Frank Read, Scytheman

This article originally appeared in Belbroughton Parish Magazine in November 2013.

The following article is not dated but is thought to have appeared in the Stourbridge News in about October 1962.

Frank Read of Belbroughton

Behind the main street of Belbroughton, hidden in the hollow through which the stream runs, lie the workshops of Isaac Nash where for almost a century hand wrought scythes have been made.  The scythe is a beautiful tool, and handled by a skilled man a joy to watch. “I think there is as much skill in using one as there is in making it,” says Frank Henry Read who for 28 years has been forging scythe blades at Nash’s.  “I have tried using one, but I can’t manage it.  There is a chap at the back of my house who can cut his grass with a scythe almost as close as I get it with a lawn mower.”

Frank Read was born in Belbroughton in 1920, went to Belbroughton School as did his six brothers and sisters.  “My father was a very good carpenter in the village, but he died when I was only 11.  I was the eldest of six still at school, and I took round papers, and orders for the butcher to help out.  They call them the good old days, but I don’t think they were.”

When he left school he went for three months as a gardener’s boy, earned only 7s 6d a week.  “I handed on my paper round to my next brother then.” Then he went into Nash’s and was apprenticed as a forgeman, under the late Mr Len Pritchard.

At 18, Frank finished his indentures [apprenticeship] and worked a forge by himself.  “I was the youngest forgeman there then, and I don’t think there has been a younger since.”  In those days, scythes were made of iron and steel, the steel welded on to an iron back.  “We could make about 15 dozen a day then, but now they are all steel, we can do about 25 to 30 dozen.”

Frank works at an old beam hammer; the red hot steel blank is forged into a blade with almost uncanny precision in less than a minute, the heavy hammer head under his skilled hand drawing out, shaping and hollowing the blade as if by magic.  With the many farm machines there are today, the demand for scythes has fallen, but Frank believes there will always be a need for them, specially on small pieces of ground where it would be inconvenient and uneconomic to run a machine.  When the blade leaves him, it is “plated out” to its full width, pointed and sharpened.  The blades, some 35,000 every year, are then sent off almost all over the world.  Denmark and Ireland are big customers of the firm, but scythes are sent to many other countries, including the United States.  The handle or “sned” is fitted by the customer.

The factory at Belbroughton is the only one in this country where wrought scythes are made, though there are others with riveted backs, which, Frank says, are not nearly so good.  The trade has been carried on in the village for many years, even before Isaac Nash first opened his works.  Originally the power for the hammers came from mill wheels in the stream but today electricity has taken their place. 

[Section on Frank’s war service]

Frank likes his work, likes the idea of making things; all his family are practical men and women.  His father and his elder brothers were all building craftsmen.  Frank does his own decorating and is himself a capable plasterer.