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The Singing Blacksmiths of Crakehall

This article appeared in the Dalesman magazine some time in the 1970s and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Dalesman Publishing. I have been unable to trace relatives of the author, but hope they will not mind his / her entertaining article being presented here.

My father, William Hall, was born at Crakehall, near Bedale, in 1851, and his father, Procter Hall, was born there in 1813. When he was ten years old he was presented with a Bible, "the gift of Philip, late Lord Wharton, distributed by his Lordship's trustees-1823."

Inside the Bible is pasted a slip of paper with the following inscription: "Lord Wharton, having directed that the name and age of the children to whom the Bibles shall be given shall be wrote in the book, the trustees require it to be so done; and the child, before it receive or be entitled to receive the Book, shall be taught to read, and be able to say by heart the Catechism and some of the prayers herewith set according to the Establishment of the Church of England, as well as the 1st, 15th, 25th, 37th, 101st, 113th and 145th Psalms."

So a child of ten had a lot to learn before he was qualified to receive the gift. My grandfather got the Bible, and his father, William Hall, evidently had the idea of making a record of his family and wrote on the blank pages as follows (in writing with a lot of flourishes):
William Hall and Ann Chambers married 1812.
Procter and Stephen Hall, sons to William and Ann Hall, born 24th Feb. 1813 at half past 9 o'clock in the evening, and baptised the 25th Feb. 1813.
John Tennant Hall, son to Wm. and Ann Hall, born June 7th, 1815, and baptised June 7th, 1815.
William Hall, son to Wm. and Ann Hall, born Sept. 6th, 1817, at half past 9 o'clock in the evening.
Margaret Ann Hall, daughter to Wm. and Ann Hall born Oct. 9th, 1822, at 12 0 'clock at night.

On a separate page is written:
"John Tennant Hall, bound apprentice to Dr. Peacock and son, for 7 years from March 18th, 1828." John would be only 13 years old when he was bound apprentice. I heard once that Dr. Peacock lived at Leyburn. I have often wondered if John served his seven years and became a doctor.

William Hall was a good scholar and at one time had a school, which my father (also named William Hall) attended. The twins, Procter and Stephen, were apprenticed to be blacksmiths. Stephen was a good bass singer and Procter was a tenor and they both sang in the church choir. They often sang as they worked and were known in the district as "The Singing Blacksmiths."

One of my sisters, talking to a smith at a village in South Durham, mentioned that her grandfather was a village blacksmith and the smith said: "Oh, where might that be?"
On being told, the man said: "What! You don't mean Stephen and Procter do you?"
"Well," she said, "my grandfather was called Procter, and Stephen was his twin brother. Did you know them?"
"Know them," he said, "I should think I did. I've spent hours in that blacksmith's shop, listening to them singing, for they were grand singers. To hear them sing the Volga Boat Song was a musical treat. They both sang in the church choir, and they often ended their day's work by singing the evening hymn Glory to Thee, my God this Night, with their hammers beating time to the music."

Procter Hall married Eleanor Isabel James, from Harmby, near Leyburn. They had a family of boys and girls; the eldest daughter, Margaret, married Thomas Braithwaite. He worked for the first passenger railway, Stockton and Darlington Railway, and when the N.E.Railway was extended from Redcar to Marske he was the first man to be sent to Marske station.

Other members of Procter Hall's family settled in various places. My father, William Hall, born in 1851, was the youngest member. He was apprenticed with a firm of agricultural engineers, walking from Ripon to Crakehall every Saturday, spending Sunday at home, and then returning on foot to Ripon early on Monday morning. Later he came to Middlesbrough and helped to put down the first salt wells at Port Clarence. He was head engineer at Upleatham mines for 38 years until he retired, and he died aged 90 in 1942. His mother visited him at New Marske in 1880; she was in poor health, had a stroke and only lived a few days longer. She was taken to Crakehall for burial.

Procter Hall was village blacksmith until he was too old to work, and he left Crakehall to live with members of his family, dying at the Marske home of his daughter, Margaret, in 1892, when he was 79 years old. It was not possible to take his body to his beloved Crakehall, as 1892 was the year of a great strike of Durham pitmen and train services were limited, being short of coal. My grandfather was buried in St. Germaine's churchyard at Marske-bythe-Sea, near to where Capt. Cook's father was buried. It was the custom when there was a death in the family for all the members of that family to wear mourning clothes. Children wore black as a sign of respect.

A story was told about the Crakehall blacksmith, Procter, helping the village joiner to carry a coffin to a big house some distance from Crakehall. The joiner, who was also undertaker when needed, had been requested to make a good oak coffin in a hurry, as an old and valued servant had died suddenly and the weather was very hot. The horse and flat cart which the joiner usually hired was not available and he asked Procter if he would help him to carry the coffin.

They put on their best dark suits, shouldered the coffin and set off. After walking for about a mile they sat by the roadside to rest. Said Procter: "How much are you charging for this, Willie?"
"Well, I'm thinking of asking two pounds ten."
"Nay lad, that's not enough. You should ask at least three pounds. It's a bit of good oak and well made."
So it was agreed that three pounds should be the price.
They carried their burden another half mile and sat down to rest again and another ten shillings was added to the price. They eventually arrived at the "big house" and did what was needed. They were invited into the servants' hall for some refreshments and then the joiner was asked to go to the estate agent's room to be paid.
During the long hot walk to Crakehall Procter asked: "How did you get on Willie? Was the agent satisfied?"
"Aye, Procter, he was more than satisfied. He thanked me for being so obliging and thought three pounds ten was very reasonable, and as I would have to pay for being helped he would make it even money. He paid me four pounds. I wish I'd asked him four pounds."
"Well, you got four pounds, didn't you, aren't you satisfied?"
"Aye, I'm satisfied, but if I'd asked four pounds he might still have added another ten shillings."
Procter stopped, looked at Willie and said: "Well, you're satisfied, I'm satisfied, the agent is satisfied, so there's satisfaction all round. And think on, if Johnny Musgrave's hoss hadn't cut its knees you would only have asked two pound ten and you would have had to pay a shilling for the hoss and cart. You've got four pound, so stop your grumbling."
J. E. Harrison

©Dalesman Publishing

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