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Historical information

Notre Dame Bay ~ Fogo District

Fogo - Layman's Cooper Shop

The following story was published as "Looking Back on Fogo Island" and was written by the late Walter Gard and published in the Lewisporte Pilot Feb 14, 1990.
The information was transcribed by MAUREEN THOMS, 2000. While I have endeavored to be as correct as humanly possible, there could be some typographical errors.
Layman's Cooper Shop, Fogo
Layman's Cooper Shop was a landmark in the town of Fogo for more than 100 years. It was a building of approximately 20 x 30 feet, it's clapboard exterior painted with yellow ochre.

The roof was high pitched and enclosed a loft used for the storage of coopering materials and wood chips used in the firing of casks.

This old shop stood tight against the main road, it's opposite north wall faced the waters of Little Harbour. The entrance was off a lane running by the western end of the shop.

Cooper Shop Employees
Some of those identified in the photo on the left taken in the early 1900's are:
l to r seated: Billy Saunders, Hammy Oake, Heber Noseworthy.
l to r standing: Unidentified, Jack Critch, Unidentified, Unidentified, Jack Brett, Harry Layman Sr, Tony LeDrew.

Three generations of the Layman family carried on the art of coopering there in it's three branches namely, wet, dry and white as the demand for these skills arose.

Coopering ended in this shop, as it did in many others in our province in the mid-1950's, when wooden casks were replaced by containers of other materials and the method of handling Newfoundland produce changed.

The first of the Layman family to ply the coopering trade in Fogo was Thomas William LAYMAN (c 1830-1912 ).

He was already qualified as a cooper prior to his leaving the English west country. The time of his arrival at Fogo is not known at this time but there is a record of his having married a second time in 1861.

Two sons of this marriage were destined to learn the coopering trade from their father and to follow it all of their working lives.

The names of these two sons are HAMILTION LAYMAN (1858 -1918 ) and HENRY ELDRED LAYMAN ( 1874-1954).

The third and last generations of the Layman family to take up the coopering in the old shop was THOMAS LAYMAN (1910-1978). He was the oldest son of HENRY ELDRED LAYMAN.

He continued in all branches of the coopering until the mid 1950's as did my father, James GARD also the third and last of our family to follow the coopering trade, the first having been my great-grandfather Charles GARD who arrived in Fogo from Montacute in Somerset on or about 1848.

HARRY LAYMAN the second son of HENRY ELDRED LAYMAN born in 1913, my friend and informant, recalls his feelings about the family coopering business as we sit in his comfortable kitchen overlooking the Narrows of St. John's Harbour, yarning about many things.

Readers of the Pilot will remember Harry's many contributions to this paper over the past few years dealing with the history of Fogo and since modesty forbids him to tell of his own family's contribution to what he terms " The Athens of the north," I feel that I must take up on myself to do it.

Harry says that the LAYMAN name was recorded in Essex prior to the Norman Conquest of 1006 and was recorded in the Doomsday Book.

One John LAYMAN was Lord Mayor of London in 1616 and a LAYMAN served with Nelson at Trafalgar.

In any event, Harry's grandfather found his way into the Newfoundland trade by way of the west country merchants and as did many of our forebearers transferred his name and skill to this outpost of the British Empire.

Harry spent considerable time in his father's cooper shop during his early years both as an observer and a worker.

He recalls that he "hated it" and took off for greener pastures as soon as education and opportunity provided the means.

He recalls the back-breaking labor that coopering required. The shop was either filled with choking wood smoke or bitterly cold depending upon the weather stock was being dressed or casks were being fired.

The stock was brought into the shop, usually in winter was either sapping wet or covered in ice. It was always full of splinters.

We calculated that to turn this material into one thousand casks would have entailed the sawing to length and joining of approximately twenty thousand linear feet of one by six lumber.

The cooper's income from this work would , in some years, not have been more than $250.00.

Harry tells of having gone to his father as a young boy and asked him for money to go to a "time," this being an event in one of the local halls which probably included a dinner and dance. His father asked how much it was to "get in" whereupon Harry said twenty cents.

After considerable rummaging in the bottom of his purse he gave Harry the twenty cents and said to him "I hope it's nothing to get out my son because if there is you will have to stay in and I need you tomorrow morning in the cooper shop.

Harry also recalls that one winter his uncle Hamiltion became ill and had to spend the winter in bed. Harry's father worked in the cooper shop many nights that winter by lantern light.

When Harry's uncle recovered in the spring and went to the local merchant's office to settle his account he was told that his brother had settled his account in full.

It should be noted here that a cooper's day was from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, six days a week.

To work beyond these hours was a feat of super endurance, unselfishness and brotherly concern.

While on a visit to Fogo in the 1940's Harry was shown a wooden washing tub which his father had given as a wedding present to the woman in whose house he was visiting and it was still in use.

The making of the tub would have occupied the best part of a day. It would have involved careful selection of stock for staves and bottom, jointing, firing, hooping and final finishing. The fact that it was still in use attests to its having been a good job.

The Layman's maintained in addition to their cooper shop, a dwelling across the road, a wharf and a stage behind their cooper shop on the waters of Little Harbour, for landing and storage of coopering stock. They also stored staves and heading out of doors behind their shop.

Horse and Barrels

The Layman's being qualified both in wet and dry coopers each in their turn and generation spent the required time on the merchant's room during the summer in the oil stage where they accepted from the local fishermen their wet products such a pickled salmon, herring and cod oil. Their duties included culling, gauging, and readying these products in tight casks for shipment.

Layman's cooper shop stands no more and few remember where it stood all these years, but we remember with pride the works of these craftsmen, their fortitude and the unselfishness with which they carried out their daily tasks " In that state of life unto which they had been called."

My own LAYMAN research has revealed that my Great Great Grandfather Thomas William Layman was born in 1823 in England. He was the grandson of William LAYMAN ( 1768 - 1826) and Elizabeth PERRY. Thomas William LAYMAN came to Fogo Island as a young man and married Bridget PICKETT on November 3, 1849 in Tilting Harbour, Nf. Bridget PICKETT was born 1826 in Fogo, Nf and was the daughter John PICKETT and Mary REARDON. Children of Thomas William and Bridget LAYMAN are : William (my great grandfather who married Agnes SHEA ), Francis, Thomas, Alice, Bridget, Richard. As far as we know Bridget Layman died in childbirth at the age of 33. There is record of Thomas William LAYMAN marrying a second time to Elizabeth FOSTER of St. John's on March 27, 1861. Children from second marriage are: Hamiltion, Edmund, Horatious, Althea, Loretta, Emma, Sarah, Stanley, Edwin, Frederica and Henry Eldred. I feel very strongly because of the children's names that there is a family tie to Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton to my LAYMAN family. Also William Layman (1768-1826) was a commander in the navy, under Lord Admiral Nelson. Admiral Nelson was quoted as saying "I rather lose a dozen ships than lose a William Layman". Maureen Thoms February 29, 2000

© Maureen Thoms and NL GenWeb
Fogo District