by the use of their hands, using simple tools and machines -
meeting and filming them
During the war years (1939-45) there was a revival of rural
crafts. This gave me the opportunity to film some crafts that
were in danger of dying out or had died out. It as whilst I was
out driving near Clitheroe that I stumbled upon Sam Smalley in
the hamlet of Grindleton. He was working on the roadside opposite
his small farm cottage. His daughter Emily was swinging a giant
sized mallet, whilst Sam placed his axe on a block of wood. It
looked a dangerous occupation, especially for Sam Smalley.
Sam Smalley, dressed in his black waistcoat, his shirt sleeves
rolled up above his elbows, his flat cap placed firmly on his
head - held an axe on a block of alder wood; his eyes were fixed
on the sharp edge of his axe. He never took . sideways glance
as the giant-sized mallet, which Emily was wielding, came swishing
through the air and landed smartly on to the head of the axe.
Two blocks of wood fell to the ground.
I introduced myself; two 'Sams' met. I asked him if I could
film him at his work. I told him a little about myself and after
a short time to think the matter over, he picked up his axe,
stroked his thumb along the edge and declared - "Dust tha
naw I've nivver sin a film in m'life ". He went over and
talked to his daughter Emily. She was a large person like her
father with big strong arms her hair cut short like Joan of Arc.
" Ay ' allreet lad," he said, "solong 'as
you doant stop m'frae working."
The following weekend I filmed him early in the morning bringing
in his cows for milking. Then I followed him into a nearby field
where he cut down an alder tree. First he used his felling axe
then, with Emily's help and a cross-saw, they quickly completed
Once the trunk was cut into workable sizes, I joined him on
the roadside and sure enough there was Emily pushing her black
hair away from her face and clipping it with a large hairpin,
a spit and a rub on her hands, before grasping the huge mallet.
Sam Smalley sat on his stool, carefully placed his axe where
he wanted the log to be split, and with a mighty swish the mallet
came down and there were two more blocks ready for shaping.
Inside his work hut, Sam Smalley, using a traditional stock
knife, carved the timber into the rough shape of a clog sole.
At the end of the shed, hundreds of clog blocks were neatly stacked.
It was some time later that I returned to Grindleton. Before
I could show Sam Smalley my film, I had to wait for the village
to be put on the electricity supply.
When the great day arrived, Mrs Smalley was ill in bed. She
propped herself up on her pillow. I set up the projector on the
kitchen dresser and placed a small screen on the wall opposite.
I threaded the film through the projector and switched on. It
was the first time that Sam Smalley and his wife had ever seen
a film. Sam looked bewildered, he looked at the screen, looked
at his wife, looked at me and back again at the screen. As the
film ran out, he said - "Ay lad, what a pity it's done."
He thought, that once the film had been projected, it could
not be seen ever again. I told him that not only would I show
it again after I had rewound the film, but I hoped that children
for many generations to come, would see him at work.
Sam disappeared from the house, but within minutes he had
gathered all the children he could find and brought them into
his house. The children sat on the floor and I projected the
film a second time. Sam Smalley sat there, he was a proud man,
a film star in his own village.
It gave me a lot of pleasure to show this film in Sam Smalley
a home and it seemed to act as a tonic to Mrs Smalley in her
With my film of Sam Smalley a Clog Block Maker, I was able
to prepare my lesson notes and show to my pupils the craft skills
and the life style of a Master craftsman. The craft of clog making
can be traced back eight hundred years. In the fifteenth century,
the Guild of Cloggers and Pattern Makers was formed.
The timbers used for clog soles included - alder, beech, birch
and sycamore. Sam Smalley used alder which was definitely the
best for clog soles. Alder is easy to work, it does not split
when nails are driven in and it is said that it has such a nature
that it is 'soft' to the feet, comfortable and healthy to wear.
Sam Smalley would buy the timber whilst it was still growing.
He would bargain with the land owner as to the price of the trees.
He had to be skilled in 'sizing-up' the amount of workable timber.
If he did not make the correct estimation it could mean a loss
rather than a profit.
From the film I was able to point out the special bench which
the clog-block-maker used. The bench was not very high, no more
than knee height and at one end was fixed an eye into which the
clog-block-maker hooked his stock knife. The boys noted how much
it looked like a butcher's meat chopper, but the stock knife
had a much longer handle, some two feet long. The hook at the
cutting end was anchored into the fixed eye on the bench and
with a pump-like action by the long handle, the hook and eye
acting as a fulcrum, Sam could be seen holding the block of wood
with one hand and with a great deal of dexterity and skill manipulating
the knife and the wood.
Clog block maker
Whilst my students watched the film they could see the swift
movements of the stock-knife, but I had to tell the. of the quietness
of the operation, the only sound being the crunching of the sappy
wood (the block-maker being one of the few workers in wood that
used wood when still green).
Sam, on a good day, could cut two hundred pairs of blocks,
earning two pence for each pair.
With my film I was able to show the environment in which Sam
lived. There on the slopes of Pendle Hill, Sam had a stone built
house. He had a few cows, chickens, a sell orchard and his own
clump of alder trees growing in a piece of swampy land near a
His daughter Emily would help him. After the tree was felled
it would be cut into suitable lengths. Sam had his own block-maker's
gauge (a length of alder 18" long with notches cut into
it to represent the sizes required for men's, women's, youths'
and children's 'blocks'). After marking out, the blocks were
cut off with a crosscut saw, then 'riven' by means of an axe
and mallet. Sam held the axe, Emily wielded the mallet. In this
way the wood kept its natural strength, had it been sawn it would
have been cut across the grain and much of the wood's strength
would have been lost.
Sam would then take the 'riven' blocks into his workshop and
with his stock-knife he would shape the blocks ready to be passed
on to the Clogger.
It was in my home town of Burnley where I found John Casson
a Clogger. Without doubt, John Casson was a Master Craftsman
in every respect. He went calmly about his work, in his little
cottage workshop, repairing and making clogs. His workshop had
been his parlour but he had converted it into his workroom and
shop using a space in the window, facing the street, to display
John Casson had the clog blocks delivered to his workshop,
then with his stock-knife he shaped the blocks into soles. He
used several knives to do this; the 'stock' the 'hollower' and
the 'gripper'. He shaped the inside of the sole with his hollower,
the heels with his stock, but the groove or rebate around the
edge of the sole - he used the gripper.
Without a pattern or a jig John Casson cut the soles, then
with a few deft strokes, after fixing on the 'irons', he would
paint brush the underside of the soles to give them a better
finish. Whilst the soles were drying, he would cut out the leather
From a bewildering looking shape he would twist it into a
recognisable clog-top or 'upper'. Then with a waxed thread the
back of the 'uppers' would be closed with use of an awl and thread.
Next, the 'uppers' were fastened to a wooden 'last' and left
for 48 hours to 'set' to the shape and then nailed on to the
sole. Finally, John would cover the fixing nails with a thin
leather band, knock in a few brass nails, fix on a toe-plate
and a clasp to the 'uppers' and the clogs were ready for the
The Finished Clog
When I was a small boy I wore clogs and for many years 'clogs'
were characteristic of Lancashire as was the colourful costume
of the Neapolitan peasantry. Few clogs are worn today.
The Lancashire clog was an adaptation of the sabot worn by
the French and Dutch peasantry and was introduced into Lancashire
when the Flemish weavers settled in the Bolton area "wearing
wode shoon all of a peece". The Lancashire weavers and country-folk,
at this time, either went barefoot or wore shoes of untanned
leather, similar to the moccasins worn by Red Indians. The superiority
of the footwear of the new comers, which kept their feet dry
in rain or snow, was something to be copied. But the rough and
stony roads of Lancashire cut into the sabots and irons were
nailed on to the soles. Leather 'uppers' replaced the wood shoe
but the Lancashire clog kept its wooden sole with its specially
shaped clog irons.
The Clogger varied the shape of his clogs. A man from Accrington
visiting Burnley, could be recognised by the shape of his clogs.
The wide rounded 'duck' toes were seen mostly in Burnley, Blackburn,
Nelson and Colne; they were called 'duck' because they resembled
the shape of a duck's bill. In Yorkshire the toe caps were medium
round, whilst those in Wigan, Preston and Lancaster were 'spear-pointed'
. In Oldham, Stalybridge and Ashton-under-Lyme, they had a narrower
'square-duck . It was said that the wearing of clogs by children
gave them strong ankles and straight legs; it was certainly a
remarkable fact that there were few bow-legged children in industrial
Lancashire and equally there were fewer workers absent because
of colds and kindred ailments contracted by poor footwear.
When clogs were worn without irons they were known as 'barefoot
clogs'. The word 'barefoot' would suggest 'barefoot', but it
was in Lancashire a term denoting the lack of irons on the clogs.
It was only the women and girls who wore their clogs without
irons, 'barefoot' or 'coke , and no lad or man would dream of
going out, with clogs without irons. To do so would meet with
calls of 'missy'.
The irons varied in weight and for women and girls the irons,
if they wanted irons, were light weight, but the men and boys
'Colne irons' were in common use and as their name suggests,
they were originally made at Colne near Burnley.
There were several kinds of clog in general use, 'barefoot"
'duckbills' and dancing-clogs with thin soles to make them light
in weight. They only had a slight curve from heel to toe, but
the leather uppers were something special. They were stamped
and embossed in every conceivable pattern, with fancy tabs and
decorated with brass nails along the edge of the soles.
The type of clog most commonly used was the 'Duck Bill'. But,
even these clogs were decorated by young men who were courting
and were described as 'courting clogs'. In the evenings the young
en would change from their 'Duck Bills' into the fancy light
weight- clogs. I well remember a Minister of Education - George
Tomlinson, telling me that he would wear a pair of 'coorting
clogs' even in London. He loved to tell stories of how the Lancastrians
used to fight with their feet, and how a skilfully planted kick
with a clog would do considerable damage to an opponent. The
metal caps at the toes of the pit clog were often referred to
as 'purring irons' and terrible injuries were inflicted by these
when used in a fight.
My next quest was to find a Tanner.
I knew there were Tanneries in the Craven district. They had
been established in almost every village in the area to serve
the needs of the cobblers and harness makers. There were good
supplies of suitable water flowing near the sites of the tanneries.
Cattle were driven over the drovers roads to Malham and other
important village fairs, so providing a source for hides.
But, few of these small tanneries had survived, so I went
out to find one. I took the whole family on a trip into Yorkshire.
I was told that near Silsden, if we approached from the north-east,
the prevailing wind would give us a good indication how close
we were to the tannery. The tannery had a distinctive pong.
It was our two youngest children, Zena and Bob who first got
whiff of it. They had climbed a limestone wall and having made
certain of the general direction of the Tannery, climbed back
into the car.
Edith and the children decided to stay in the car whilst I
ventured forth, entered the tannery-yard and spoke to one of
the workers. He invited me to look around, but first warned me
of the dangers of falling into one of the lime-pits. He was able
to give me enough information for me to realise that I had found
the place that I was looking for - it was one of the last tanneries
in Yorkshire still in use. It had survived the march of time
and I was to be given the opportunity to record it on film for
The Tannery was situated adjacent to an old drovers' road.
There was a stream close by which supplied running water to the
open tan pits. The hides had been stored in a building where
they were cut into 'butts' ready for the dipping processes. Outside,
were several pits. I watched the workers dip the hides into a
pit where running water removed the blood and dirt. In a second
pit the hides were dipped into a solution of lime and water.
The lime, I was told, had been quarried locally. I watched the
whole operation and formulated in my mind what shots I would
have to take when I started filming.
The time had passed very quickly and Edith and the children
must have wondered what had happened to me. For inspite of the
smell, they came looking for me.
We stayed for a little while longer watching the 'beamster',
a skilled craftsman in the tannery, removing the hair from the
hides with a tremulous broad knife. The craftsman placed the
hide on a stone beam and with his knife he easily removed the
loose hair. The hair was not thrown away, it was placed in a
container where later it would be mixed with plaster and used
for covering walls.
By this time we had all got used to the smell of the tannery.
The hides were dipped again into running water and once they
were lime free and clean, the men dipped the pelts into deep
tan pits containing oak-bark. The oak-bark gave the final tanning
- producing the leather. The leather the clogger would use for
his clog 'uppers'.
I made arrangements to return to Silsden to make my film and
hopefully to complete my series on 'clog' films with films on
the 'Clog-iron Maker' and the Nail Maker.
It was George Baron, a blacksmith from Colne who introduced
clog-iron making to Silsden. He employed six men on piecework
and they were able to earn between eighteen shillings and twenty-eight
shillings per week.
There was also a Nail Maker in Silsden. He operated in a stone
shed adjoining his house in his back yard. He supplied his nails
to an agent known as a Nail Factor. The Factors were often grocers
and general supply dealers. The Nailer, working in his back yard
shed, would deliver a load of nails at the end of the week to
a Factor who would pay him in kind with iron rods for the next
week's nails and groceries, no money was exchanged.
The General Stores in the village then sold the nails to the
blacksmiths and cloggers, some would be loaded on to the pack
mules to sell to farmers throughout the county.
In his back yard shed, the Nailer, working on a stone hearth
operated his large hand-bellows, and removed two hot irons and
hammered them into shape on an anvil and cut them. The Nailer,
who wanted to have both hands free, used a hammer called an Oliver.
It was a heavy hammer which was brought down on the anvil by
a foot pedal and was lifted up again by the springiness of a
thin tree trunk suspended across the roof.
Often women and children worked as 'Nailers', the children
made tuppeny and threepenny nails and women up to sixpenny nails
and eight penny. The odd way of describing these nails had nothing
to do with he price. It meant that a thousand nails had to weigh,
when completed - two pounds or three pounds and gradually 2 lb
nails became known as tuppenny nails. So if a man was told to
make tenpenny nails he would make big ones so that a thousand
of them would weigh 10 1bs.
Before filming any of the craftsmen I visited, I would watch
them at their work and in my mind's eye I would visualise the
whole of the film which I wanted to produce. Then, with the appropriate
lens - wide angle, telephoto, or normal - I would switch from
one lens to another so that the one and only 'take' required
the minimum of editing.
It was in my home town where I found Will Regan a Cooper.
He was working at his craft at Massey's Brewery in Westgate.
He was using traditional tools which had been handed down from
generation to generation. Tools which had been fashioned to the
true principles of design - fitness for purpose. You only had
to look at his 'topping-plane' with its special shape to see
a tool that had been created to do a specific task.
To watch Will make his barrels without jigs, templates or
patterns was something to think about with wonder and respect.
He was a Master Craftsman. The film I produced illustrates the
great difference between an artisan and craftsman. He took as
much pride in the making of a barrel, as Chippendale or Hepplewhite
took in making their fine furniture.
As I watched Will Regan at work my thoughts went to Italy
to another craftsman Antonio Stradivari of Cremona, he was the
greatest of all violin makers. He made over a thousand instruments.
On his labels he Latinised his name as Antonius Stradivarius.
Here, in Westgate, Burnley another master craftsman in every
sense was branding the top of his barrels with the name of Massey's
Brewery. If I did not record him on film, he would be forgotten;
how then could I inspire children in my care to appreciate what
I understood by 'craftsmanship' ? He was using tools that most
people had only seen in museums. Looking at such tools in museums
the casual visitor would see them as just curious objects, but
my film would bring them to 'life'. There were tools called -
Chive, Croze, Adze, Topping Plane, Driver, Buzz and Truss Hoop
- each had, their purpose.
I remember Will Regan telling me that squint o'eye and wrack
o'mouth' were the only testing tools he needed. The material
used by Will was Russian oak, known as memel oak, he chose this
because it was the most suitable material for casks that had
to hold English beer. I was told that only this timber allowed
the passage of air through its pores, and for some reason it
also helped in the process of fermentation. Will told me that
anyone who could recognise the taste of English beer could easily
tell if memel oak had been used for the cask.
In France the Coopers often used chestnut as an alternative
to memel oak for their wine casks. In dry coopering the choice
of timber was not so important and poplar, ash and fir were often
In the preparation of the timber, it was most important to
have the full strength of the wood, and the Cooper like the Basket
Maker, Clog Block Maker and Wheelwright, always split his timber
with the grain - this splitting was known as 'riving'.
The Cooper after riving, shaped the staves with a special
axe into a bouge, cutting from the centre of the stave to the
ends. After he has done this he uses a long curious plane called
the 'jointer' which enables him to cut the staves at the correct
angle, so that when the cask is put together, the joints are
held by friction, so closely, that no liquid can pass through
I watched Will Regan hollow out the inside of the staves with
a 'draw knife' and then set up the staves in a steel hoop before
passing over a series of truss hoops to bring the cask into shape.
The final act was to sign his piece of work, not with his
name - Will Regan, but with the name of the brewery.