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Brandricks Lodge - Elam Ward's Tale.

Elam Ward

Elam and Kate Ward

Elam and Kate Ward of Brandrick's Lodge, Moseley Green. They lived there from when it was built until the Forestry Commission sold it in the early 1960's. Elam originated from Joyford.

Portrait of a Forest of Dean Woodman by R. J. Jennings

(From the Forest Newspaper December 1970)

Amongst the notable characters who are often spoken of and called to mind in the Royal Forest of Dean is Elam Ward, a famous timber feller or as he was known a Crown cutter, who worked in the woods from the age of nine until he retired at 72. It was early one bright October morning over 35 years ago when I first met him. The blackberries were ripe in the hedgerows, the beech leaves were changing colour from dark green to a rich orange yellow and the road verges were littered with shiny brown acorns brought down by the first autumn frosts. As a young forestry student I had just travelled five miles with a four foot cross cut saw tied to the bar of my cycle to meet him on Staple Edge where I was to work with him cutting larch and Douglas fir poles and to be taught the correct way of felling timber. It had been an uphill journey all the way with the wind blowing directly into my face from the Cotswolds and I was glad to dismount and untie the tools from my bicycle. As I climbed over a stile on the hill top a slight but upright figure quietly melted out of the shade of the trees and came towards me wearing a battered felt hat. I noticed a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Are you Mr. Ward?" I enquired.


"That's right," he replied, "but you can call me Elam. "It's a rum name to go to bed with – biblical-I doubt you've heard it before. Elam was the son of Shem, Noah's grandson, it's all in the tenth chapter of Genesis," then suddenly changing the subject as though he had suddenly remembered what we were here for. "Let's 'ave a look at that saw." I handed it over obediently, then, after giving it a cursory examination, he stood it against the gate post. "The teeth of that article," he said, "are like a gang of labourers, some work and some don't." What about your axe?" He took it from me and looked critically down the shaft towards the eye. "Hmmm," he grunted; "that handle's none too true to start with." Then, running his thumb along the blade he looked straight into my face and laughed. "Ho ho," he chuckled; you can't earn your living with that. You could ride on that edge to Cheltenham." "We'd best do something about it before starting work, hadn't we?" I followed him into the wood where he fixed the saw firmly into a temporary but very effective vice on the spot by inserting the blade into vertical slots in two coppice stems which he sawed off horizontally some four feet above ground level and showed me the correct angle and method of filing the teeth and rakers. He then dealt with my axe, demonstrating the importance of keeping one's hand safely behind the edge of the blade when using a carborundum stone. I had received four lessons in as many subjects before commencing work. Elam's axe, of course, was razor sharp. If you had any doubts on that score you were welcome to test its edge by shaving the hair from your forearm whenever you chose. Needless to say it was not very long before I was able and proud to keep mine likewise. Timber felling is a dangerous occupation. Some of the largest oak and beech that are cut in the Dean Forest weigh up to 20 tons. Carelessness or inexperience may result in fatal accidents. Yet in all the years that I knew Elam I never recall him cutting himself. Safety first seemed to come to him as a natural consequence, and edged tools that he carried were always guarded or protected with a cover of some description. His axe would never be slung over his shoulder but hugged carefully in the crook of his arm. When trees were falling we would always stand well back. No dead oak branch, or 'cag' as they are called locally, would drop on his head "to make my missus a widow."


Elam ward


Every day that passed I would be taught something new … wrinkles and trade secrets that he had picked up over a lifetime in the forest … how to roll or lever heavy logs around without exertion by using their point of balance … the way to fix a short length of wood rigid enough to saw by hand by simply driving an axe into it and fixing the blade to another log. How to construct a light but firm sawing horse in the woods by inserting three pegs in a length of timber. I learned to twist hazel and willow bunds for tying up faggots and bean sticks, "etherin rods" he called them. He showed me how to cleave oak and chestnut palings without wasting timber. Squaring gate posts with an axe with so smooth a surface that they were better in appearance than those planed out at the sawmill. How to tighten a bundle of fascines with two sticks and a short length of rope which he called "the woodmans grip."


The old man was full of country lore and woodcraft, although some of the things that he told me I doubted and others I frankly disbelieved. "Chew that" he once said, handing me a thick crusty knob of hard resin that he had cracked off a knot on an ancient Scots pine tree. "It's good for your water!" On another occasion he showed me a wild rose briar covered with aphids. "I reckon these yer goes down into the ground and turns onto cockchafers," he said with a knowledgeable air. It would have been unkind and unethical to have corrected him. "Elam," I said; "I think you're right … that's just about what they do!" One sultry afternoon in July on Viney Hill a heavy thunder storm came up from the Severn and broke over us as we worked. I took shelter under a large oak tree but Elam stoutly refused to come back into the wood and took shelter in a disused limekiln. He became extremely angry when I remained under the oak and told me that I was risking my life. A tree of those dimensions he said would certainly attract lightening and he would prefer to be soaked to the skin a dozen times than risk sudden death. Eventually when we were both wet through to the tails of our shirts we went our separate ways home but I learned my lesson for the following morning I was shocked to find that the tree under which I had sheltered had been shattered. Splinters of wood and large limbs were scattered over half an acre and the trunk had been split from top to base.


Wherever Elam went he was accompanied by his terrier Carlo. During working hours the dog lay curled up on his master's coat guarding a sack containing ropes, wedges, files and odd pieces of equipment. When the creature was thirsty it would be given water from a bottle which the old man carried with him. Instead of a dish the woodman's battered felt hat would be dented in the crown a little deeper than usual and Carlo would quench his thirst from the depression. Elam worked until he was 72 cutting pitwood during the 1939-45 war for some time after he would have normally retired. When I once asked him his recipe for good health and long life he meditated for a moment and then said … "all I've ever had is hard work, bread and cheese and plenty of cider!" He always came to work on foot and every night on his way home he carried on his shoulder a dead limb which he called a fire stick. This dry branch sometimes 12 feet in length would be sawn part way through at intervals and a sharp knock on the stone steps by the back door as he threw it down on reaching home would crack the limb into a dozen or more dry blocks, sufficient for the night's fuel. GOOD GARDEN His garden was well cultivated and although it became progressively smaller with his advancing years I saw him cutting cabbages at the age of 92 that he had raised and planted himself. Surrounded by woodland, he waged a constant war on the pigeons and jays with an ancient muzzle loader. His technique was to wait for them behind a hedge and fire at them wherever they were feeding through a spy hole he maintained for that purpose. One day as he stalked a young rabbit that hopped slowly along his rows of potatoes I chided him gently for not taking what I considered to be a simple shot early enough. "Go on old butty" I said "don't wait for him to sit down." Elam laughed … "at 92" he replied, "I don't reckon to fire until he does!"


At the age of 93 I saw him eight feet up a ladder knocking a nail into the wall to support a shaky drain pipe and at Christmas 1964 he drew me a glass of cider from a cask that he kept at home to quench his eternal thirst. I last saw my old friend on his 95th birthday, in the spring a year before we buried him at Parkend, in the very centre of the forest he knew so well. He had strolled into the woods to hear the cuckoo, he said, and when I came up to him he was critically watching a young man of 20 felling a large poplar with a chain saw. The noise was deafening and echoed around the valley. During a lull in the operation whilst a wedge was being driven into the cut behind the saw, Elam turned to me and slowly shook his head. "They chainsaws get through some work," he said, "but, surree the rattle as they do kick up puts years on me."

Graham added that Kate was from Littledean Hill.

Angie Brain added: "... I am related to Elam and Kate Ward (nee Brain) as featured in the last photo posting and am interested in contacting anyone else who is also related" (angie_brainAThotmailDOTcom) .

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