Expect some riveting tales from the wagon trains of the Wild West when wheelwright Phill Gregson returns to give a masterclass at the National Forest Wood Fair, on Bank Holiday Monday 31 August. Phill was absent from the event at Beacon Hill Country Park last year, as he was on a six-week study tour of the United States, looking at materials and production methods used by wheelwrights in America.
His journey began in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and ended at the North West Carriage Museum, Washington State, covering 6,000 miles and 16 states.
He saw wagons from the early settlers in the 1700s, part of a wheel from one of General Custer's wagons and visited the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of Little House on the Prairie). Her family settled in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the late 1800s when the prairie was still a wild place: “They would have carried everything they owned on a horse drawn wagon, and then put this to use as a work or farm wagon once they had settled,” explained Phill.
He continued: “One of the most technically advanced workshops I visited was in an Amish community in Ohio. Far from being stuck in the past, because they use horse drawn vehicles every day of their lives, as part of their chosen way of life, they need to develop techniques and tools that work for them now. It was fascinating.
“My trip was funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights so that I could look at the history and techniques of how people have developed the wooden wheel in the United States. I also wanted to investigate potential alternative timbers to those I use here in the UK. Many of our trees are threatened by various diseases and I want to make sure the work of the wheelwright will continue.
“I learned so much on the trip and it certainly opened my eyes to how differently we view time here and in the US. The history of settlement there is so short; I have tools in my workshop that I use regularly that are older than items I saw on display in museums there.
“The trip was totally inspirational for my work as a wheelwright, and it's made me even keener to work to promote what we have in the UK, all our history and heritage, and to pass on all that I learned to others.”
Phill will be giving a masterclass and demonstrating his work at the National Forest Wood Fair at Beacon Hill Country Park on Bank Holiday Monday 31 August.