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I have already mentioned my visits to the tailor, carpenter, and the brickmaker; but there was not a trade in the whole village but was a matter of many an hour's observation to us, and very interesting they are to all young folks ;
and there is a deal of useful knowledge to be picked up from watching them. It was a delight to us—not only to make our shoe-heel bricks, but to watch old Samuel Poundall moulding his also on a sort of rude table, and handing them over rapidly to a parcel of bare-legged lads, who laid them down in rows on the smooth clay-floor of the brick-yard. To see the men digging, turning, and grinding the clay, or the lads turning and clapping those that were drying in the yard; to see them pile them up on open walls to dry still faster, and lay straw on the top to prevent the sun and rain and frost from injuring them, which shewed us why the Israelities in Egypt could not do without straw, when they were compelled to make bricks for Pharaoh. It was a grand sight to see them pile their unbaked bricks in the great kiln, and cover them over with earth or ashes, and make great fires in fireplaces all round. To see it blazing away like a huge furnace in the dark night; and then to see them, when it was cool, open it, and take out the bricks red and hard, and fit to build houses to last five hundred years.
And it was next a subject of great interest to see these bricks turned into houses. Many and many were the hours that we spent in watching Abraham Street and his man in their building-work. First, we found them where some old house stood, busy at work some morning on the very top of it, and beginning to strip off the roof, and pull it down. Off came old thatch, down came dusty old beams and spars, down came the walls ; and in a few days, the place was cleared, and they were digging out the foundation for a new erection; while a man sat with a curiously-shaped instrument, having an edge at each end, dressing the old bricks, as they called it—that is, hewing off the old mortar, and preparing them again for use.
It was a matter of daily speculation and notice what sort of a place they would raise. Everything was a very interesting concern to us : the putting down the great timber-centres, as they called them, or framework on which to build an arch; then the gradual growing of the walls, with spaces left for doors and windows; then the putting in the window-frames and door-frames, and laying across the joists and beams of the floors; then the putting up of the roof; and then the tilers coming and covering it. Every degree of progress was a fresh source of curiosity and pleasure to us. The glazing-work, and the laying of the floors, and the putting in of fireplaces and cupboards, and setting up the stairs and draining the walls, and the putting on the first fires; and above all, to see the tenants come in, with all their furniture, to a real housethe work of Sam Poundall, the brickmaker; Abraham Street, the bricklayer ; Brough, the carpenter; Jackson, the tiler; and Allen, the glazier. Palaces may be built, and thousands may stand from day to day and watch and wonder; but I do not believe that any one of those spectators feel more wonder or pleasure than a villagelad does over the building of a cottage.
But every rural trade had its attractions for us. We made our visits to the old shoemaker as often as to the builder; and I don't know that I could not put a shoe together if I were to try—though I never did—for every part of the mystery is familiar to me. I liked to sit and watch him hammering away at a leather sole on his lapstone. I watched, with curious eyes, the making of his wax, which is pitch and oil melted together, and made into balls. The great old water-pot, too, in which he floated his waxed balls, to keep them firm and hard, I see it as plainly as possible standing behind his door. I see the merry old man twisting his tacking-ends, as he called his waxed thread, soaking his soling leather in water, cutting out upper-leathers, and explaining to me all the time that the leather was the skin of cows or calves, seals or kids, as it happened to be, which had been tanned and curried, or dressed in different ways, and coloured or dyed by different methods, till it assumed its proper appearance and smell. All this was curious information to me, as well as the making of the welts, the stitching on the soles, and, lastly, the binding and polishing.
Then there were the miller and baker, whose arts were also favourite studies. I loved to hear the clack of the mill as I ran up the hill where it stood, of a holidayafternoon, and mounted the steps that seemed to sink and tremble under my feet as I went up; and there was the rusty, dusty miller,' as we called him, always looking as happy and composed as possible. It used to seem to me that there was something in the very air of a mill that made people comfortable. One never seemed to see people noisy and quarrelling in a mill as in other places. The very rocking and knocking and humming sound of the mill seemed to subdue and soothe all boisterous humours and bad passions.
Boom and rattle went the
wheels; down kept floating the flour into the bag suspended below; the miller, with his 'mealy face,' quiet and good-humoured ; a pleasant smell came from the grinding corn and the drying corn in the kiln below; and from the mill-door, oh, what a prospect !
The bakehouse was the place for a winter's day. There the great oven was fed with sticks and furze, which made a blaze and a crackling as good as a bonfire. The great long forks thrust in fagot after fagot; the great long rakes raked about the embers in that awful fiery furnace; and all the while, Adam Woodward, with his cotton night-cap on his head, and his shirt-sleeves turned up to his shoulders, would pour his yeast into the great kneadingtrough, and knead his dough, and roll it out, and cut it up, and weigh it out, and mould it into loaves, and then into the oven with it on the great oven-shovel. While all the village-dames came flocking in with their huge brown loaves to be baked too.
Was there ever a village-lad that has not found, too, the attractions of the wheelwright's shed? Our wheelwright's shop was just on my way to the school, and was a sore temptation to me many a time and oft, as I went, to linger an hour, when I was in fact an hour too late, and in danger of being greeted with that wise rhyme
"A miller, a mollar,
A ten-o'clock scholar.' But really it is not every one who knows the charms of watching the creation of a cart-wheel? First, you see the wheelwright, choosing out, with a very knowing look, and with the most serious counsel of his men, a block of wood from that heap of blocks that you have seen long enough piled up by the wall in his shed. That is to be the nave or centre of a cart-wheel. There! the selection is made. The man is busy upon it-shaving it with his spokeshave; boring it for the axle; cutting holes all round, or, as he calls it, making mortises for the spokes. Next, he is as busy shaving and sloping the spokes, squaring the ends to fit the mortises ; and then the very next time you pass, the spokes are sticking into the nave like the rays of a great star-fish. See ! the man is now busy cutting a number of bent pieces of wood—these he calls the fellies; and when they are put together, and stuck
upon the spokes, you see that they make the circle of the wheel; and it wants nothing to complete the wheel but the tire or iron-rim, that runs all round. Well, it is ten to one but you meet the blacksmith tumbling this rim like a great hoop up the street as you come home. I have done so many a time, and then I was all on the alert to be present at its putting on, for that seemed to me a very busy and important thing. Fire and water and many a hearty stroke must be brought into immediate action for the completion of that great work. A huge fire of wood is blazing in the yard ; a secret pit is opened in the shop-floor, by the removal of some boards that conceal it. It is a long and narrow pit, now filled with water, and a stump set up on each side of it. When the tire is exactly fitted to the wheel, it is thrown into the fire, and shavings and chips piled on to make it as hot as possible. Presently, the tire is red-hot. Then, with great tongs, it is dragged forth and applied to the wheel, which is laid flat on the ground to receive it. The men, with their hammers, stand ready to beat it down to its place; and amidst smoke and flame and clanging blows, the work is done. Up the wheel is snatched, and hurried to the pit in the floor; an axle is thrust through it, and laid