“I swear by almighty god to tell the whole truth and nothing but. So help me” … and then I kissed the bible and straightened my back. I looked Judge Snade straight in the eyes and proceeded to account for the thievery of John Marsden.
I remember this moment vividly, standing in the Old Bailey in 1748. I was 37 years old and I was prosecuting my case against a thieving errand boy who had conspired to deprive me of tools and chattels and the six fine Oak casements I had fashioned for Lady Mansfield in Grosvenor Square.
Looking back now I see that moment as being the watershed of my life. I remember thinking that the good Lord had been bountiful to me; I had worked hard at my trade, dealt honestly with all and now I was sufficient a gentleman that the good judge was outraged that a man of my standing could be so badly used by one who had been trusted. It was at that moment that I resolved that when the good Lord took me I would leave a legacy behind that would do well by the poor and vulnerable. A grand monument is all very well and proper but how better to be remembered than by one’s good works and generosity? And so it has been, the money I left in trust has done much good and brought happiness and learning to many a young child. Indeed on this week I am led to understand that the new school in Broad Town did prosper from my trust in the shape of a storyteller who opened the eyes of the children to the marvel of words and thought.
So here I stand before you, the denizens of my future, to account in some small part for my life.
I was born not much more than an arrow’s flight from this spot in 1711. I was baptised in this very church; so here you see where God thought fit to place me in this world and here a place I chose to glory God for my life and celebrate my death.
I was put to learning early, not your book sort but the learning of numbers, the learning of wood and the learning of men. I enjoyed my apprenticeship in Broad Hinton, I had a kindly master and the seven years in his service taught me much. As I look back, in a way the use of tools, the way of wood were the lesser part of what I learnt. It was he that schooled the man in me and it is his good nature that was the seed that led to the acts of good I have performed.
As I stand here now draped in these strange unfamiliar garments. I marvel at what my fellow man has wrought in the centuries since my death. But strangely I marvel more that I can still find tools that, though have an outlandish look, still fit my hand like a glove. Tools that are an extension of my hand and head. Tools that without conscious thought will create the things of beauty I have made and loved.
- The Mallet and the Chisel which, with deft handling, reveal the shape hidden within the grain of a piece of Oak to decorate a sash.
- The Saw that deftly slips through a piece of Ash to fashion it to length to make a rail for a fine cupboard door.
- The Plain that shaves the surface of a piece of Pine till it glows like a field of corn in midsummer, releasing that smell of resin that never fails to delight the senses.
- The Spoke Shave that cleverly allows one to shape the seat of a chair to accommodate the bountiful bottom of a gentleman.
- The Awl that forms a perfect hole that, though small, allows a carpenter to pin and lock mighty beams in place.
- The Scribe that allows us to plot the celestial shapes in many a Church screen.
- And the trusty Hammer, that tool that surpasses all in its simplicity and usefulness. I can see that this one here is well loved by its owner. Despite a riven handle he has smoothed and bound it and it is as true in my hand as I’m sure it is in his.
After my apprenticeship I moved to London. This move was possible because I was able to rent a small workshop in St Mary Le Bow from my Uncle Robert. I worked diligently and with the grace of God built a business of some reputation amongst the Gentry. I cannot deny that the Trade of Carpenter has fallen into disrepute. A decline that started long before my birth when the Great Fire Of London placed such a demand for tradesmen that the guild was sore put to supply the need. Since then all and sundry have been calling themselves “Carpenter” or “Joiner” some that couldn’t tell a piece of Ash from a piece of Beech. As I say I was fortunate. My skill was valued by my customers and with the word of men of standing to vouch for me I have never wanted for trade. I looked after my apprentices and journeymen too, paid them fair and proper wages for their work. I had learnt from my master when I was indentured that if the people in one’s own employ prosper then the master does too. I abhor the way that so many so called “Master Carpenters” charge high for their work and pay low for their labour. No wonder 3,000 carpenters took the streets and withheld their labour in 1776. I don’t countenance the way they started to dismantle the scaffold at St Giles mind; that was a step too far in my mind. I would that my fellow businessmen had learnt from this but just months before my death 4,000 carpenters took to the streets again and despite arrests were successful in their claim to raise their wages.
Once I considered myself a man of substance, I bought a handsome house in Kimbolton and set about finding myself a wife. Not long after I started courting Sarah, the daughter of a fellow Master Carpenter. Being of an age and class where she could make her own determination, Sarah did me the honour of accepting my proposal of marriage and we were married just before my 42nd birthday. A glorious day, one of great happiness. Sadly we had no children and when 23 years later Sarah died of consumption I was again alone. I made arrangements for her to be buried in Stonely so I could be near her grave. Two years later I married Rachel, a good and close friend of Sarah’s and we lived happily together and with great contentment. In my last few months Rachel was a great boon and comfort to me as I prepared to meet my maker. As much as I yearned to be laid to rest next to my late wife Sarah I resolved that I should be returned to the place of my childhood and be buried at St Peters Church. And so it was. I also directed that a monument be erected in the church and bestowed a portion of my wealth to be used for good works.
And the rest, as you say in your modern world, is history …
This story was written for the Clyffe Pypard Heritage Weekend (see “Thomas Spackman: How A Generous Heart Endures“). As with all my stories the telling often departs from the original script. In fact I rarely write my stories down! Telling this story was a delight and I thank Anna Radley, Reverend Rachma Abbott and the Spackman Trust for entrusting a small part of their heritage to me.