End of an era as St Boswells blacksmith calls it a day

David Young. St. Boswells blacksmith.
David Young. St. Boswells blacksmith.

There is a flurry of sparks as blacksmith David Young swings his hammer onto the red-hot bar of metal in the smithy at St Boswells.

It is a scene which has been repeated many thousands of times in the small stone smithy at The Green, but one which will soon be seen no more following David’s decision to become semi-retired.

Bill Hook (left) blacksmith at St. Boswells Smiddy until 1953 with his apprentice Sandy Duff.

Bill Hook (left) blacksmith at St. Boswells Smiddy until 1953 with his apprentice Sandy Duff.

Although he won’t be quitting completely from the trade that he has plied for more than half a century, his move to work part-time at the blacksmith’s in Midlem, where he lives, means the end of an era for St Boswells.

Opened by Thomas Lawrie in 1837, the forge, whose railway sleeper floor bears the marks of countless horses over the decades, is the oldest business in the village.

From shoeing the giant Clydesdales once used to work the land, to the steeds of nearby Buccleuch Hunt and the hundreds of local horses rounded up by the army to haul gun carriages and ammunition wagons across the fields of Flanders, the forge’s smiths have stood sentinel to the march of time.

David’s first day as a 15-year-old apprentice was on March 8, 1963, and he bought over the business as sole trader from the Lawrie family in 1999.

“Horses were a very large part of the work over those years, but I also do welding and metalwork like railings and gates, sharpen picks and the like, and I do a lot of welding work at the auction mart in Newtown,” David told The Southern.

“In the old days when I started, you could be shoeing eight horses a day here. In the days of Bill Hook [blacksmith from 1900 to 1953], it would be normal to have four Clydesdales inside being shod with another three or four waiting outside.”

David served his apprenticeship under the then blacksmith Sandy Duff and says there are still plenty of young blacksmiths and farriers coming out of the colleges.

For those who do not know the difference, a farrier only works on horses. “But nowadays they just need a van with a portable gas forge and they can visit stable yards, instead of horses coming to the smiddy,” added David, who will close down the forge at the end of June.

Owners of the smiddy building, Donald and Pat Fairgrieve, who live next door – Pat is a member of the Lawrie family, say no-one was interested in taking over the smiddy to run as a traditional forge and so it will be let out as a craft workshop.

“It is the end of an era,” said Pat, the great-great-grand-daughter of Thomas Lawrie. “The only reason it’s closing is because David wants to retire from it. It will be a sad day when it finally ends.”

It was during the 1920s that the business of Thomas Lawrie diversified into selling cars and bicycles, eventually becoming the well-known garage and filling station on the opposite side of the nearby A68.

However, one tradition will be preserved as David intends retaining the name “Thomas Lawrie, Blacksmith” when he starts working from Midlem.

“It’s been hard graft, but I’ve enjoyed it,” added David, as once again he picks up his hammer and the coals of the smiddy’s forge glow red hot.