Harness Maker

and other sidelines

The harness-maker's shop in Bracon Ash was something of a village hub and known for miles around. A car repair and cycle sales business now occupies the site on the main road. Making the harness and collars for working horses was a skilled job - read here about Messrs Thynne, Myhill and Waters and how the business came to be extended as the number of horses declined....

CHARLES THYNNE, 'collar maker'

The first mention found so far of a harness maker in Bracon Ash is Charles Thynne (1743-1812) 'of Bracon Ash Collar, Harness and Rope Maker'. He is one of the many children of Charles Thynne (1710-1779) and Susanna (see registers), and presumably grandson of Charles Thynne (d. 1741) who may also have been harness makers; both are buried to the south of Bracon Ash church.... He took on apprentices, including Richard Cossey, son of Valentine Cossey, 'of Bracon Ash, husbandman' who was apprenticed for 7 years from 24 June 1799. The fee for his training and keep was £31. 10 shillings, which was paid by Mrs Mary Berney - but his father. '....the said Valentine Cossey shall and will... provide for the said apprentice good and suitable wearing apparel washing and mending during the said term.' There are others listed in the tax returns on apprentices - Ben Spurgeon in 1777 (probably also local); Daniel Lait (1787); Samuel Myhill (1788 - younger brother of Charles C T Myhill introduced below) and Dixon Lock (1792). It was probably his son Charles Thynne jnr. who took on the business and took on apprentices in 1809 and 1818.

The Bracon Ash harness makers, beside The Street - notice the collars hanging up

THE MYHILLS, saddlers and harness makers, etc.

The Myhill family have a long association with Bracon Ash and Hethel. Charles Clement Thynne Myhill (1784-1860) - buried in Bracon Ash church yard - described himself as 'of  Bracon Ash' as early as 1807 when he first married and may have taken over the harness-making business from around 1820  With the same name, 'Thynne', and the same trade, there must be a connection! Whether he was an apprentice here, like his younger brother Samuel, is uncertain but by the time he married he was probably a Journeyman harness maker who may have taken over or bought up Charles Thynne's business, possibly moving to new premises. His son refers to a new house being built for his father, but it is uncertain if that replaced an earlier building or was a new build. He presumably invested in land - in the 1851 census, Charles Myhill, 68, is a farmer of 22 acres employing 1 labourer as well as Harness Maker Master.

Charles C T Myhill passed on the business to his son, Frederick Charles (or Charles Frederic) Myhill (1829-1916). In 1861 he is a Horse Collar & Harness Maker, single (32), living with his unmarried sister, Maria (30) as Housekeeper. By 1871 he is married and living at the Dairy Farm, Hethel, but is still listed as a Harness Maker (Master) employing 1 man and 2 boys. His diary records that he disliked harness-making, so the move to farming probably suited him and he could leave others to run the harness business. Frederick had married Emma Claxton, of Church Farm, Hethel, and later took over the tenancy of the farm from her father. In the 1881 census he is 'farmer in company with James Claxton (76) employing 5 men & 4 boys'. But he continues to give his occupation as 'farmer and saddler' in both 1891 and 1901. 

The '1 man' Frederick Myhill was employing in 1871 was almost certainly George Stubbings, 28. 'Journeyman Harnessmaker'. He is still there in 1881, in The Street, with his son Arthur (14) as an assistant, and was probably running the business for Farmer Myhill. By 1891 George Stubbings, has another son, Albert (16), working with him as an apprentice. Ten years later, Albert is 26 and already a widower, is a 'Journeyman Harnessmaker', as is his father George Stubbings. The 1901 census specifically lists 'Harness Makers Shop, The Street' as an unoccupied dwelling separate from where the Stubbings family lived. It is their cottage, reached down a passage beside the harnessmakers, that was also remembered as a shop. In 1911 George Stubbings (68) is still a harnessmaker, living with another son, Charles (34), a shopkeeper.

By 1911 Frederick C Myhill lists his occupation as 'Farmer' only. It is likely he still owned the shop and rented it to the Stubbings family. He is now 82, a widower, with a son helping him and 2 daughters at home, and his eldest son Frederick William Myhill and family living next-door.

Funeral of Frederick Charles Myhill at Hethel, 7 Oct 1916

Frederick William was living in The Red House with his family by 1911, and gave his occupation as 'cake, manure & seed merchant'. His father died in the middle of the Great War, but Frederick had little interest in the harness business. So he may well have been glad to sell to a man who had learned the trade during the war.

FRED WATERS, saddler, etc etc

Now another Frederick comes on the scene - Edward Frederick George Waters (known as Fred), who was born in Sprowston, Norwich in 1894. According to his daughter, Olga, 'He served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers and was already in the army before the start of WW1 as a harness maker (for the many horses and mules used in that war). When demobbed he saw an advertisement in the paper for a harness maker in Bracon Ash and came for the job.' That was 1920 - the year he married Olga Nicholls. A daughter, Olga, was born the following year and later married Lawrence Bailey (or Mulbarton) when World War 2 ended. The younger Olga remembers that her father  'developed the harness making business and also built a garage, had lorries and owned a farm. Frank Ellis helped him make a wireless set in the evenings.'  

Whether he worked with, or took over from, a Stubbings is uncertain, but at some point he bought the shop. Once he owned the premises he could expand the business - no doubt anticipating a decline in the number of horses. His grandson, Peter, remember his mother telling him that 'he installed a petrol pump and my mother, Olga, sold the petrol to passing vehicles. He also stocked and repaired  bicycles.' Grahame Martin remembers taking accumulators (that powered valve radios) there to be recharged. Mr Waters bought a lorry which was a cattle float in the morning then cleaned up to be a furniture van in the afternoon! He had plenty of work when people were moving in and out of Hethel Camp. Johnny Martin drove the lorry for him. The fleet of lorries grew, and Fred Waters was a founder member of the Norfolk branch of the Road Haulage Association.' 

Fred Waters was also a keen yachtsman and the Bracon Ash Trophy which he presented is still the prize for an annual competition between and Norwich Frostbite Sailing Club and Wells S.C. held in two legs, first leg at home in winter, second leg away in summer following, with the winner achieving the highest number of aggregate points. Fred lived to be 83, and Olga lived to the remarkable age of 102 - both are buried to the right of the church path.

People in Bracon Ash and Mulbarton remember the harness-maker's shop not just for saddles and reins. They would take their boots and shoes for Mr Waters to mend, and football boots to be re-studded. Harry Lister was one of the men who worked in the shop (below)
There is another connection between the two Fredericks, too. Fred Waters erected a granary on land behind the shop and was the first person in the area to install a grain drier. As a road haulier, he would drive corn for Fred Myhill, whose cattle-feed and seed business expanded from a shed at Church farm to an ex-aircraft hangar on the old Hethel airfield (see above).

Obituary in the Bracon Ash Parish Magazine, 1978:

Edward Frederick George Waters
On May 17th Bracon Ash suffered a severe loss when Frederick Waters died peacefully after a short illness at the age of 83. He will be very much missed, not only by his many relatives and particularly by his wife Olga, for they had been together for 58 years, but also by a large circle of friends.
During the First World War he saw service in France and India with the Irish Fusiliers, with whom he learned harness-making, a trade he continued when, immediately after his marriage, he came to live in Bracon Ash. That trade he continued until the diminishing use of horses turned him to motorised road haulage, and farming.
The harness shop had become somewhat of a Village Club, for Frederick Waters was a very friendly man, and his loss will be mourned by friends he made there.
Sailing became one of his most active pursuits, first in dinghies and later in larger Broads craft, and he became Commodore and President of he Norwich Frostbite Sailing Club. Although retiring from his road haulage concern 13 years ago, he continued sailing until he was 75.          K.W.

From a calendar for 1937
From a calendar for 1937

[With thanks to John Myhill and Peter Bailey for much of the information, and Norfolk Record Office for finding the indentures - one hidden away among correspondence about Mary Berney's funeral!]