We were not aware in the 1930s of the hard times that our parents were having at that time. Short time working in the chair trade was a yearly event, and except for a few engineering businesses, and the building trade, furniture making was the major business and employer in the area. Of course many families were still bearing the loss of the men that were killed and wounded in the Great War; so many men from such a small village.
We had three furniture makers in the village. Mines & West at the top of Narrow Lane made high quality furniture which I think sold in the fashionable London stores. They employed machinists, makers, polishers, and highly skilled wood carvers.
Another firm was Norman Spriggs. Everybody knew him as ‘Fiddle‘. I’m sure that was no reflection on his honesty. He had this massive three story wooden building, (just behind where the hair salon now stands) and when the wind blew it creaked and groaned as if it was haunted, an eerie place to be in if you were an impressionable youngster. He specialised in upholstery I believe.
The last factory was R&H Mines next to the Old School. It was fascinating to look through the window and see the machinery working, and the wood turners work their lathes, with great showers of shavings seemingly flying everywhere.
They manufactured chairs, and I can still visualise Mr. Styles walking down the wooden staircase from the polishing shop with chairs in his hand ready for dispatch. I remember somewhere about 1932 that the factory caught fire. Apparently one of the paraffin lamps had exploded, but it created great excitement in the village and everyone rushed to see it. What struck me as funny, and I still remember, is the spouts of water which were coming out of the firemen’s leaking hosepipe, and my concern that the school might burn down.
There were several individual craftsmen working in their sheds or workshops. My granddad used to finish off the roughly machined backrests of the Windsor chair known as a Smoker Bow. He took great pride in the finish of these and we had to take the greatest care in carrying them across to R&H Mines. I can still remember the smell of the glue pot that used to stand on the wood burning stove in his little workshop. This consisted of a metal pot partly filled with water, and the glue pot fitted down into the water which when heated up, melted the cow heel glue. Apiece of cane beaten flat at one end made a form of brush for applying the glue.
Another man that we all used to know well was Mr Collins who lived in what we called Bottle Cottage, in Plomer Green Lane. His specialty was to finish the back legs of a type of chair. Why we got to know him so well was because he would sometimes have some “back feet” that were not good enough to finish, but they made super runners for a sledge. A rub down with a bit of sandpaper, a coating of lard or paraffin, and they would allow you to speed down the banks of the Common. We all liked Mr Collins and his wife; they were gentle and very nice folk.
This is an extract from ‘My Story’, a memoir written by Joe Bowler of his early life in Downley. If you would like to see the full article click here.