Ernest Rhodes village blacksmith

It can be very hard to identify work actually carried out by village blacksmiths. But research unconnected with Brimington’s blacksmiths – Ernest Rhodes and his son Albert – has revealed that the parish church railings on Church Street are a lasting reminder of this once well-known business.

It’s not the parish church that interests us in this blog, but the railings, which were made by local blacksmiths Ernest Rhodes and Son in 1949, to replace those lost during the war-time drive for scrap metal.
The end of Ernest Rhodes and Son’s handcrafted church-yard railings. The Three Horse Shoes public house is in the right background. Their forge was literally a stones-throw away on Ringwood Road – hence the name of the pub.

Their premises at the village end of Ringwood Road are long-demolished. Ernest Rhodes is first mentioned in trade directories in 1925 as ‘smith’. Previously the village blacksmith appears to have been a Joseph Woolley.

The advancement of motor vehicles would have adversely impacted on the traditional horse shoeing business. In Vernon Brelsford’s 1937 ‘History of Brimington’ he describes that the ‘old smithy on Ringwood Road’, was still in use but that ‘the shoeing business is not so flourishing as of old’.  It would therefore be natural for the business to concentrate on other metal related activities such as gates, metal fencing etc. Ernest’s son Albert must have joined his father at some time in the business.

So to 1949. The Brimington Parochial Church Council (PCC) – the governing body of the parish church – had seen the church yard railings along Church Street and High Street removed during the Second World War. This was in common with many other railings across the country – in a drive for scrap metal as part of the war effort. The PCC agreed at its meeting on 28 February 1949 to new railings being erected around the churchyard and ‘between the gate and the church part’. These were to be made by ‘Mr Rhodes and Son, Brimington and fixed by Mr Hughes’. Since our original blog we now know that ‘between the gate and church part’ meant just that, but these were removed some years ago – possibly in the 1970s when the church yard was subject to some alterations as part of the Brimington General Improvement Area plans.

The cost of the new railings was to be met from a bequest left by a former Rector the Rev Truman. The ‘War Damage Commissions’ was to be contacted to see if they might contribute, due to the old railings being removed in the war.

One might then imagine Ernest and his son busily engaged in fabricating the railings, by hand, in their workshop within a stone’s throw of their destination – Brimington parish churchyard. Perhaps, too, carrying them the short distance to the church yard for them to be fixed into position.

Today the railings are still in place and in reasonable order. A tribute to age-old skills honed in the day of the horse.

Albert went on to form Rhodes Engineering. They specialised in structural steel fabrication and were only wound up around 10 years or so ago. He also wrote a short series of novels based on Brimington in the 1920s. We will look at this in a future blog.

Perhaps as you pass the church yard railings you might just spare a thought for the former blacksmith shop on Ringwood Road and Ernest’s and his son’s efforts over the years.

It’s worth looking at some of the detail of the railings – which were obviously handcrafted. Notice the different fluting on this example. The fluted columns formerly had spikes, but these were removed about ten years ago as they were deemed a safety hazard. Two further sets of railings extended towards to the church porch from the gate on Church Street, but these were possibly removed in the 1970s.

The removed railings might not have been that old. The corner of Church Street had been cut back during the 1920s, with the footway realigned and the churchyard wall reconstructed. Presumably, at this time, new railings were fitted only to be removed at the start of the Second World War, probably less than 20 years after they were installed. You can still see holes in the stonework where the pre-war railings were installed. The gate is also a fairly modern replacement and wasn’t part of the contract with Messrs Rhodes in any case.

There’s an image which captures the blacksmith’s shop on Picture the Past. This shows a single storey stone building, with low-pitched pantile roof. It was situated near where the garage is on the north side of Ringwood Road.

We haven’t seen many photographs of the forge or of the Ernest Rhodes and don’t know that much about when it was demolished or ceased to be used as a forge. If you have any information we’d really like to know – so please contact us.

Our thanks to the Derbyshire Record Office, Matlock for research facilities (the PCC minutes are located there – D636/A/PD 1/1); to Gary Bagshaw for information on the railing’s spike removal and to Christine Hill for a reminder that the railings originally extended from the gate on Church Street to the near the church porch.

Revised 20 April 2021.

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