Once known as Blacksmiths Street, the 1841 census reveals that, like today, Wood Street was home to a diverse cross section of society.
One of the oldest streets in Swindon with records dating from 1599, Blacksmiths Street wasn't its first name either. Wood Street was also known locally as Windmill Street after a windmill that stood on the site of the Kings Hotel.
Among the residents 171 years ago were surgeon John Gay and attorney Thomas Jeffries who lived and worked alongside the magnificently named tailor, Nehemiah Lea and printer James Morris, father of Advertiser founder William.
Morris recalls in his book Swindon - Fifty Years Ago published 1885 how in Wood Street "there were no less than two blacksmiths' forges opening right onto the street" during a time when "the town was downright busy."
Pigots 1844 Trade Directory lists five blacksmiths in Old Swindon, Thomas Grinaway or Greenaway who was based at Short Hedge, better known today as Devizes Road, with Robert Arman and Edward Smith in the High Street.
The two blacksmiths working in Wood Street were Sadler Bristow, and perhaps surprisingly, a woman - Leah Horne.
For centuries the blacksmith played a crucial role in both town and village life as toolmaker, chainmaker and cart wheel repairer, as well as producing decorative commissions such as gates. The blacksmith made nails and rivets and shod not only horses, but also oxen and donkeys.
Blacksmith William Horne married Leah Gardner on April 23, 1807 at the old parish church of Holy Rood where they later took their seven children to be christened.
When William died in 1837 business continued as usual and the 1841 census records Leah Horne 57, blacksmith living with her sons Henry 20, also a blacksmith and fifteen year old John.
It was not unusual for a widow to take over the running of her late husband's blacksmiths business, but the assumption that she acted merely as a manager may not always have been correct.
There is evidence to suggest women were at work in the forge themselves, especially, if like Leah, they had a son to share the workload. By 1851 Leah was living in Lower Town, Old Swindon, with Thomas Horne, a widower, possibly a relative of her husband, and his daughter.
The Post Office Directory of 1855 lists just two blacksmiths, Robert Arman in Newport Street and Thomas Greenaway, a shoeing and jobbing smith at Short Hedge. Like Leah, by 1861 widowed Ann Greenaway had taken over her husband's business. She also describes herself in the census of that year as 'Blacksmith employing three men.' Ann's two sons John and William worked alongside boarder John Sharpe in the forge on Short Hedge.
Leah Horne died on May 1, 1866 aged 82 and is buried with her husband William in the churchyard at Holy Rood. Her will was proved at Salisbury on May 26 by her son Henry who lived in North London where he worked as a Railway Guard.
Images - Wood Street c1860 and M. Sargent, blacksmiths at 1 Regent Street are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies - visit their flickr website on www.flickr.com/photos/SwindonLocal Other images - the Chancel at Holy Rood and the King's Hotel, Wood Street.
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