Fascination collection of early 20th century wheelwright's and builder's tools and artefacts donated to Crediton Museum
Many local people will have seen the work of Joe Mitchell, even if they don't realise it. Joe (1908-1993) was a carpenter from Knowle who was employed by Devon County Council in 1929. Seconded to Crediton Rural District Council, for the next 43 years Joe made and maintained all the finger posts (signposts) for miles around. The distinctive design was Joe’s, using Devon oak for the post and pine (or red deal as it was known) for the fingers. Repairs were often carried out on site, which Joe reached by bicycle, and all the work was done with hand tools. Some of Joe's finger posts are still standing, like the rare 5-finger example at Forches Cross.
Joe learnt his carpentry from his father, Henry James Mitchell (1865-1941), a builder, painter, wheelwright and undertaker with a workshop in Knowle. Crediton Museum's collection of Kelly's directories indicates that Henry Mitchell's business was trading at least between 1910 and 1939. Prior to this, our 1893 and 1902 Kellys show that Knowle's wheelwright business was operated by Thomas Lee and Sons. Henry took on the business when Thomas Lee retired, and subsequently passed it on to another son, Albert. We're not too clear about its history after this.
Recently Crediton Museum was contacted by Joan Tolley, the current occupant of Henry Mitchell's former premises, in recent times named Carpenter's Cottage. With the property she had inherited many tools and artefacts of Mr Mitchell's work, and Joan wanted us to have them for posterity before she vacates the house.
What a treasure trove it proved to be! There is a selection of wheelwright's equipment, like the templates used to cut the felloes for different wheel diameters, the lathe tool used to turn the ends of the wooden spokes, and a 4 foot diameter iron wheel rim. There are the remains of the endboards from 2 horse or donkey carts, one signwritten 'Avery Knowle' and the other 'Fey Maker Coplestone'. Many handtools provide an insight into how carpentry, metalwork and building were carried out in the early part of the last century. There's even a wooden scaffold pole.
At the moment the collection has been distributed amongst a few CAHMS members for restoration. When it is refurbished and catalogued, it is hoped to create a permanent museum display of rural skills from it.
The endboard of a horse or donkey cart