Warley blacksmith's worries skills may soon be lost
WARLEY blacksmith James Todd may be looking forward to his retirement after 50 years of shoeing horses but he is also deeply worried about the future of his art and the standard of farriery in the 21st century.
Mr Todd, 67, has been making and fitting his own horseshoes at The Forge in Great Warley Street since the early 1960s and is convinced that the old ways remain the best. Not only does he believe modern, machine-made shoes are inferior to those crafted using forge, anvil and hammer, he also thinks the skills of today's crop of farriers leave a lot to be desired.
Mr Todd, who has won dozens of awards at farriery competitions across the UK, said: "My shoes are better because they are well made and invariably they last longer too.
Mr Todd, who won his latest first prize at a show in Warfields, Surrey, in July, continued: "I don't know whether the youngsters have got the same work ethic or they can't be bothered or whatever.
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"I shouldn't be winning prizes in competitions because I am not shoeing regularly enough so it does make you wonder where the new hopefuls are and what they are doing."
He added: "Farriers these days are farriers only – they are not farriers and blacksmiths.
"It is a really sad state of affairs as far as us old pros are concerned that the skills we have got will be lost."
When Mr Todd took The Forge over from his uncle in 1973, he built up his client base quite considerably.
"When I took it over I was doing 40 horses a week but as time went on we would often have 25 to 28 horses through here a day," he said.
"People used to bring their horses here from a hell of a wide area."
The Forge is now on the verge of being sold to a developer and although Mr Todd is preparing to relocate to Carmarthen in Wales, he admits he will miss the place.
"I will be sad to see the place go," said Mr Todd, who has trained five apprentices over the years.
"It has been here for a long time and it has given me a good living.
"The only problem is that nowadays a farrier could not get a living here because the business rates are so high."
He believes this is one reason why he has got out at the right time.
"The demand for what I do has dropped off because there are a lot of farriers trading now and because of the economic climate, people can't afford to have their horses shod as regularly as they used to," he said.
"Now that there are more farriers they are all chasing the same work."
During his career, Mr Todd once shod a pony for former world heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno and even showed 60s pop legend Marty Wilde how to make a shoe.
Yet one of his proudest moments was when a photograph of him at work graced the front page of The Times in December 1980.
"It was fantastic," he smiled. "There was an article in Essex Countryside Magazine because I was in a book called East Anglia, The Rarer Breed.
"The editor of The Times read this article and I got a call asking if they could come and take a picture.
"I presumed there was no news with it being just a few days before Christmas but anyway they came in, did the pictures and off they went.
"We used to get people coming in here all the time taking pictures so I thought no more of it but when I saw it on the front page I couldn't believe it."
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but Mr Todd, who has been married to Jenny, 63, for six years, is clear that if he had his time over again he would not do anything different.
"I have always been shoeing and I have always liked it," he said.
"It is a passion of mine and there is a sense of achievement with it. You get horses come in that have got problems and you try to address those problems and 99 times out of 100 you are successful."
The Great Warley Street resident continued: "Being a blacksmith has kept me fit – I have only had one and a half days off through illness in my life.
"Plus horses are like a drug and a lot of horse owners say the same – once you get into them you just keep on and on."
He modestly added: "I don't think I would be good at anything else."