Workers at W. H. Humphries’ Wagon Works

I recently discovered the photograph shown below, together with the document recording the start of my grandfather’s apprenticeship at W. H. Humphries’ Wagon Works, London Road, Chippenham. My grandfather, Reginald Townsend, born and educated in Derry Hill, was just 15 when he began learning the trade of a wheelwright, which was to last for 5 years. The Indenture is signed by Francis Humphries and his brother Albert Edward and countersigned by W. H. Wood, the Accountant. My grandfather and his father, Eli Townsend, a senior worker at the Cloth Factory, also signed the document. The wages per week for the first year amounted to 3/- rising by an increment of 1/- per year.

Grandfather stayed at the Wagon Works until made redundant, through lack of trade, in the late 1920’s and when my Mother started work at Messrs Isaacs, near to the Angel Hotel, in August 1932, his unemployment pay was reduced by 4/6 as my Mother was then earning 5/- per week. On Fridays, Market Day in Chippenham, the latest finished wagon would be taken to the Market Place and displayed by the company, hoping for a sale. One of the workers would accompany a salesman to demonstrate the various specialities of that particular wagon.

Workers at W. H. Humphries’ Wagon Works

Workers at W. H. Humphries’ Wagon Works

The photograph shows the various men working at Humphries’ in about 1912, I would suggest. Grandfather, with his customary white apron, is to be seen on the right of the front row. The Foreman of the works is standing on the left. Elm logs are stacked behind the group waiting to be sawn for the next new wagon.

Grandfather was born in 1894 and died in 1967, having retired at the age of 70 from full time working as a fine joiner in Poole, Dorset. When I moved house in 2007 from Box Hill to Corsham, I presented Chippenham Museum with a large number of Grandfather’s tools including 36 rebate planes and a wonderful wheelwright’s auger. I did retain a number of things that he made with such great care over the years and I treasure these greatly. It’s amazing how one photograph and a 104 year old document can bring out so much history.

Michael Rumsey 

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