Bishops Stortford Beekeepers
Charlie Page was a local blacksmith and beekeeper, who lived and worked in Much Hadham. The article below was written by his daughter back in 1998 for a competition entitled “A Man In My Life”; she was awarded the H.F.W.I’s Stinson Cup. Bishop’s Stortford Beekeepers award a ‘Charlie Page’ trophy to a beekeeping member in his honour.
..by kind permission of The Forge Museum, Much Hadham
A man with a strong, magnificent profile – yet always ready with a smile; friendly eyes, yet penetrating and not easily deceived; and a sharp wit.
His ancestors can be traced, through the County Records, to the seventeenth century, and he was Charles James Page, Blacksmith and beekeeper of Much Hadham, Hertfordshire.
There was a very sharp frost during the night of 15th June, 1892 – the night when he was born; the second and only surviving son of William and Ellen Page. Amid the rejoicing for the birth of a boy, there was deep regret for the loss of the potato crop – and, apparently, the peas didn’t look very healthy either.
At the age of 5, Charlie was given, by his grandmother, his first swarm of bees – in a skep. He was hooked – and kept them for the next 86 years.
A year later he earned his first pocket money – 6d a day for watching a neighbour’s bees when she went up to London. If they swarmed, it was Charlie’s job to rush next door to Frank Miles and ask him to come to hive the swarm.
When he grew a little older, Charlie was taken on as a caddie for the golfers who played on a private course at Moor Place, a large estate in the village. Then he decided that the life of a butcher’s boy would suit him better, so he helped Mr Knight in his shop which, today, is Much Hadham Rectory. This was really exciting, because on holiday Thursdays Charlie would help to drive home the cattle which the butcher had bought in Bishop’s Stortford market. The young assistant’s wages were paid in Sausages (after they had been hung for 24 hours), and his love of sausages never left him.
When he left school in 1907, Charlie thought he fancied the life of a policeman – but no, although there were already three Pages and another man working in The Forge, it was there that a boy was needed, so he followed in the footsteps of his sires, and was the fourth generation of the family to follow this old Roman craft.
At that time, every farmer had a dozen or more horses – Shires, Percherons, Suffolks, Clydesdales and cross breeds. As well as the shoeing, all farm implements were repaired by the blacksmiths who made all the traditional tools as well, including plough shares.
There came 1914 and Charlie immediately joined the Royal Engineers and served in France, Belgium and Germany. Home on leave, he rather fancied himself in his uniform and was swaggering about the village when he was spotted (puffing away on a Woodbine!) by his beekeeping Grandmother. Not for long though. Out she went and removed it immediately and Charlie never smoked again – in her presence. They were the greatest of friends until she died four years later.
After the First World War, the gradual mechanisation of farms seemed to threaten the future of his craft, but although a number of Blacksmiths became garage proprietors, the Pages continued to keep busy as farriers, locksmiths and general factotums.
“The only slack period in my life was for a time after the Second World War” I remember Charlie saying. “We did feel the draught a bit then”.
But soon the increased popularity of riding brought large numbers of new customers beating a path to his door (he refused even to contemplate a telephone!). He saw, and got to know, a lot of people – almost always when they needed him; he had the art of summing them all up, but he was also given the wisdom of discretion and for all he knew, he never gossiped.
Donkeys became fashionable and they brought with them a fresh crop of twenty-
Charlie Page had no transport of his own except his bicycle which he made himself to go courting on. The horses either came to The Forge for hot shoeing, or he was fetched to them for cold. He covered a wide area – from Roydon to Royston, making all his own horseshoes which varied in size from 8” across to 2½” – and, of course, he made surgical shoes prescribed by vets.
He ran his fires on smithy nuts, bought by the truckload and, although first and foremost a farrier, he did decorative ironwork when time permitted (riveting, not welding!). One of his fire-
Life thus continued very happily and contentedly until, at the age of87, Charlie was kicked by a horse which he had just finished shoeing. (He should have known better at that age not to stand talking at the rear of a young and spirited filly!). So, with a broken hip, his shoeing days were over.
He lived serenely on until just before his 91st birthday. During the winter preceding his death, Charlie was no longer able to care for his remaining stocks of bees, kept in a 150-
St. George’s Day that year was wonderfully warm; Spring flowered everywhere, the sun shone – yet there wasn’t a bee to be seen. Worried, in the late evening, the assistant keeper opened up the hive and there wasn’t a live bee in sight, while upstairs at The Forge, their owner had, that day become comatose. In accordance with ancient folklore, Jean had been prepared to tell the bees of their keeper’s death, but there was no need, they knew it was coming so they predeceased him by four days.
He died, full of years, and full of hope, and on a brilliant day in May 1983, his body was carried on a bier through the lanes, which he had walked all his life, to his beloved St. Andrew’s. There, in the churchyard, he was buried beside his parents and three other generations of his family. Now, very close to his grave, the Rector has placed his own two hives, so the humming of the bees continues to be heard amongst the primroses and ladies’ smocks which Charlie loved.
The property has been given to The Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust by Charles Page’s only child, the writer of this piece, who continues to live in the house.
The Shoeing room, still cobbled, now houses a small Museum while, in The Forge, the anvil still rings as another blacksmith hammers out gates, fences, furniture and other decorative ironwork for the Third Millennium.