson was the man responsible for ‘forging Clay Cross out of the Derbyshire bed-rock’.

`Stephenson Founded the Clay Cross Company'

Stephenson founded the Clay Cross Company after discovering coal here and mining was the town’s first industry - but ironworks and engineering replaced it as the main source of employment, and well over a century after Stephenson’s day many of Derbyshire’s engineering products can lay claim to having been ‘forged in Clay Cross’.

`An Astonishing Collection of Artefacts'

But perhaps the term could equally well be applied to retired blacksmith and life-long Clay Cross resident Doug Bradbury, Master Farrier and a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers; an acknowledged master craftsman who has attained the highest possible status in his profession, and who is both creator and curator of an astonishing collection of artefacts housed in a private museum at his home on Thanet Street.

The Derbyshire Guide describes Clay Cross as, “An unabashed industrial centre with no pretentions to beauty or the picturesque”, - a description which also fits the unique Farriery museum quite well too, and given the town’s history it seems completely appropriate that the only working museum of its kind in the country - if not the entire world – should be located here, and suitable tribute paid to its creator.

Potted Biography

Doug Bradbury was born here 70 years ago at 37 Top Long Row and attended Clay Cross Secondary Modern School.

Doug’s father was a coal-miner who had been buried in a roof fall at Parkhouse Colliery in 1945 damaging his right arm, and had been given a ‘surface job’ collecting checks at the pit top at Parkhouse.

“When I left school I was faced with the same choice that most lads faced in those days, said Doug, “it was either down t’ pit or in t’ army”.

Doug chose the army, but as he explained, his father had other ideas:

“My dad would hear none of it, said Doug; “He just told me - ‘No, we’ve kept you long enough lad - you’re going down t’pit to earn some money!’ – and that was it, I started work at Parkhouse Colliery the following week as a pony driver”.

Doug loved working with the ponies but became ill with pneumonia and was told by the doctor that he would have to give up the work.

“I said to my father, ‘Doctor says I’ve got to come out of t’pit’ and he just said ‘Leave it to me’. The following day when I came in from work my father said, ‘I’ve got a job for you – you start in the Blacksmith’s shop on Sunday morning. Honestly, - for the next ten years I thought it was normal to work on Sundays, I didn’t think you had Sunday’s off”.

Doug worked under the tutelage of Parkhouse Colliery blacksmith Albert Cowlishaw and his duties included making, sharpening and repairing tools, repairing tracks for roadways, capping, road-laying, and most importantly, learning to shoe the ponies and to look after their welfare.

He took over from his mentor, becoming blacksmith-in-charge in 1961, before moving to Shirland Colliery as foreman blacksmith in 1962.

“Each pit was supposed to have a horsekeeper and farrier, explained Doug, “but there was a shortage of farriers in local collieries, so I was loaned out to other pits in the area until Shirland eventually closed and I was transferred to Blackwell”.

At Blackwell Doug had 26 ponies and his typical day would begin down the pit at 6-30am checking the ponies in the stables, until around 10-30am when he resumed his other blacksmith duties until the shift ended at 2-15pm.

“But then I’d be off somewhere earning extra money by doing private shoeing jobs for locals until it went dark, said Doug, recalling that he used to “charge £1-50 for four new shoes, and £1 to take the old ones off”.

These days the same service costs about £90: £42 to remove the old shoes and trim the foot, and £48 to fit the four new shoes!

Doug and his wife and two-year-old son Neil moved to Thanet Street in 1966 after purchasing the house and former premises of White’s Corn Merchants, and Doug finally left the NCB, setting up as a blacksmith with his own forge at Thanet Street in 1968.

For the uninitiated, the dictionary definition of a blacksmith is ‘a smith who works in iron’ – and a farrier is `a person who shoes horses; a person who cures horses’ diseases’; whilst Farriery is defined as `the farrier’s art; veterinary surgery’.

This may surprise a few people, me included, but as Doug says, “It’s not just anyone who can drive nails into horses feet, by law shoe smiths have to be registered”.

This was not always the case; the Worshipful Company of Farriers was founded in 1356, but it was not until 1975 that an Act of Parliament was passed requiring apprentice farriers to sit and pass a practical examination before they were awarded the Diploma (Dip.W.C.F.) and became a Registered Shoe-Smith (RSS), a much sought after Diploma which licensed them to shoe horses anywhere in the world.

“A horses hoof is like a giant toe-nail and inside it contains a main nerve and two arteries, so the correct measurement, choice of material, size of nails and the placement of them in fitting the shoe is crucial, explained Doug, “Considering that the nails need to be hammered into an area no more than half an inch wide there is no margin for error, a nail of the wrong size in the wrong place can hit the nerve or an artery and easily render a horse lame”. So how long does it take to learn to shoe a horse correctly?

“The RSS takes an apprentice about five years to attain, and there are currently about two thousand trained farriers in Great Britain” explains Doug, who has trained apprentices from all parts of Britain at his forge for over thirty years.

“They come here as fresh young lads from college, green and untrained, and they leave as men” said Doug, who is justifiably proud of the subsequent progress that some of his charges have made.

“The next stage after attaining the RSS is gaining Associate Membership of the W.C.F. explained Doug, “For this you learn horse anatomy, do remedial work, therapeutic shoeing, and make all kinds and designs of shoes – and, he added,“the final and highest stage is in becoming a Fellow of the W.C.F.” How? – “by a lot of bloody hard work, said Doug, “a lot of studying; you have to write a thesis, give a lecture, shoe a dead-leg and generally satisfy a board of Masters that you are sufficiently competent to be accorded the professional status of a Master Farrier”.

Doug became a Fellow of the W.C.F. in 1986 - one of only fifty in the world – and accepted an invitation from the W.C.F. to become a Liveryman to the Queen. As such, once a year Doug gets to have dinner with the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House, swears an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and is granted the Freedom of the City of London!

His expertise has been acknowledged around the world and he has shoed horses in places as far apart as Texas and Turkey. He is a member of the Examinations Board and an Inspector with the Farriers Registration Council and is happy putting something back into the trade.

His son Neil started in the family business straight from school in 1980. His ambition was to follow in his father’s footsteps and he duly gained his Diploma (RSS) in 1985, and became an Associate (AWCF) in 1990.

The world is ever changing and to paraphrase the old Lionel Bart song - ‘Fings Ain’t What They used To Be’. Since Doug’s retirement Neil has taken over the running of the business and it’s a sign of the times that owners no longer take their horses to the forge for shoeing – the forge comes to them! These days Neil Bradbury has a fully equipped mobile furnace, anvil, stand, vice and tools and provides a sort of ‘Flying Farrier’ service to his customers.

Nothing stays the same, and in an era which has virtually seen the demise of the working horse, Doug Bradbury deserves great credit for having the foresight to safeguard part of our cultural heritage - and wide acclaim for his vital work in preserving the historical artefacts of a passing age in the unique and fascinating Farriery museum on Thanet Street, which he can proudly claim has been truly – ‘Forged in Clay Cross’.

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