The role of the farriers on the front and at home unearthed

Charles Hotston in unform SUS-140821-152831001
Charles Hotston in unform SUS-140821-152831001

FARRIERS on the front have been the focus of a wartime exhibition in Slindon.

Since the start of the month, Slindon Forge has been home to the informative event which looks at the contribution the village’s farriers made to the first world war.

The carters by the Lime Tree in Top Road SUS-140821-154008001

The carters by the Lime Tree in Top Road SUS-140821-154008001

The exhibition, entitled, Commemorating the contribution of Farriers at the Front and on the Home Front looks at the histories of Charles Hotston, who worked at the forge from 1900 to 1912 and served as a farrier sergeant from 1915 to 1918 and Gilbert Bleathman, the forge’s farrier from 1912 to the 1940s who served as a farrier and driver in the Royal Engineers.

It also looks at the importance of farriers on the home front in keeping the nation supplied with food – shoeing farm horses and all the horses involved in transporting produce from farm to market.

Mike Imms, secretary of the Slindon Forge Society, said: “It has been fascinating to look into the past and see the role farriers played in the first world war and also the effect their leaving had on people back home.

“It is easy to forget one simple fact, in 1914, virtually everything that moved had a horse in front of it – and a farrier behind it.

Gilbert Bleathman after WW1 in Marsh Lane SUS-140821-153518001

Gilbert Bleathman after WW1 in Marsh Lane SUS-140821-153518001

“At the peak, the army had more than 800,000 horse and mules and around half of these were in France. Each of these needed looking after. It is estimated around 60 million horse shoes were fitted by the farrier.

“Keeping the horses in a good condition was vital on the front, more horses died because of the conditions rather than injuries from the fighting.

“The farriers had many roles. They acted as farriers looking after the horses, they took on the role of a vet and they were soldiers, too.”

Although mounted warfare had effectively come to an end by 1914, horses and mules played a vital support role – which meant farriers remained of the upmost importance.

Gilbert Bleathman in about 1912 in Slindon Forge SUS-140821-153529001

Gilbert Bleathman in about 1912 in Slindon Forge SUS-140821-153529001

Mr Imms said the exhibition came about after the family of one of the forge’s former farriers, Charles Hotston, contacted them to share their history.

Both Charles and Gilbert served in specialist regiments where there skills and knowledge was invaluable, but even they had to go through specialist training.

Charles volunteered in 1915 at the age of 38. He enlisted as a private in the Army Reserve Corp.

His enlistment papers were endorsed by Sir Wootton Isaacson of Slindon House who said he believed Charles to be ‘sober’ and ‘honest in money matters’ and he knew him from the forge which he had ‘for several years’.

Charles trained at the Woolwich Farrier Training School and had already been promoted to farrier sergeant by the time he finished.

He served in the 33 Div HQ and his regiment was the RASC HT.

He left for France on November 15 1915, as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

Gilbert Bleathman served with a mounted division of the Field Company of the Royal Engineers.

As they were attached to the fighting portions of the division, these companies often saw action and took part in the fighting. Gilbert was injured.

The field companies relied on horses for transport. Gilbert drove draught horses which often moved heavy equipment on the battlefield, including artillery guns.

Both Charles and Gilbert survived their part in the conflict, however when they returned home, they found the world of forges, farriers and shoesmiths had changed dramatically.

Mr Imms said: “There is 
no doubt the war speeded up the mechanisation of a farrier’s work.

“The use of motor vehicles grew dramatically and by the end of the war, horse shoes were being made mechanically.”

The exhibition in the forge, which since it closed in 2000 has been transformed into a cafe and shop, can be seen until the end of the month.

The event could not have been done without help 
from the families of Charles and Gilbert, the Slindon History Group, Gill Clarke, a visiting professor from Chichester University, historian John Godfrey, Peter Fenton, a former farrier at Slindon Forge, Rodney Gunner from the Worthing Archeological Society and David Leighton, a literacy executor from the estate of Clare Leighton.