The Blue Bell Smithy and associated Electrical Engineering business is well known in the Crookham area, but it raises the question of why it came to be there when there was already a Blacksmith at Crookham only a few hundred yards distant.
The Blue Bell Inn is believed to be a “coaching inn” and is Grade II listed, but prior to 1767, before there was a bridge at Coldstream, very few coaches would pass this way, the majority of travellers being either on horseback or on foot. There was a Toll House at Barelees, some 2 miles further north, but that only gave access to Cornhill and thence to Kelso by a very winding road alongside the River Tweed, and there were no other bridges between Berwick and Kelso. It is understood that most coaches travelled from Newcastle to Kelso via Kirknewton, Kilham, and Yetholm following the road on the south side of the Rivers Glen and Bowmont.
There was a Blacksmith in Crookham Village in 1762 and there was some correspondence between Sir John Hussey-Delaval of Ford and Dr. Adam Askew at Pallinsburn House in connection with the use of this Blacksmith [Deed of Arbitration – NRO 1216/B3/1/16]:
“Sir John claimed 24 stints in the pasture ground of the Dr. Askew (14 stints to be enjoyed by the occupier of Sir John’s Estate and the other 10 stints to be enjoyed by a Blacksmith for the time being provided and kept ready to do Blacksmiths work at Crookham, and that Sir John in right of his Estate also claim a full fifth part of all the corn and grain growing upon a piece of land called Reel-up, part of the Dr’s Estate when sown with corn. And that Sir John also claims a Right to have and enjoy yearly a certain quantity of rye, Barley and Oats to be delivered to the said Blacksmith at Crookham by the owners or farmers of the Dr’s Estate at Pallinsburn.
“Dr. Askew insisted that the owner of Sir John’s Estate is bound to provide and keep at all times an able Smith at Crookham who ought and is obliged at all times sufficiently to perform for the time being for the Drs. Estate all Blacksmith work necessarily wanted by each owner upon or in respect of Pallinsburn.”
“Judgement by Mr. J. Carr, Etal”
John Hussey-Delaval shall hold 8 acres and 22 perches of the cottage lands in Crookham now belonging to Adam Askew, also 94 acres and 3 roods of Reel-up also belonging to Adam Askew in full consideration for 24 stints in Pallinsburn ground, the 5th ridge in Reel-up when in corn and all the Blacksmiths work and bondage due from Pallinsburn to Crookham smiths shop.
Signed 28th day of October 1762 – J. Carr.
Witnesses – Wm. Jefferys and John Selby.
There were several instances of lands and cottages being exchanged between these two gentlemen. The tenants were not taken into account and were simply passed from one landlord to another.
There were certainly Blacksmiths – sometimes with apprentices – in Crookham from 1841 to 1861, but they had disappeared by 1871 (Census Returns) – the location of the Smithy is shown on plans of the village dated late 19thC (NRO 559/17) and at the same time Blacksmiths at the Blue Bell from 1841 to 1911. It would appear that once the bridge was built at Coldstream and the roads improved sufficiently for the use of regular Mail coachs possibly requiring replacements for cast horseshoes, repairs to harness etc., the Blacksmiths Shop at the Blue Bell took most of the work and the Crookham premises were abandoned.
In 1871, William Turnbull, a Blacksmith born in Branxton in 1826, with his wife Margaret and family were living at 1 Briscoe Street, Gateshead, but ten years later, Margaret, now a widow, was resident at the Blue Bell, with her son Thomas aged 18, also a Blacksmith and born in Gateshead. Records show that William died in 1877, aged 56.
By 1891 Margaret is still living at the Blue Bell with Thomas aged 28 and David aged 22, both Blacksmiths and in 1901, Thomas is married, with three daughters and a son, William Bell Turnbull aged just 5 months. The Electoral Rolls show that Thomas remained at the Blue Bell until he died in September 1932 aged 69, leaving his son, William Bell Turnbull now in his thirties as the Blacksmith.
William Bell Turnbull, as well as being a Blacksmith, also had a cycle business and was the local agent for Raleigh. He repaired and sold new cycles, now a popular form of transport in rural areas for both men and women, as well as motor cycles.. A “Gents Road Racer” cycle was sold for £4/5/-, “less £1 allowance on old machine” – Total cost £3/5/-. Fenton Football Club purchased “a Challenge Football Case plus bladder” – cost 14/6d. less 2/-, total 12/6d.
Blacksmithing was a most complex business, for as well as shoeing horses, William also tended to cow’s feet when they became overgrown [vets were much too expensive unless absolutely necessary] and as motorised transport became more prevalent, repairs to motor vehicles were a regular occupation, from stripping down engines, replacing parts and repairing punctures [the roads in the early 20thc. were still quite rough]. Farm equipment was also changing from horses to tractors and there was a continuing stream of work repairing, replacing and making the various parts required to maintain the agricultural needs of the farming community from repairing hand tools and pig troughs to supplying a Licence Holder! The local women were regular customers for the repair of milk pails, ‘poss’ sticks and lamps.
T. Patterson Bros., Masons at Branxton, brought their tools to William for sharpening: a hammer was sharpened and tempered for 1/2d, chisels at 4d. each, picks at 1/5d, mattocks at 3/6d, even forging chisels from an axle shaft for 3/-. (Ref: BRO 1740). It was also common practice for the Blacksmith to travel to outlying farms to shoe the work horses; sometimes several in one day; using the small blacksmiths shops on the farm, thereby saving loss of valuable working time taking the horses to the Smithy, but by the 1950s, much of the farriers work had disappeared, tractors and other mechanised farm machinery taking over.
Days were also spent away from the Smithy working on non-portable equipment and installations, eg. a water mill or wind pump. Passing traffic also brought work and there are records of “towing in and repairing”.
The Blue Bell Smithy was part of the Pallinsburn Estate, and was on an annual lease. At one time the rent was actually paid to the tenant of the Blue Bell Inn, which suggests that initially, the premises were run jointly.
From 1946, William sold Fordson tractors and fitted re-conditioned engines, as well as selling the first Claas towed combine to be seen in the area to the farmer at Branxton Steads.
William had various assistants, including Ernest Robson who still lives locally, and others from further afield – Jimmy Woodcock, who had been a Japanese Prisoner of War; John Mobsley, a Bevan Boy; ? Smith from Berwick Shipyard; and Jim Clark from Blyth Shipyard.
William’s son, Tom Turnbull, born in 1933 took an apprenticeship on Tyneside in 1950 and served his time as an Electrical Engineer with Reyrolles in Newcastle upon Tyne, although he had kept up with blacksmithing from an early age. In 1964, Tom gave up his job as Commissioning Engineer for the Central Electricity Generating Board and returned to the Blue Bell to join his father, but following his own trade, he extended the electrical side of the business and it continues to the present day, still trading under the name of W.B. Turnbull. Tom Turnbull passed away on 5th January 2019.
CLICK HERE FOR THE CONQUER DIARIES, the life of a Pallinsburn family
Documents prior to 1950 were accessed at Berwick Record Office.
Details of the Turnbull family were kindly provided by Tom Turnbull, as were the early photographs and much more interesting information about the Blue Bell Smithy.
Copyright for all photographs: Maureen Charlton / TillVAS.