Posted by: lensweb | May 1, 2014

My Grandad – Interview with John Travis 29 April 2014

Every year I love to visit Gonalston, a small village near Southwell, Nottinghamshire, to see the Vicarage Gardens. Where else can you see such a wonderful display of snowdrops and aconites?

I didn’t realise that one of our Long Natural History Society (LENS) members had an association with the village until Long Eaton School gave a call out for stories about the First World War for the centenary remembrance. Here is his story:

”My grandad, Wilfred Warren Blackband, was born 1st December 1896 in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire. His parents ran the Railway Hotel at Lowdham. He was the youngest of 8 children, John, Ted, Arthur, Violet, Polly (Mary), William, and I can’t remember the other one.  He left school at age 12 work to work at Pearson’s Nursery Gardens in Lowdham. He enjoyed the work and learnt to grow and breed daffodils but, looking for more pay, became apprenticed to the blacksmith at nearby Gonalston for 5yrs.

In 1914 he volunteered for the army and was sent to Margate in Kent. Horses were crucial for the war effort, the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry were mounted, horses were also used to transport vital supplies and big guns. My Grandad was good at teaching farriery. When the Rangers were sent to Gallipoli, dismounted, my grandfather’s skills were so highly regarded, the army kept him in Margate, training farriers and blacksmiths, so he never got to France at all.


In 1919 he married Emily Longmate of Muskham, they had 4 children, Sheila Mary, Lesley Warren, Joyce Annie and the youngest, Rita Emily. He was a general blacksmith to 1936, he worked at the Forge at the top of Wells Road Mapperley. He said farriery was one of the hardest jobs under the heavens.  The large shire horses were difficult to handle and they kicked. The pay was low and trade was declining as horses were replaced by lorries. In 1936 he got a job at a hosiery machine manufacturing company called Kidier and Son, making frames for machines.

In World War 2 my grandad was a fire watcher. He saw people killed at the Co-op Bakery on Meadow Lane, Boots Printing Works was bombed. He no longer worked with  horses. Kidiers was sold out to an Italian company and he had to learn new skills. Mild steel special alloys were hardened for rotary cutting knives and he learnt to use chemical titrations to check the cyanide in the hardening baths, previously he had done this by visual estimation of the colour of the flame of the molten sodium cyanide. He worked to age 70.

After retirement, for 10 years he worked at home, making gates and sharpening garden tools with trade passed from the builders merchants. Always a keen gardener, growing dahlias and chrysanthemums, he told his wife that the garden was no good for growing vegetables. He also bred rabbits and took them to shows. The skins were dressed and his daughters made gloves from them.

He made enough money to see his son who had married and lived in Austria, which was run by the Russians at the time. It was a 10 week wait for a passport. He brought up his grandson and taught him engineering skills. He lived to age 91 and his ashes are buried in a family grave at North Muskham church with a memorial limestone plaque.

You can see my grandfather in front of the smithy at Gonalston in this photograph, which is also on a postcard in the Brewhouse Yard Museum of Nottingham Life at Nottingham Castle.”


Marion Bryce 23 April 2014


  1. a very interesting article

  2. A very different way of life from today! The research must have been fascinating.


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