A history told in horseshoes

At first glance I thought this a shot of the inside of Oakham Castle in Rutland. It is not. It is a marvellous sample board – just happens to be horseshoes. Such boards were commonplace in years gone by.

Retailers and manufacturers used to display wares in this way (except heavy or bulky stuff) usually hung on walls or as counter stands. You would see these boards for pens, paint brushes, zips, chisels, screwdrivers – all manner of goods.

This is a photo about which I can say very little on a technical level. The sign at the top of the board states Mr Veats is a “Veterinary Farrier”. In Leighton’s Auckland Provincial Directory of 1930, Veats is listed in Ward Street as “Veats, Harry, general blacksmith and vet surgeon”.  Was he a veterinarian or was he perhaps more a horse chiropodist? The shoes on display indicate there is a variety unimagined by the uninitiated.

It’s obvious from the labels there are shoes to effect corrections for the horse’s hoof alignment or gait or musculo-skeletal problems. One label suggests a correcting shoe to prevent “Brushing” – what does that mean? Anyone know? There’s a left and right “hind hunting shoe” and the “hind draught shoe” on the top left and the “front draught shoe” on the top right. There are the “Roadster” front and hind shoes and they are all different shapes for different horses and totally different designs for front and hind.

When looking at such items we should remember that horseshoes were handmade by blacksmiths or farriers over intensely hot fires and usually from a straight piece of flat steel rod. The rod was manufactured chiefly in the main centres and available in a variety of dimensions and the horse shoes were carefully shaped to specific requirement.

I do know from one modern day blacksmith though, it is not the strength of the smithy that counts, it’s the technique. However, I think it is true that a strong arm was required to spend hours beating away at red hot steel with what was usually a fairly heavy hammer.

As to Harry Veats – what do we know? Well, he was not so prominent a citizen that he appears in any history books (not that I’ve seen) and I have never noticed his name on any business premises in Ward Street.  So, research starts now. According to trade directories of 1910 and 1930 he conducted his business in the “Railway Leases” area on the north side of Ward Street very close to the saleyards and, more importantly, the horse bazaar. His business would likely have been about where Centre Place starts in Ward Street which was at the time, the agriculture centre of Hamilton.

But what of the man? Well, we know what he looked like I think – surely it’s his photo on the board, but when was that pic taken? We do not know. He looked well-established and perhaps about 35. I can tell you Henry Hamilton Veats married Mary Ellen Willis in 1902. “Harry” Veats and his wife Mary Ellen lived at 69 Collingwood Street for some years until about 1940. They are on the 1938 electoral roll at that address but, and this is where researching a person’s story is a bit sad sometimes, in the 1941 electoral roll, Mary Ellen Veats is in Milton Street and now a widow. I discovered that Harry died sometime during April to June 1940. In the 1945 electoral roll Mary Ellen is not listed.

I am not looking any further, I want to think Mrs Veats lived a long and happy retirement in a pleasant spot by the sea.  There are no listings in the White Pages for Veats so there may have been no descendents or there may only have been daughters. We can only speculate without further research and that, I’m afraid, could take hours!

Is there a living memory of Harry Veats?

Update – check this out.

Email Perry, go on.

Hamilton Central Libraries

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4 thoughts on “A history told in horseshoes

  • February 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Thanks, Perry, very interesting local history. But you left me hanging with the reference to Oakham Castle in Rutland. However, Wikipedia to the rescue: “Oakham Castle is located in Oakham, Rutland [a landlocked county in central England]. It was constructed between 1180 and 1190, in the reign of Henry II for Walchelin de Ferriers, Lord of the Manor of Oakham. The Castle is well known for its collection of massive horseshoes and is also recognised as one of the best examples of domestic Norman architecture in England.”
    Unfortunately, nothing more to add on the Veats!

  • February 29, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Thank you, Pip!

  • Pingback: Harry Veats revisited | Number 8 Network

  • March 19, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    This comment just arrived in as an email:

    Hello Perry I stumbled on your article about Harry Veats today and I was so impressed with his shoeboard. That board is a work of art. I have seen many boards, and his is very impressive. These boards were a showcase or billboard for a craftsman’s work.Usually boards had to be done to end an apprenticeship and were sometimes used to showcase a farrier’s skills.

    I write “The Hoof Blog”, which is read by farriers all over the world, including many in New Zealand. I wonder if you might allow me to share the photo of Harry’s shoe board on my blog and see if anyone can add any information.

    To fill you in on the world situation, New Zealand was quite a progressive place for farriery in the early 1900s, and that shows in Harry’s work.

    As for whether he was veterinarian or farrier, he was probably a veterinarian but New Zealand probably didn’t have a veterinary college, per se, when he would have been going to college so he was probably a farrier who was grandfathered in when the profession was formally established. Just my guess! Someone at Massey University might have a record of him, or the NZ Veterinary Assocation, which is itself only 75 years old.

    There’s a great timeline of vet history in New Zealand here:


    Thanks so much for your great article!

    Fran Jurga


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