Lancaster nostalgia: The Dodgson family

Bryan Dodgson (left) and John Taylor (right) starting to demolish the corn mill grinding machinery when developing Millers Court in 1987. The grinding wheels can be seen at the top of the photograph. The mill was probably last used in the early 20th century when Thomas Proctor was manager.
Bryan Dodgson (left) and John Taylor (right) starting to demolish the corn mill grinding machinery when developing Millers Court in 1987. The grinding wheels can be seen at the top of the photograph. The mill was probably last used in the early 20th century when Thomas Proctor was manager.

Historian David Kenyon looks back at the life of Harry Dodsgon, his former employer at what used to be a joinery workshop in Hornby.

Harry Dodgson was born at Chapel House, Kirkby Lonsdale, in 1889. The family later moved to Scaleber Farm near Burton-in-Lonsdale. After serving an apprenticeship at James Dodgson’s Joiners and Wheelwrights in Burton-in-Lonsdale (no relation), Harry moved to Lancaster to stay with his Aunt Penny.

The Dodgson family, Raymond Dodgson's wedding to Anne Hodgson, 1955. Left to right: Eric, Margaret, Harry, Raymond, Hilda, Henry, Jenny and Bryan.

The Dodgson family, Raymond Dodgson's wedding to Anne Hodgson, 1955. Left to right: Eric, Margaret, Harry, Raymond, Hilda, Henry, Jenny and Bryan.

Here he worked for various joinery firms, culminating in the noted English furniture manufacturers Waring and Gillow. This was a very prestigious place of employment and Harry worked on a number of high profile commissions including The Adelphi Ballroom in Liverpool, St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Douglas, Isle of Man, and the Admiral’s Flagship in Spain.

In 1920 Harry returned to live at Burton-in-Lonsdale and established his own joinery business at Hornby, travelling daily between the two villages.

His first workshop was in a stone house built against Hornby Bridge. However, this was demolished when the bridge was widened, towards the end of World War Two. Some of the foundation stones from this building can still be seen under the bridge’s first arch.

The new joinery workshop was a timber building comprising joiner’s shop, timber store and saw mill. It had no mains electricity, water or sanitation. To power the machinery a Lister five-horsepower single cylinder oil engine was used.

Harry Dodgson bought this engine in the 1930s. It powered the circular saw, planer, grinder and a dynamo to provide light in winter. Owing to the cold, frosty air rising from the river, paraffin soaked wood shavings were burned. There were placed in an old lead ladle allowing the engine to suck the flames through the air intake. Often it was difficult to decide whether to start the engine or cut the wood by hand.

Mr Skeats, who worked for Harry Dodgson and lived in Hornby, often went down to the workshop late at night to drain the engine of water when a hard frost was forecast. All the machinery was belt-driven from a counter shaft. There were no safety guards and the joiners’ eyes were always full of sawdust.

Harry Dodgson was a keen poultry keeper. He had a large poultry house on the land that is now Hornby children’s playground. He also kept poultry at Burton-in-Lonsdale. In addition, the making of poultry cabins was the main work occupying Harry Dodgson’s joinery business between the First and Second World Wars.

Previously poultry was kept on a very small scale. However, cheap grain from Canada and America and cheap timber from Canada and t he Baltic resulted in the industry’s expansion.

The most common size of poultry cabins made was 8ft x 6ft, 12ft x 8ft, 15ft x 10ft, 24ft x 12ft and the largest 48ft x 12ft.

Around this time a 12ft x 8ft cabin cost £12. All the three inch by two inch framing was made from clear Columbian pine. This was cut from huge trees, up to eight feet across at the butt. These imported spars were often over 20ft in length without a single knot.

Around 1952 there was a resurgence of farmers keeping poultry again. The joinery workshop made hen huts, night arks, hay box brooders plus many other products related to poultry keeping. However, this boom was not to last. By the 1960s the expansion of factory farming put the small poultry farmer out of business.

What did the joinery workshop make in the early 1950s?

The workshop made wooden wheelbarrows for local farmers. David remembers one local farmer saying: “Don’t make the barrow too small. I don’t want the farm lad making too many journeys from shippon to midden.”

Farm gates, made from English larch, were made in considerable numbers. The timber was purchased from a local timber merchants or as gate sets from Gravesons at Carnforth. A gate set cost £2-10s with the completed gate sold for £5.

Other items David remembers making were geese and hen coops. The workshop also produced bread boards and draining boards. There were made out of Sycamore wood.

At Christmas time there was always a demand for children’s toys. This was a job for the apprentice; small wheelbarrows were produced, along with dolls cots and model farms.