My latest Video is now available on the Heritagecraft YouTube Channel, which is about the process of restoring a Costermongers Cart
It follows the progress of a Vintage Costermongers cart dating from before the First World War. If you have never come across the term Costermonger, they were effectively Market Porters, lively gregarious characters, who would transport goods from the wholesale markets to the retailers. For more information have a look at some of my previous posts
This particular cart belongs to a elderly gentlemen who before his retirement worked at Spitalfields Market, and it was a gift when he retired. At the time the market was moving from central London to a new sight on the outskirts and these carts were being burnt as they weren’t needed at the new sight. His family had been connected with the market for generations although he had never made it to Market Porter.
In those days jobs in the market were tightly controlled, and you needed a relative in the market to get you a job. Porters were paid by the parcel regardless of the size to take the goods from the wholesaler to the customers vehicle in the car park, they didn’t hang about, and god save anyone who got in the way. However I am told 30 years ago £1000 per week for a porter wasn’t unusual. No wonder the jobs were controlled.
Before my customer was given the cart its clear to see it was a working vehicle, and my customer has had it in his garden for years. So it was in a pretty sorry state.
I have made new wheels for it, repaired and where necessary replaced the rotten woodwork. Repainted in the traditional market cart colours of Red and Green, and added as a request from my customer an elegant touch of yellow in the form of a couple of pinstripes. As you can see from the picture below it came out well.
As a wheelwright I repair lots of wheels, which include Traditional Market Cart Wheels, and Costermonger cart wheels. All wheels come with their own challenges but market cart wheels come with added extra.
When Markets carts were an everyday sight at markets the stall holder would rent the cart for the day, from a local carriage master. Each market would have a local firm usually a family whose business it was building, maintaining, and hiring out market carts to their market. To differentiate their carts from their competitors in the next market, they would carve the name of their firm on the wheels, usually in a very distinctive script.
When we are restoring Market Cart wheels, the felloes ( the wooden rim sections) are usually the first to rot and therefore need replacing which means they need the name carved back on them in the same distinctive script
In the case of the wheels shown I was asked to retain parts where I can and replace where necessary sufficient to allow the market cart to be used again. Two of the hubs were replaced, all of the felloes and a couple of spokes, and then they are returned to the customer for painting.
If you have wheels that need repairing do get in touch, if you would like to see examples of some of the new carts I build have a look here
A chance conversation about replacing a half size gyspy caravan led to us designing and building this Dockside Cabin at Canary Wharf, West India Quay. The Customer Skuna Boats who operate the UKs first floating Hot Tubs and Barbeque Boats wanted a modern stylish space in which they could greet customers. The Planners wanted something very traditional in keeping with the location and Heritage of the Area.
The final design is the product of several months discussions, during which time the scheme changed radically. The original carriage lost its the wheels turning it from a carriage to a cabin. When fully fitted it will incorporate a Bar, An Ice Cream Counter, and a Lounge Area. All within a very compact 3.5 x 4.5mts.
On the outside it is a traditional Dockside cabin with black corrugated Iron Sides with a curved roof, and porthole windows. On the inside however its bright and airy, with a modern trendy design reflecting the company and its customers.
From start to finish the project took six weeks with three weeks in the workshop making the roof beams, doors with portholes and porthole shutters. This was followed by three assembly weeks on site. In addition to the structure we have also made a copper pipe chandelier and illuminated mirror.
We have now been commissioned to create a very modern Bar and Ice Cream Counter so watch this space
For someone who doesn’t claim to be a chair doctor I spend a lot of time working with chairs. Historically a wheelwright would have worked on chairs as the skills and techniques are complementary.
In this instance I found this Victorian chair frame in a local farm sale for the princely sum of 50p. At Some point in its life someone had attempted a refurbishment and had cut away the original woven cane seat and back, replacing it with plywood, and then liberally and badly applied gloss white paint.
The first task was to remove the plywood and strip back the paint to reveal a fine mahogany frame underneath. The freshly revealed wood work was then sanded, sealed, and French Polished, including one coat of Red Polish to accentuate the colour of the natural wood.
Finally the seat and back was re caned with the original split cane. We cant claim its as new after all its a 150 year old chair, but its certainly good for a number of years yet. Having finished it we can attest to its comfort. A very comfortable chair.
A typical project for us is the one we have just installed today at Canary Wharf, a customer we have served for many years.
They are having a trendy “Urban Food Festival” and wanted a free standing sign post, to act as a focal point, and to give directions to approx. 20 destinations. They wanted it to look modern, urban, whilst at the same time reminiscent of those sign posts you see at tourist destinations with multiple signs pointing in all different directions telling you how far it is too New York, or Basingstoke.
It had to be Free standing onto a solid floor, assembled in a few hours ideally without expensive access equipment, and able to act as a central support for overhead festoon lighting. Oh and by the way you have a 10 days to design and build it.
Now whilst we don’t aim to be signpost manufacturers we do understand temporary structures. Therefore we designed an Urban Themed structure manufactured by us from welded steel lattice, 4mts high, which is self supporting with 2 x 150kg water weights. Built in several sections it can be easily assembled by 2 people in a couple of hours, and yet still fits into the back of a medium sized van for transport. The signs supplied in bright modern colours, which are fixed in site are reusable, so once this event is finished the whole structure is taken down, put into our stores, and then gets reused next time, albeit with different wording.
the customer was delighted and we are rather proud of this one.
I frequently get asked to repair wooden carriage wheels, and they are always a voyage of adventure as you never know what your going to find, which also makes it the hardest to price, which is another problem as everyone wants to know before you start what its going to cost.
A typical example would be the wheel in the picture which came in to have a broken spoke replaced. In order to replace the spoke you have to first remove the rubber tyre, steel rim, and a section of felloe to get to it. Usually at this point I discover all manner of issues, and that the old time craftsmen where just as capable of a “bodge Job” as modern ones.
So the blue wheel pictured illustrates this perfectly. It came in with a broken spoke which turned out to be rotten and riddled with wood worm to a point where the wood crumbled away when touched. The Carriage had obviously not moved for a while and water had got into the joint between felloes and spokes, causing the felloes to swell and also rot along with the end of several spokes. Our tale of woe continues as the wheel I suspect originally from America with steam bent felloes covering 7 spokes each, rather than the European Sawn felloes which conventionally bridge 2 spokes, had previously been worked on, and one half of the wheel steamed felloes had been replaced with sawn, some of which were solid and some rotten, all of which had been hidden under many layers of paint.
To cut a long story short I ended up replacing several spokes, most of the felloes, but retained the hub, rubber tyre and steel rim which were refitted. Once its had a new coat of paint its good to go, back on the carriage.