Arts & Mysteries: Wallington, The Unhappy Turner

Trade dangers revealed in 17th-century journals.

by Peter Follansbee
pgs. 58-61

I thought of Nehemiah Wallington (1598-1658) when I set up my lathe in my nearly finished workshop. A few times a year he pops up in my mind. He was a turner in Puritan-era London, and as unhappy a soul as you might meet.

I know of him through Paul S. Seaver’s book “Wallington’s World: A Puritan Artisan in Seventeenth-Century London” (Stanford UP). Wallington kept journals and notebooks, more than 2,600 pages of which survive, that are the material upon which Seaver wrote his book. While Wallington (and Seaver) concentrated on larger issues of the day – religion and politics among them – I scoured the book for references to Wallington’s trade.

Look Out!
Most of what we find in Seaver’s book mentioning the turner’s trade is about the workshop as a perilous place. Wallington recorded several brushes with near fatalities, and praised God after each close call.

One incident involved an apprentice, Theophilus Ward, who, while “showing chairs in the back room, dislodged a heavy one with his ‘bustling’ about, apparently one at the top of a stack, which crashed down into the shop through the doorway and demolished a powdering tub that Wallington was in the process of selling to another customer. ‘It was God’s great mercy that it hit none of us, for if it had, it would have maimed us, if not killed us.’”

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From the April 2017 issue, #231