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    New powers for the Wheelwrights

The new bye-laws empowered the Court of Assistants to visit the house, shop or warehouse of any wheelwright and to search the premises to ensure that wheels were made of good materials and properly constructed. These "Searches" as they were called did not always go smoothly. An old report reads as follows:

"17th May 1688. This day Mr. Thomas Girdler appeareing in Court was accused of exposeing to sale sevrall coach wheeles made of unsound Timber and that he being informed of the penalties that would fall upon him by vertue of the Byelawes of this Compaine, the said Mr. Girdler, did in a very unseemly manner revile the Compaine and said he cared not for the Byelawes."

Some fairly rich 17th Century language was no doubt used but Mr. Girdler had met his match. The report continues:

"Upon hearing the whole complaint this Court did fine him in all four pounds for his rotten wheeles but afterwards he declaring his sorrow for his offences and submitting himselfe to the Court his fine was remitted to 10s which he Payd and his contempt was passed by."

A typical wheelwright's shop of the 17th Century would have comprised a Master Wheelwright, who would be a member of the Company, several journeymen and half a dozen apprentices.

From the outset women were admitted to the Freedom of the Company. Some were widows of wheelwrights who carried on the trade of their late husbands, others were admitted as apprentices and some by patrimony. One of the earliest entries in the minute books is that of 27th May 1670 which states:

" Mrs. Rand did this day promise to pay to this Company towards their charge of Incorporation on Midsomer day next the sum of £5."

"Mrs. Rand did this day promise to pay to this Company the remainder of her Subscription on Midsomer day next."

However, the wheelwrights trade in the 17th and early 18th Centuries was one which, whilst requiring great skill, needed, like the blacksmiths trade, a powerful physique and brawny arms. Probably it never provided a lavish lifestyle and the problem of raising funds to meet Company commitments has been a recurring theme for successive Masters.

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