A large audience gathered for tonight’s meeting (23rd February 2009) to listen to a talk given by Ted Fox on the ”Art of the Wheelwright”
Mr Fox described himself as “A country peasant that makes tea for his wife”. The talk he presented showed that his skills and knowledge far exceed this description. Mr Fox taught agriculture at Berkshire College of Agriculture and set-up as a Wheelwright after being made redundant at 50 from the college.
It is not known exactly when or where the wheel was developed but it is generally believed to have been developed in either Egypt or Mesopotamia around 6000 years ago. At this point it would have been simply the end of a tree trunk cut down. It is known that the Egyptians did create bronze wheels for chariots and that the Romans created the first front turning axel.
Mr Fox noted that the word “Spoke” originally meant something different to what it is used for today. Originally it was a metal rod used by miners to place in to a wheel to break carts. The word was then used to refer to the beams/rods linking the hub to the wheel rim. There are many types of spokes in use and the type used depends on many factors including the size of the wheel and intended use.
In 1888 John Dunlop developed the pneumatic tyre. He failed to get his idea accepted in the UK and so took his idea to America where it was developed. However, its first use was on horse carts and not cars.
Mr Fox showed, and allowed the audience to examine, many of the tools of the trade. He also noted that many different types of wood were used including Elm, Oak and Ash. The type used often depended on what was available locally. All of the components of the wheel were described and Mr Fox showed how these all fitted together. However, to hold the wood in place, a tyre is used. This is made from Iron or steel in some of the modern industry. Originally these would have been forge welded to form a circle although more modern welding methods can be used today. The tyre would have been slightly smaller than the wheel in order to compress it and hold it together. In order to fit the tyre to the wheel, the tyre would have been heated up to cause it to expand.
Mr Fox noted that when he started in the industry 25 years ago there were some 300 wheelwrights but today there are only 7 or 8 good wheelwrights.
A vote of thanks was given by committee member Peter Lavarack and refreshments followed.