A letter written to Margaret Feeney 30th March 1998
Dear Mrs Feeney,
In 1966/7 I was living in a rented cottage in Salter Street, Earlswood, Warwickshire, and next door to a neighbor whose name was Frank Wheeler, who was born in the 1880’s. He told me he had started worked at the age of twelve. His first job was on a farm (now the golf course) at Tanners Green where he was employed to scare birds, using a muzzle-loading fowling-piece.
A volunteer for War service in 1914-18, Frank spent the time as an hostler in Mesopotamia. He returned to farming life in Warwickshire and eventually set himself up as an agricultural contractor. He knew Bill Sadler and Gordon Hemming, so in his retirement he asked me to take him to visit his old pals. I then met Gordon, who Frank and his brother Bill used to refer to by the nickname “Act’chally-Act’chally”, because of his frequent use of the word ‘actually’. They used it to his face, so it was not a derisory thing to do.
As we left Gordon’s farm Frank pointed to a large tractor, which I think was in a dutch barn. It was Frank’s old ‘mini’-tractor which he had sold to Gordon. The tractor was not a mini as we know it, but an American “Minneapolis” model which may have come to England as part of the US Lease/Lend Scheme referred to in your book. Frank used the tractor to tow his ‘train’ of equipment around to various farms to carry out his work. The equipment included a threshing machine, and I wondered if the thresher, also shown in your book, might once have been Frank’s?
My first sighting of Bill Sadler was as he strode along Gentlemens Lane to greet us. He had a pitch-fork over his shoulder, with a bale of hay stuck on the prongs. Bill hardly seemed to notice the weight, he was so pleased to see Frank, who he addressed as “Mr Wheeler”. We were invited in for a cup of tea, and we met Mrs Sadler who told us she was a retired nurse. We were given a very warm welcome, and an open invitation to call again.
I took up the offer some months later, and spent some time talking to Bill about days past, when he worked with horses. He then had a tractor but said he would very much preferred to have a horse instead. I told him of my days helping the Co-op milkman, who also had a horse, – and that I hoped one day to buy a gig, or trap to use for leisure. I had noticed the dung cart in the implement shed, this was not what I was looking for, but I found it of interest. The cart was in good condition and promised to Arthur Lewis, a local farmer who bred Shire horses.
Bill took me to a partly fallen shed and pulled back a door to reveal a smaller cart. I was ‘hooked’ and bought the cart from Bill. He told me something of its history, which was that it had belonged to his uncle, George Tomlin, the Ullenhall Carrier. Although the paint was a little faded, the cart was generally in good condition, except for the fellies which had wrotted through years of standing in one place on soft ground. The cart was painted in dove-grey, and lined with white lines. Bill said it used to be taken up to Wythall (Druids Lane Forge) once each year to be re-painted. Examination showed the lining had been painted in carmine red at some time. Lining, of course, highlighted the spoked, fellies, and battens on the cart body, making it most attractive. The iron rave brackets were elegant and well matched, something only an expert blacksmith could have done.
The maker of the cart was Daniel, of Stratford-upon-Avon, and this was recorded on a small aluminium plaque on the rear sub-frame. The Carrier’s name was painted on each side of the vehicle body, next to the coachlamp brackets. It stated
Bill said his uncle used to travel into Birmingham twice a week, collect iron for local blacksmiths, then deliver the iron and other goods. He also went to Stratford on other days.
Sometimes Bill would accompany him, and sometimes they made deliveries to Barrells Hall. Bill said the Head Gardener would lay in wait to see if the carrier damaged the well-trimmed verges with his wheels as they drove up the avenue of trees. Bill mentioned the Head Gardener’s name, but sadly I have forgotten it.
I managed to get the cart back to Salter Street, and when we removed to Station Drive, the cart went with us. Access was difficult and, with permission from Alan Beckett, I went across the field at the rear and hauled the cart in, using a cartwheel I had installed as a children’s roundabout, – but this time as a capstan.
Some years later I told Stephen Price about the cart and he came to see it. Stephen was then Keeper of local history, at Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery, with special responsibility for Blakesley Hall. The Carriers Cart was given to the City, and the Museum had it restored and placed in the barn at Blakesley Hall where it remained on display until recent years. However, due to shortage of time and the need to keep costs down in the wheelwright’s shop the cart was painted ‘black’, with no linings. The lamp-brackets, “Daniel”-plaque, and George Tomlin’s trade-name are missing. I wrote to the Museum about these details and was reassured that they would be placed on record. However, the cart survives in long term storage, which is what matters after all.
We know the name of the wheelwright/coachbuilder, but not the name of the blacksmith, unless this is known at the Shakespeare Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon. The axle was made by Austers, of Birmingham, and dated-stamped on the stub-axle, around 1886. I forget whether the Collins’ or Drabble-axle system used coachbolts through the wheel-hubs, -into a captive washer on the axle, -but that was the method used here, – with a large leather washer to take up the sideways movement, – due to the motion of the horses sway. Stephen Price told me that after he wrote to the Tomlin family about the cart, they very kindly gave George Tomlin’s records to the Museum.
From another letter dated 31st May 2006
Would you please offer the enclosed photograph to the Keeper of Ullenhall history? I took the photograph on a visit to Birmingham Museum’s “Open Day” at their Storage Unit, 25 Dolman Street, Nechells, where George Tomlin’s Carrier’s Cart has been for some time in a confined space. The Cart had been on public display at Blakesley Hall, Yardley, but was removed to storage with many other exhibits when the Barn at Blakesley was needed as a classroom for visiting school children. I had to write to the Museum after the Carts first appearance. It was painted black, not in the original dove grey/blue. Also, the signwriting is not in the original form. Originally, the top ‘curve’ read “GEO.TOMLIN” and the bottom curve “ULLENHALL”. The word “Warwickshire” was not in the original sign. The original lamp brackets have not been refitted, and the cast aluminium maker’s plaque was missing from the rear.
The Cart was made by … “Daniel, of Stratford-upon-Avon”. Bill Sadler pronounced the name “Dan’ll”. He said the cart (which belonged to his uncle) was taken once every two years to Wythall to be painted and lined. I asked him if he meant at the Blacksmith/Farrier’s, Maypole Lane, and Bill said “Yes”. He said the Carrier went into Birmingham on two days each week. Having collected lengths of iron from Birmingham, he delivered it to various farriers while going to Stratford upon Avon on two remaining days. Bill Sadler also remembered his uncle making deliveries to Barrells Hall. As they approached via the avenue of trees, he said the Head Gardener used to hide behind trees and jump out if the cart went near any of his verges.
The Cart is now painted navy blue, with ‘red’ lining! From what I recall, the cart axle (made by Auster’s) is date-stamped about 1886.