Grandad's Watton

The Blacksmith's shop

Not only were the markets and the show affected by the changing pattern of farming, and the economy of the countryside. The open fronted blacksmith's shop where, for so many years Billy Crane made and fitted shoes for nearly all the horses in the district became an engineering works and is now the body repair shop at the garage of Frank Dye Ltd. Of the two harness makers' shops in the High Street, Chaston's is now the middle part of Carter's showroom and Deans Agency occupies the shop where Harry Reeve made saddles, horse collars and bridles. And it is so many years since the heavy Burrell steam engines and timber drugs huffed and puffed through the town on their way to the yard of the Wayland Timber Co. whose saw mills and workshops were on the site now occupied by George Tufts Ltd. The business of the Wayland Timber Co. was in buying, sawing and selling high grade English timber and they had in the mill a steam driven circular saw as tall as a man which could cut a massive oak, ash or elm tree from end to end as easily as a hot knife going through butter. They had another piece of equipment too, of which townspeople were more aware. That was a factory hooter which sounded like three ships' sirens, all with laryngitis. This hooter was used to signal the time to start, and — blessed sound — the time to leave off, but there was one day in the year when the whole town heard its message and obeyed its command. The First World War ended at 11 o'clock on the llth day of November, the llth month, and at that precise time for many years the entire country observed a two minute silence in memory of the fallen. Each year a blast was sounded on that mighty factory timekeeper to indicate that the hands of the clock were standing at the appointed hour, and Watton became a motionless silent town, a town remembering its fathers, sons and brothers who went to war, and did not come back.

There have been changes in other shops, of course, particularly barbers. There were three men-only barbers shops, Mrs Saunders, now the home of Top to Toe, Harry Jarvis whose premises are now The Tea Caddy Cafe and Sydney Smith, whose house and shop were along­ side the footpath from High Street to Harvey Street and on the site now stands the single storey extension to Carter's furniture showroom. Harry had a somewhat unusual sideline for a barber because, although he was not a fishmonger he did have an agency for buying fish by post, and if you left your order and cash with Harry a box of fine kippers or bloaters would arrive from 'The Trawlers' — or somewhere. Sydney was my first barber, and when I was taken to him as a little lad he used to sit me on a box on the chair which brought my unshorn head more or less in line with the mirror, so he did not have to bend down so far. From that time on, every time I had a haircut the snip snip and clip clip of the scissors and clippers were accompanied by an incessant solo of turn-turn tee turn-turn tee-turn, with an odd gentle drum beat on the top of the napper with the back of a brush, for good measure. I have since gathered from friends that I was not alone in this experience and I can only conclude that our Mr Smith was to some extent offsetting the tedium of repetitive toil by re-living his days as a clarinet-playing army bandsman. Sydney had another unchanging ritual. At four o'clock Mrs Smith would half open the door leading to the living quarters, and say 'Tea'. At that moment Sydney would depart to enjoy his afternoon brew leaving some gentleman in the chair with half a hair cut, or with one side of his face shaved and the other thickly covered with foaming shaving soap.

Going for a haircut has never been the same since Sydney retired.

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