Hampton, Cheshire farrier John Hughes
PUBLISHED: 09:39 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:22 20 February 2013
The traditional craft of farriery is in safe hands in Cheshire thanks to John Hughes' family business in Hampton, near Malpas.<br/>WORDS BY GILLIAN HOOK<br/>PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN COCKS
It's not everyone who can get excited about a dead horse's leg sitting on their desk, but farrier John Hughes is thrilled. John, who runs the family business in the hamlet of Hampton, near Malpas, received the 'morbid specimen training tool' as part of his prize after winning the title of Approved Training Farrier of the Year. He also won 500 and an engraved glass trophy.
'It's nice to be recognised for all the effort we put into training apprentices,' says John. 'I have tried to bring the best out of our apprentices and would like to think this is an establishment of excellence.' The horse leg, which usually costs several hundred pounds, will be used as a training aid and in discussions with clients about their horses and ponies.
It was the third year of the award, presented by the Farrier Training Agency, which involves a review of the apprentice's work, the trainer's work and establishment, and then an independent panel of judges. In this case the apprentice was Tom Richards.
'I'm really pleased that Tom's skills have also been recognised. He is so interested in horses - he buys and sells them, rides them - and that level of keenness makes a difference.'
Tom is now self-employed but regularly returns to the forge to help out plus share problems and knowledge. John's current apprentice is local lad Michael Girling, 20. His own apprenticeship began in 1964 when his father, then aged 64, was looking to retire.
John, who had been born when his dad was 50, began a three-year apprenticeship and finally took over at the age of 18. And it's fair to say that John's greatest joy is that his own son Charlie, now 27, decided to follow him into the family business. It ensures not only the future of the smithy but also of a vital rural craft
'It's because of Charlie's interest in the business that has allowed us to improve and expand and plan ahead,' says John, who was the UK national horse shoeing champion in 1974 and '75.
Besides shoeing horses, the smithy continues the blacksmith tradition by making anything from metal gates to gunstands to stable parts to garden tools. They have also made a 'crush' for the local veterinary centre.
'We work very closely with the vets in Hampton. In fact we're an integral part of the village and of village life,' explains John, and as if to prove the point waves cheerily at the postman, calling him by name.
'This is a "horsey" village and with the advent of the all-weather track and the decline of fox-hunting, a lot of our business now comes from horseracing.' Indeed, one of the smithy's clients is Michael Owen's stables, just down the road.
'The forge helps create a network of people,' continues John. 'Besides the vets there is a hay, straw and feed merchants and we refer people to each other and so are supporting each other's business.'
John's plans for Hampton Smithy's future are simple: 'To leave it in good heart for Charlie's future and the future of the apprentices that will come to be trained here and who will service the village and the area.'
Hampton Smithy, Mates Lane, Malpas,
Tel: 01948 820587