An Almost Forgotten Occupation

One of my favorite sources for stories has been the British Newspaper Archive, hosted by Find My Past. The collection is constantly being updated with new materials. Just last week the Herts and Cambs Reporter and Royston Crow was added. “Herts” stands for Hertfordshire and “Cambs” stands for Cambridgeshire. Royston is a town in northern Hertfordshire, just a few miles south of Meldreth and Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, the ancestral home villages of many of today’s Casbons.


Map showing Meldreth, Melbourn, Royston and Barley (indicated by stars) (Google Maps).

When I searched on the name “Casbon” in the Herts and Cambs Reporter, one of the first things to pop up was this advertisement.[1]

Casbon G W Wheelright ad Herts Cambs Reporter 8Feb1901

“G. W. Casbon, Jun.” would have been George Walter Casbon, the son of George Casbon (~1836–­1914) and Sarah Sophia Pryor (~1831–­1903). He was the grandson of James Casbon (“James Casbon, Farmer and Carrier, 1806–­1871”). George Junior was born October 14, 1873 in Barley, a village just outside of Royston.[2] He married Miss Emma Brown in London March 27, 1901, shortly after taking over his father’s business.[3] They had a son, Mervyn Henry George, born in 1905 (d. 1964).[4],[5]

As the ad indicates, George Junior was continuing his father’s “long established” business as a wheelwright. George Senior’s business certainly was long established; his occupation was listed as wheelwright as early as the 1861 census, when he was 20 years old and newly married to Sophia.[6]

According to Wikipedia, “a wheelwright is a craftsman who builds or repairs wooden wheels.”[7] The word “wright” means a maker or builder, and derives from the Old English wryhta, relating to work.[8] Many occupations ended in “wright”; probably the most common today is playwright.

When George Junior took over his father’s business in 1901, I wonder if he realized his profession was in its waning days. Wire-spoked wheels and pneumatic tires were invented in the 1870s.[9] Many early automobiles used wooden-spoked wheels, but as the 20th century progressed, the need for wooden wheels would have gradually decreased. Today the profession of wheelwright is largely restricted to living history museums.

sfj_craft_of_the_wheelwright_00
An iron tire being placed on a wooden wheel. (Daphne Turner, “The Craft of the Wheelwright,” Small Farmer’s Journal, issue 28-4, online periodical {https://smallfarmersjournal.com/the-craft-of-the-wheelwright : accessed 30 July 2017}).

Later records give George’s occupation as wheelwright and blacksmith.[10] Blacksmithing probably would have helped offset any potential loss of income as the need for handmade wheels declined.

George lived almost 97 years, until January 9, 1970.[11] His wife Emma died in 1942.[12]

[1] Advertisement “G.W. Casbon, Jun., Cart and Coach Wheelright, &c.,” Herts and Cambs Reporter and Royston Crow, 8 Feb 1901, p. 4, col. 3; online image, British Newspaper Archive, through findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0001795%2f19010208%2f180: accessed 28 July 2017).
[2] “Hertfordshire Baptisms,” database with images, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbprs%2fb%2f71820470%2f1 : accessed 30 July 2017), George Walter Casbon, 28 Jun 1875, Barley, Hertfordshire; citing parish registers.
[3] “London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921”, database with images, Ancestry Library Edition (accessed through participating libraries: 10 August 2016), George Walter Casbon & Emma Brown, 27 Mar 1901; citing parish registers, St. John the Less, Bethnal Green, London.
[4] “England & Wales Births, 1837-2006,” database, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=bmd%2fb%2f1905%2f4%2faz%2f000095%2f341 : accessed 30 July 2017), Mervyn Henry G Casbon, 1905; citing Birth Registration, Royston, Hertfordshire; citing General Register Office, Southport, England.
[5] “England & Wales deaths 1837-2007,” database, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=bmd%2fd%2f1964%2f2%2faz%2f000130%2f035 : accessed 30 July 2017), Mervyn H G Casbon, 1964, 2nd quarter; citing Death Registration, Watford, Hertfordshire; citing General Register Office.
[6] “1861 England, Wales & Scotland Census,” database with images, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbc%2f1861%2f0005011661 : accessed 30 July 2017), entry for George Casbon (age 20)) in household of John Ryce, Smith End, Barley, Hertfordshire; citing [The National Archives], RG 09, piece 812, folio 76, p. 44; Royston registration district, enumeration district 5.
[7] “Wheelwright,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheelwright : accessed 30 July 2017), rev. 7 Jul 17, 10:40.
[8] “Wright,” Oxford Dictionaries (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/wright : accessed 30 July 2017).
[9] “Wheel,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel#History : accessed 30 July 2017), rev. 26 Jul 17, 10:45.
[10] “1939 Register Census of United Kingdom,” High Street , Hitchin registration district (Hertfordshire); database with images, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=tna%2fr39%2f1659%2f1659b%2f003&parentid=tna%2fr39%2f1659%2f1659b%2f003%2f37 : accessed 30 July 2017) ), entry for George W Casborn (b. 14 Oct 1873); citing [The National Archives], ref. RG101/1659B/003/37.
[11] “Find a Will,” database searched through “Wills and Probate 1858-1996,” GOV.UK (https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/Calendar#calendar : accessed 30 July 2017), >Casbon >1970, entry for Casbon George Walter, d. 9 Jan 1970.
[12] “England & Wales deaths 1837-2007,” database, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=bmd%2fd%2f1942%2f2%2faz%2f000146%2f050 : accessed 30 July 2017), Emma Casbon (age 75), 2nd quarter, 1942, Watford,Hertfordshire; ; citing General Register Office.
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