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Echoes from the Past


This article first appeared in the "Echoes from the Past" column of the "The Low Down to Hull and Back News". Reprinted with permission. See list of Echoes from the Past articles or search Low Down Articles.

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Philip Leppard's Blacksmith Shop at Old Chelsea, Quebec

(a digest of a story by Janet Annie Benedict of Hull)

Born 23 June 1832, Philip Leppard spent his youth in Cowfold in England. Upon completion of is formal schooling Leppard learned the trade of blacksmithing, becoming apprenticed while still living in Cowfold.

With a thorough training under his belt Philip felt that he should be starting out for himself. He anticipated that there might be better opportunities elsewhere than his hometown. Having listened to stories that Canada was fast developing and had need of skilled artisans, he gave the idea of moving to the still young country a great deal of thought. Being young and venturesome Philip's decision was to sail off to new horizons.

Packing his few possessions, not forgetting the tools of his trade, he made his way to the port where a ship was waiting to carry him, and more like him to new homes and lifestyles. Philip was fortunate that he was steered to the village of Chelsea - not then being defined as "Old" - where he settled on Lot 14c of the 9th Range in Wright County.

Leppard's lot was only of four acres, much much less than the average land grant, which suggests that he acquired the property by some other means. On the lot there was a large framed house with eight rooms. There was a board walk along the front of the building, which faced north. At the roadside there was a white picket fence which extended to the back. The space between the board walk and the front fence was an extensive flower bed, a relaxing pastime for a busy blacksmith.

It was on this lot that Philip set up his 20'x30' framed shop on the south side of the Chelsea Road, about opposite the old school currently (circa 1988) used as a recreation centre. The shop faced north, with big double doors at the front, and large windows in the east and west sides: It was roofed with hand-riven shingles.

Inside lighting was by coal oil lanterns. The fireplace was an ample 6'x4'. The bellows, anvil and bench vice were the largest available. The shop was designed to accommodate teams of two horses. Philip constructed his own truss from a sturdy tree trunk which had the remnants of four stout limbs. This, turned upside-down, steadied by the shortened limbs served as a rest for the horse's foot, but at times when his "customer" became fractious he would be required to hold the foot between his knees-hence the vertical split in the middle of a blacksmith's leather apron. Hanging on the walls and beams were several pairs of various sizes of horseshoes, all made up, waiting to be fitted and calked to suit each horse.

Philip Leppard was noted for his work in iron, turning his skills to the manufacture of all kinds of useful items for the household and the operation of a farm - of which there were many in the area. He was also known for his sharpening of steel-edged tools. At times he entered the field of woodworking, at which he was also adept.

The blacksmith shop was the focus of the men of the men of the village, who made it a rendezvous while watching the smith at work. Discussion and arguments of manifold subjects took place in the warmth generated by the fire and body heat of the animals. At times the blacksmith presented his personal views, and although Leppard was only average stature, his bulging muscles and the pounding of his hammer on the anvil, to emphasize a point, saw him prevailing in many arguments.

Generally the shop was closed on Sundays and other religious holidays, unless it was to shoe a horse for a doctor. In Leppard's later years he would put a set, up to size 6, on a team for $2.40. He would also remove a shoe, reset it, trim the hoof and reapply the shoe, all for .15c per hoof.

Philip married Mary Ann Bradley, an Old Chelsea lass, born 8 July 1834. They had seven sons and five daughters. The couple was meant to be married to each other. Philip was a man of good humour, loving and generous. He cultivated massive flower and vegetable gardens and delighted in his hobby. Mary was known as an "angel", for the numerous acts of kindness to the sick and troubled in mind, in the area. The family attended the Methodist Church, in the newer Chelsea, being devout Christians.

Philip Leppard died, aged 76, on Easter Sunday morning 11 April 1909, at his home. He was buried in the Protestant Burying Ground at Old Chelsea, only a few yards from his home and shop.