Claybrooke Magna, Leicestershire..John Perkins… The Village Blacksmith

16 Mar

My Ancestors were Blacksmiths      

The most thorough transformation of England relative to the period, probably took place during the reign of Queen Victoria. In 1837, when she came to the throne, the nation was primarily rural and 66% of the population lived in the countryside. By 1851, those living in rural areas had been  reduced to 50% and by 1901, to just 25% of the population.

The appearance of the village reflected the character of the land, for they were built with the materials that could be obtained locally, stone where there were quarries, bricks where there was clay, and timber where wood was available. In the 19th Century, country folk were dependent on the land for their living  and the village for its services.

John Thomas Perkins Blacksmith

Thomas Hardy wrote that “villages, in addition to the agricultural inhabitants, contained an interesting and better informed class ranking above the others – the Blacksmiths, the Carpenters, the Wheelwrights and a wide range of  other individuals that were required to maintain the village and keep it generally self-sufficient. The “Prince of the Tradesmen” was the BLACKSMITH.

My immediate ancestors came from the small Midland villages,  Claybrooke Magna, Burbage and Withybrook in the border area between Leicestershire and Warwickshire. My grandfather John Perkins and his two sons, John Thomas and Walter Joseph, were Blacksmiths in the village of Claybrooke Magna from 1861 to at least 1916 and possibly longer, though I will have to wait for the 1921 Census to find out. Blacksmiths not only shod horses, but made wrought iron works of every kind, made and repaired tools, implements, parts of gates and ornamental iron work – all these things were produced on the hearth of the smithy to the accompaniment of the roar of the bellows and the ring of the hammer. Blacksmithing was a trade carried out by the same family over generations.

1891 Perkins & Nixon stables (1)

The metalwork on the stableblock (shown in the picture) of W. Nixon, the builder in 1891 was done by “J. Perkins Claybrook”. Whether this was the work of father or son, I don’t know.

On the 1851 Census, John Perkins, my great grandfather, was listed as an Apprentice Blacksmith. He was 19 years old and living in Withybrook with his widowed Mother Ann on his Uncle John Mason’s Farm. I don’t know how he came to this trade as his father Joseph was a Butcher.  Joseph however, had died when John was only 7, so someone else, possibly his uncle,  had arranged this apprenticeship for him, likely when he was around 14. In Historical Directories, I discovered that he was apprenticed to William Holyoak of Claybrooke Magna. William was one of three brothers, the others in Burbage, who were all Blacksmiths. By the 1861 Census, John had married Clara Benford and  was living in Claybrooke Magna and had become a Master Blacksmith. His 2 sons followed in the trade, my Grandfather John Thomas in Claybrooke Magna and his brother Walter Joseph in Rugby.

Master Blacksmith

Master Blacksmith

John Perkins died in 1896. The Leicester Chronicle headed his Obituary “Death of a Tradesman” and goes on to say “By the death of Mr. John Perkins, Blacksmith, at the age of 62, this village loses one of its best known and most highly respected tradesmen”. It would appear that not only was he a Master Tradesman, he was a volunteer in many community activities. He held various “public and parochial offices, including those of Assistant Parish Overseer, Parish Constable, and Clerk to the Burial Board, the later he held up to his decease, as well as taking a prominent part in the management of the various Village Sick Clubs.” He was buried at St. Peter’s Church Cemetery in Claybrooke Parva, LEI.



St Peter's Church

John Perkins of Claybrooke Magna

1851  Census   John Perkins (19)  apprentice Blacksmith  to William Holyoak (Master)

1861   Census   John Perkins (29)        Blacksmith in Claybrooke Magna

Apprentices  George Cramp 15, William Bird 19

Interestingly, John’s wife Clara Benford  had a younger sister who married William Bird when he finished his apprenticeship.  Often relatives of tradesmen, would marry tradesmen and the Benford’s were Carpenters in the village.

1871   Census   John Perkins (39)   Blacksmith (Master) Claybrooke Magna

Apprentice   Thomas Knight 19

1881  Census  John Perkins  (49)   Blacksmith (Master)

1891  Census  John Perkins (59)    Blacksmith

KELLY’S DIRECTORIES shows John Perkins for the following years : 1877   Black & Shoeing Smith, agricultural implement maker & machinist 1884  Blacksmith & machine & implement maker 1891  Blacksmith & Clerk to Burial Board 1896  Blacksmith, implement maker & Clerk to Burial Board


The Statute of Labor and Apprentices 1563 was the framework on which the career of most young men were based. It was the legal duty of a father to get his son apprenticed to a trade, at 14 or before and generally they aimed to get the best trade  they could afford, not necessarily one selected by the lad. Men involved in  craft trades had to serve  an apprenticeship of 7 years from the age of 14 to 21. This involved a payment  from the father to the Master. Once this term of service was met, the second stage was to work as a Journeyman. He was paid by the day while he worked for a Master. Usually a new Master tradesman had to wait for 5 years after the apprenticeship before he himself  could take on an apprentice.


1881 Census        John Thomas Perkins (17)  Smith and machinist

1891  Census       John Thomas Perkins (27) Blacksmith  Claybrooke  Magna

Walter Joseph Perkins (26) Blacksmith  Rugby

1901   Census      John Thomas Perkins (37) Blacksmith Claybrooke Magna

Walter Joseph  Perkins (36) Blacksmith  Rugby

1916       Walter Joseph Perkins still village Blacksmith

 JohnThomas Perkins moved his family into Leicester after his mother, Clara Benford Perkins died in 1910. He lived at #51 Walton Street and worked at an Iron Foundry as a Blacksmith. When his father-in-law, George Sleath, died in 1912, John Thomas was free to emigrate to Canada at age 49. This would have been a difficult decision but things in England were difficult and he felt that there would be more opportunity for him and his son in Canada. They arrived in  July 1913 and settled in the Ritchie District of Edmonton, Alberta. John Thomas first worked as a Blacksmith for Ribchester’s and then for the Hudson Bay Company as a clerk. I suspect he was employed in the Hardware Department. John Thomas, his wifr Sarah Jane and son Tertius in Canada circa 1929

The photo shows John Thomas, his wife Sarah Jane and son Tertius Bernard outside their home in Ritchie. circa 1929. Tertius was working for the CPR Telegraphs and obviously earned enough to buy himself a car.

John Thomas Perkins died in 1936 and was buried in Red Deer, Alberta, alongside his Brother-in-law Jack Sleath and his wife Clara Shotton Sleath.

One Response to “Claybrooke Magna, Leicestershire..John Perkins… The Village Blacksmith”

  1. Ann Bentley March 17, 2013 at 1:53 AM #

    Hi Louise,
    It is 7.30 a.m. And my part of Wales has a covering of snow, again? So how lovely to be cheered by your latest “Wandering”……
    As always it’s fascinating to hear more of your family story. Thought you might be interested to hear of another call on the skill of the Blacksmith.. My gt. grandmother, Ann Watts was a very keen needle woman, making lace (often done in the villages in Northamptonshire where she lived) and patchwork quilts and some were of appliqué work. Various leaves were collected and taken to the Blacksmith for him to make templates for her.
    I look forward to your next piece.
    Best wishes, Ann


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