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John Coles presented two films after the business part of the society’s 2011 annual general meeting, about one of Glastonbury’s most prominent businesses, the John Snow timber yard.
A sawmill has stood here on the edge of Glastonbury since the 1750s, and it became one of the largest in the country. Timber was pit-sawn — a double-ended saw, with one man on the surface, one down in a pit — until saws powered by steam traction engines took over in the 19th century.
The Great War was a particularly busy period, and there was brisk demand for oak to make wheels for gun carriages. In the Second World War, Snows made shuttering to construct Mulberry Harbour for the D-Day landing. After the war, timber for building purposes was in great demand.
In 1950 Snows took over the sports department of Baily’s tannery and produced cricket bats, tennis racquets and hockey sticks — examples of which were displayed at the meeting.
John Coles started work in 1959 as an apprentice “saw doctor” — the company made its own bandsaws. Large electric motors drove the saws, and their use often resulted in lost fingers.
Norman James was in charge during the 1960s, succeeding his father Frank, who had taken over the business in 1909. The firm provided oak planking for Hampton Court, as well as producing sheds, greenhouses and fence panels besides sawn timber.
The large sawmill closed in 1984, and its machinery went to Ghana. The current operation is owned by Bradfords.
The second film was produced by the BBC in 1962 and showed aspects of Norman James’ work, not only at Snows but also as a prominent town and county councillor and mayor. During his tenure at Snows, five former aircraft hangers were moved to Glastonbury and remain in use today at the timber yard.