A Yorkshire wheelwright builds a Victorian omnibus in his shed to complete the final 15-year project

It was a project that was to fuel a passion, and then a career, as one of the last wheelwrights in the country fixing those old carts and carts.

Now, after lockdown had the chance to finally complete a project he started 15 years ago, he has made his own horse-drawn Victorian omnibus from century-old plans.

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This is a large scale work, with every inch carved into the craftsmanship. For Mr. Greenwood, 67, it’s a simple art because he sees the wheels in his own way.

Rodney Greenwood who, during lockdown, has finally completed a project he started 15 years ago – building his own horse-drawn Victorian omnibus from century-old plans in his shed in Halifax. Photo Tony Johnson

“I used to call myself a ‘self-taught wheelwright’,” said the grandfather of seven from Halifax. “I can look at that wheel and put it back to what it was.

“It’s very interesting, when you study it, when you look at the material.”

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Mr Greenwood, over 25, estimates he has built over 150 wheels with the expert help of his son Tom.

The omnibus was built from century-old plans. Photo: Tony Johnson.

There are elm hubs for twisted grain, oak spokes for strength, then ash before a hot hoop shrinks it to fit.

In 2019, it was time to empty the family farm. Some 25 wagons, carts and carts were sold in a scatter sale, with only one frame remaining. The Victorian omnibus.

“I started, then I got busy,” he said. ” He left. Long story short, it sat in my shed for 15 years.

“So this is, you might say, the last job I had to finish.”

Rodney Greenwood who, during lockdown, has finally completed a project he started 15 years ago – building his own horse-drawn Victorian omnibus from century-old plans in his shed in Halifax. Photo Tony Johnson

Horse-drawn omnibuses were popular in London around the 1900s, before the arrival of trams, although old photographs suggest they were in use in places like Halifax.

Up to 14 people could have taken a lift to the upper deck, with a dozen below, after standing at the side of the road to hail a ride for “a pittance”.

Today, there are perhaps less than half a dozen original omnibuses left in the country, including four assembled for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

Wheelwright Rodney Greenwood estimates he has built over 150 wheels. Photo: Tony Johnson.

When the lockdown hit, Mr Greenwood got to work. It took six months, with original drawings from a century ago and the help of his eldest grandson, 16-year-old Sam.

Brand new, it shines in London Bus Red, with cream piping and bright royal blue buttoned upholstery. All he needs now, he says, is a team of horses to steer him.

“I had to build it. It’s up and down,” he said. “It is designed to provide rides. He is ready to move on.

Mr. Greenwood and his wife Linda have formed a team over the years, raising their three children Melanie, Kathryn and Tom, while building the business and breeding county horses.

He has restored a number of carts for Yorkshire breweries, such as Sam Smiths, who still make horse and cart deliveries, and recently restored a horse-drawn ambulance.

Rodney Greenwood who, during lockdown, has finally completed a project he started 15 years ago – building his own horse-drawn Victorian omnibus from century-old plans in his shed in Halifax. Photo Tony Johnson

Now retired, he said it was impossible to stop tinkering altogether. From arts and crafts, he said it was a hobby that turned into a passion and grew.

“We had a great time, we think we can go on and on,” he said. “I love doing it, I can’t imagine giving it up.

“In 25 years, it’s a profession that has developed from one to another. From the cart to having horses to use them. I just wish I was 20 years younger.

“The best thing, when you’ve done something like this, is to look back and say ‘it looks good,'” he added. “These trades are lost over time.

“Many years ago there would have been a wheelwright on every street in a city. It is to continue this history and to recreate it.

“Every time I rebuild a wheel that must be 100 years old, I know it’s going to be good for a while.

“As long as people tend to these carts and wagons now, they’ll be around for another 100 years.”

Mr. Greenwood was the third generation to go into the family haulage and coal business, W Greenwood & Sons, founded by his grandfather Walter.

When it was his turn however, he decided to recreate what he had originally been. Then came county horses to breed, and an old carter replicated his grandfather’s.

When the tank was restored, he made others. Along with the horses, he became a breeder of what he and his wife Linda called Camalter Shires, and eventually got them to use them on film sets for Peaky Blinders, The Village and Death Comes to Pemberley.

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Rodney Greenwood who, during lockdown, has finally completed a project he started 15 years ago – building his own horse-drawn Victorian omnibus from century-old plans in his shed in Halifax. Photo Tony Johnson

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