:Last month, I promised to tell you about iron chain making. You may not immediately think “Wonderful!” but I hope you will enjoy the following. In the past, I never gave a thought to where chains came from (Hands up, all of you who lie awake wondering where chains come from!) but, now that Head Office and I live only five miles from the area of the Black Country which was for many years the only place in the world making chains, I have become ‘hooked’ and would like to share the knowledge with you all.
Chain making first developed in the Black Country in the late 1700’s and, ever since then, the process has centred on the local towns of Cradley, Cradley Heath, Old Hill, Quarry Bank and Netherton. By the late 1800’s, 90% of all the chain workshops in England and Wales were in the Black Country and the region had the virtual monopoly of iron chain making in the whole world.
The region made chains of all dimensions, one of the specialities being anchor chains and also anchors. For example, Titanic’s anchor and anchor chain were forged in 1910 at Noah Hingley and Son’s works in Netherton (at the time, “The Anchor Capital of the World”) which employed 3,000 men toiling day and night. 603 metres of chain were supplied. The links were 3ft high and needed two men to drag them from the furnace. It required 20 shire horses to pull the 16 tonne chain to Dudley station. The anchor was made of high-grade steel and weighed 16 tonnes. Serious stuff to move around the foundry!
The Black Country foundries ran day and night and produced over 1,000 tonnes of anchors and chains every week. Boys started at 14 and worked until they died, mostly at about 40 years of age. They wore aprons and leather gloves, but burns were common. They developed lung disorders and workers were known for their husky voices and hacking coughs.
At the same time, 3,500 “small chain” makers worked in small shops in Cradley Heath. Most of these were women and children, working in their “brewus” (brew house and wash house built in their back yard) forging smaller chains by hand. Working at the anvil for 12 hours a day, they earned the modern equivalent of about £12 per week making “hand hammered” or “country work” chains. In 1909, the Liberal Government set up a Chain Trade Board which decided that these women should receive a minimum wage which was twice the going rate at the time. The employers refused to pay so The Cradley Heath branch of the newly formed National Federation of Women Workers called a strike which lasted 10 weeks until the last employer agreed to pay the new rate. One of the striking workers was 79-year-old Mrs Patience Round who had “never in her life stepped across the outskirts of Cradley Heath and had worked from dawn to dusk, combining work with the care of her crippled husband”. She asserted after the result “These are wonderful times. I never thought that I should live too assert the rights of women”
The last handmade chains came out of Cradley Heath in 1976 but demonstrations still occur at The Black Country Living Museum which is well worth a day’s visit.
An elderly man had himself fitted with hearing aids. A month later, he returned for review and the audiologist enquired whether the man’s family was pleased that he had the hearing aids. “Oh, I haven’t told them yet but I have changed my will twice!”
A 82 year old man visited his doctor and was warned about his lifestyle. A week later, the doctor was amazed and angry to see the man walking down the road with a gorgeous young woman on his arm. He asked the patient what was going on. “Well” he said, “You told me to get a hot mamma and be cheerful”. “No” said the doctor “I said You’ve got a heart murmur – be careful!”
Two old ladies had been friends for decade. Recently, they had been meeting a few times a week to play cards. One looked embarrassed and said “Don’t be angry with me but I cannot remember your name. I am really sorry. Please remind me of your name”. Her friend just stared at her for three minutes and then asked, “How soon do you want to know?”
An old guy was in a supermarket, looking for his wife, when he bumped into a young man, also looking for his wife. The old man suggested that they could help each other and asked what the younger man’s wife looked like. “Well, she’s 24, tall with blond hair and big blue eyes, long legs, wearing tight white shorts and no bra. What does your wife look like?” “It doesn’t matter, let’s look for yours”.
Best wishes to you all Ian Nisbet