The earliest evidence we have for a Blacksmiths in Thoralby is the will of John Matchell d. 1705, Thoralby, Blacksmith. He leaves “east Hallgarth … my House … shope or smiddy” firstly to his wife Maudlin and then to his son Robert.
The next evidence is in the Trade Directory of 1823 Baines, when Willis John, blacksmith is listed. The Willis family appear to have been Blacksmiths in Thoralby for over 100 years and they and other smiths appear in the 1840 Tithe Award for Thoralby and subsequent Trade Directories and Census Returns.
This photograph of the grocer’s shop predates the building of the Reading Room in 1887. To the right of the shop, where the Reading Room now stands, were stables belonging to John Sadler, a solicitor and landowner living at High Green House. Behind the stables was the smithy of John Willis. He and his wife Eleanor and sons, Matthew 11, John 9 and James 6, were living at Pack Horse Cottage (see Tithe Award and 1841 census return).
Whites Trade Directory of 1840 show the following two blacksmiths listed in Thoralby, Nicholson John and Willis John. At the smith’s shop and cottage at the foot of the village, now known as Wayside and owned by John Nicholson was, his wife Elizabeth and son Thomas aged 20, also a smith (see Tithe Award and 1841 census return).
A further smith’s shop, since then gone was near to Beech Cottage and was also owned by John Sadler, solicitor of High Green House. The occupants of this third smithy were William Heseltine and James Dinsdale Junr., however only 20-year-old William Heseltine appears as a smith in the 1841 census return (see Tithe Award and 1841 census return). This means there were a total of four working blacksmiths in the 1841 census.
This had reduced to three by the 1851 census return and they were John Nicholson, aged 65 at Wayside and John aged 56 and his son James Willis, aged 21 at the smithy behind the village shop.
By the time of the 1861 census, John Nicholson had retired, dying in January 1864, aged 73 at Thoralby. So, there were only two blacksmiths, father and son John Willis, aged 66 and son Matthew aged 31.
By the time of the 1871 census the number of smiths had increased to three. The Willis family had moved from their small accommodation at Pack Horse Cottage, to the larger dwelling (since converted into the village hall). It was still father and son John now aged 76 and Matthew aged 41. Edward Broderick’s Valuation of 1872 shows that John Willis was still the occupier of the smithy near the village shop, but Ottiwell Sadler is now the owner of the premises. John Willis died in December 1874 aged 80. His son Matthew H. and grandson John took over the business.
Following John Nicholson’s death in 1864, the smithy at Wayside was now owned by his son Thomas. So, it is presumably here that Leonard Heseltine, aged 46 and inn keeper of the George Inn used as his smithy. In Kelly’s Trade Directory of 1872 the following are listed for Thoralby: Heseltine Lnrd. George inn, & blacksmith and Willis John, blacksmith. However, in the Kelly’s Trade Directory for Thoralby of 1879 the following are listed for Thoralby: Heseltine Richd. George inn, & blcksmth and Willis Matthew, blacksmith.
By the time of the 1881 census there are only two people whose occupation is blacksmith and they are father and son Matthew H. Willis, aged 51 and son John aged 24. It is probably sometime around this period that the blacksmiths shop behind the village shop, which the Willis family had occupied from the Sadler family, John and later Ottiwell, moved premises to the smithy at Wayside. Bulmer’s Directory of 1890 lists the following for Thoralby: Willis Matthew Heseltine and Son, blacksmiths. Matthew’s son is clearly a partner in the business.
By the time of the 1891 census, there are once again three people with the occupation of blacksmith in the village of Thoralby. Father Matthew H. Snr., aged 61, son John aged 35 and partner and youngest son Matthew H. Junr., aged 18. The Trade Directory Kellys of 1893 lists the following for Thoralby: Willis Matthew, blacksmith.
By the time of the 1901 census there remained three people with the occupation of blacksmith in the village of Thoralby. Father Matthew H. Snr., aged 71, son John aged 44 and partner and youngest son Matthew H. Junr., aged 26, also in the business. In November 1903 Matthew Heseltine Willis Snr., died at the age of 74. The following Trade Directories reflect this as in Kelly’s Directory of 1905 lists the following for Thoralby: Willis Matthew (Mrs.) & Sons, registered shoeing smiths. However, in March 1907 Jane Willis, widow of Matthew Heseltine Willis Snr., died aged 72. The Kelly’s Directory of 1909 lists the following for Thoralby: Willis Matthew H. & Sons, registered shueing smiths.
By 1910, the Willis family had moved their business into the smithy shown here, which was near Lime Tree House and the 1910 Valuation shows that John and Matthew Willis are the owners of the smith’s shop. The left-hand side of the building known today as Wayside Cottage was a blacksmith’s forge and the right-hand side a joiner’s and wheelwright’s shop. The three employees on the left were smiths: an unknown employee (Matthew Willis) with a sledgehammer, Matthew Willis and Johnnie Willis. The two on the right were joiners: another Matthew Willis and George Willis.