A fine, restored, kite-
Leonard of Soham
Elias Leonard was born in Soham in 1848 to Robert, a brewer and seller of beer. After learning the carpentry trade in Nottingham and Leeds, Elias moved back to Soham and set up his own business. By 1881 he was a master carpenter and coal merchant, employing 1 man and 1 boy.
At the end of the century the following entry appeared in Kelly’s 1892 Directory:
As a youngster, Elias's son Arthur Robert (Bob) had another career in mind. Bob won a scholarship to the grammar school and dreamt of becoming a solicitor or lawyer. Instead he had to work in the yard, but he developed into one of the loyalest team members.
In time, Bob's son Tom became a carpenter and worked on the waggons as well. George was another son of Elias, and he also joined the family business.
Elias died in 1924, and Bob carried on the business. He had nine children but only five of them survived to adulthood. Perhaps that’s why he made miniature wagons to collect money during the annual Addenbrooke's Hospital parade.
Bob retired in 1934, and the stock was sold off, including a portable forge and anvil, a spring cart, hand cart, and 1 hundredweight of nails. He did retain some of his carpentry tools though, and he continued painting carts and waggons in his leisure years.
Elias advertised "travellers’ house vans and waggons built and repaired", and he
established a family firm with a reputation for building good-
Rear wheels could be ordered either under the body, as with showman vans, or running on the outside, as preferred by most Romany folki.
Elias rented his yard from The Bishop Laney's Charity, which provided financial help for young men learning a trade.
He took on three apprentices paid for by the Charity: George Bishop, Arthur Fincham and John James Gillson.
Both Elias and son Bob had inherited the brewing gene. Elias would drink heavily on Saturday, stagger home to smash the house windows, and have to repair them on Sunday. Bob celebrated selling a waggon by spending money in The Jolly Gardeners ale house just across the road.
George, Bob and Elias Leonard (l-
Bob Leonard about 1925
Bob and son Tom
The Pratt Street yard
Possibly a showman taking possession of his new van
Bob's sons: Jack, Percy and Tom (l-
Bob's sons: Percy and Jack (l-
Stock auction upon the retirement of Bob
Some of Bob's tools, still with his family today
Leonard, Elias. Builder, wheelwright, smith, and dealer in paints, glass, etc. Waggon & Cart Works, Pratt Street.
In 1908 Elias went bankrupt. He called himself a carpenter in the 1911 census, and
now Bob put himself down as the caravan-
The Leonards with a Romany kite-
Like many builders in South-
Interestingly, one particular style of carvings and distinguished weatherboard profile,
lions’ heads, etc, were often to be found on both Leonard kite-
This suggests that both builders were using the skills of, or purchasing sets from, the same carver, often referred to as a journeyman. This indicates the two builders may have experienced a friendly, professional relationship.
This Leonard kite-
Brother George had already left, feeling slightly aggrieved -
Bob’s son Young Tom went to work on Sprites after the Second World War, exchanging the world of wooden waggons for the hardboard caravans of the 1950s.
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Images copyright Leonard family, Adam Breakwell, A J Shepherd and unKn.
Article GypsyWaggons / UK Vardo Heritage
© ValleyStream Media 2012.