The Smith’s mallet

We have looked at this item before when we gave it its dialect name of a boitle. It has attracted some interest, so here’s a little more about this tool and the Smith family who used it.

There’s an almost inevitable reaction when you talk to people about the Market Lavington Smith family and the fact that they were pond diggers. People think that this was the lowest form of labouring for very unskilled people. In fact they couldn’t be much further from the truth.

Of course you can’t dig a pond without some heavy labour but these were people who found the right site for a pond and then constructed it on chalk downland. Chalk, of course, allows water to soak through it. Building a pond that would stand the test of time required enormous skill along with the hard physical labour.

But the Smith family were also business people. They had to be to cope with the fact that their pond making area ran right across the south of England and at least as far north as Nottingham. And Smiths managed the business from their premises on White Street in Market Lavington for more than 100 years.

Sadly not that much has survived but we have a few photos and some other documents published in magazines and we also have an oral recording by Sybil Perry who spent some of her own childhood living with her Smith grandparents on White Street.

And we also have a mallet head.

Mallet as used by the Smith's of Market Lavington in their pond making business.

Mallet used by the Smith’s of Market Lavington in their pond making business.

This has the signs of wear you might expect from a device used to pound clay to make a watertight surface for the pond. Most of this beating tool is made of wood. Traditionally it was a piece of apple wood and should weigh about eight pounds. The beating surface, shown on top in our photo is a half inch steel plate. The handle – we don’t have that – would have been of ash.

At least we have a reminder of this once vital, but now vanished, craft.

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