Blacksmiths: The King of all Trades

Why do blacksmith aprons have fringes?

The story goes:
On the 17th of March, A.D. 871, when good King Alfred ruled this land, he called together all the trades (seven in number) and declared his intention of making that trades-man King over all the trades who could best get on without the help of all the others for the longest period. He proclaimed a banquet to which he invited a representative from each trade, and made it a condition that each should bring a specimen of his work, with the tools he used in working it.

The tailor brought his shears and a new coat, the blacksmith brought his hammer and a horseshoe, the baker his peel and a loaf, the shoemaker his awl and a new pair of shoes, the carpenter his saw and a trunk, the butcher his chopper and a joint, and the mason his chisels and a corner-stone.

Now the tailor's coat was of such surpassing beauty of color, and exquisite fashion, that all the guests, with one consent, declared it a marvel of workmanship, and entirely eclipsing the handicraft of all the others. Upon this, the tailor was unanimously pronounced by the good king, and the general company, the fittest to be king of the trades, and was duly installed. This decision made the blacksmith very jealous and angry, and he declared that he would do no more work while the tailor was King; so he shut up his forge and left.

It came to pass that King Alfred was the first to need the services of a blacksmith, his horse threw a shoe, but he could gain no admittance. Then came one trade, then another, in fact all the six, each having broken his tools, thereby preventing him from carrying on his business until he could get them mended. The last of the six who came to grief was the tailor, who had broken his shears and was compelled to stop working. This all happened on the 23rd November (Saint Clement's day) in the same year.

King Alfred and all the trades determined to break open the forge and do the work themselves. So the King began to shoe his horse. The tailor began to mend his shears, and each trade in succession essayed to repair his tools, but all failed. The horse kicked the king and the tailor bruised his fingers. The fire would not burn and everybody got into everybody's way. The butcher began to shove the baker, he shoved the shoemaker, who in turn shoved the carpenter, and the latter revenged himself by shoving the mason, who passed the compliment on to the tailor, until in the general confusion the anvil was knocked over.

At this moment, in walked Saint Clement, with the blacksmith on his arm, the latter looking very angry at the wreck of his once tidy forge. Saint Clement said nothing, but seemed to enjoy the discomfiture of the King and his company.

The King, making a humble bow to Saint Clement and the blacksmith, said “I have made a great mistake in allowing my judgment in this important matter to be governed by the extravagant color and stylish cut of the tailor's coat. In justice to the blacksmith (a trade which none of us can do), I proclaim him King.'

Immediately all the trades, except the tailor (who had been overthrown), begged the blacksmith to mend their tools. So he shod the King's horse, and willingly mended the tools of all who asked him. He even made and presented to the tailor a new pair of shears! This presentation took place at a feast given by the King to celebrate the event, who, in a well-ordered speech, admitted having been taken in by the tailor's beautiful coat, but now felt the greatest pleasure in announcing that for all time the blacksmith should be regarded as the King of all the trades. 'So let us all drink good health, and long life to the jolly blacksmith.'

At this feast, everyone was in good form, except the tailor, whose nose was a bit out of joint, and while the rest were enjoying themselves and singing a song to the blacksmith, he crawled under the table and snipped away at the bottom of the blacksmith’s apron.

That is why, to this day, the king of all trades--the almighty blacksmith--has a fringe at the bottom of the apron.

The Folk-Lore Journal, Volume II, January-December 1884. Published for the Folk-Lore Society by Elliot Stock in Paternoster Row, London. Pages: 322-327.