The Black-Country in the 1920s
The Old Hill Iron Company, Powke Lane
Nailed to the poverty line
Rowley before the Industrial Revolution.
The employment of Women in the Black Country
Life and nail-making in Rowley during the Industrial Revolution.
Nail Making in Rowley Village circa 1860.
Attitude to the Poor in Rowley
A Black Country scene.
The Fogger, the Nail Shop and the method for making small nails.
Education, or lack of it, in 1861.
An accident at Rowley Hall Colliery.
The Bull Terrier and cruel Black Country passtimes
The Photograph of William Perry the Tipton Slasher
The Tump Colliery
Don't forget to visit the links page for links to videos of Nail and chain and anchor making.
I can do no better than let J Wilson Jones who wrote the invaluable “History of the Black Country” with special reference to Rowley, set the scene for this section. His reminisces from a childhood in his adopted Black Country will be recognised by many and be an education to others. He begins by explaining that in popular culture this area is depicted as a black and desolate place inhabited by the barely civilised, yet that was not his experience….
”In 1921 I left London at 5 years of age to live in the Black Country at Rowley Regis.To break the shock of leaving my early home upon the death of my mother the Black Country had been described to me as “a place where people went up tunnels to their houses” and one could climb the high pit “bonks” for blackberries. 1921 was a most fortunate time to arrive in the Black Country. In Rowley Regis the majority of its 30 pits were still working soon to be silent in the National Coal Strike and never work again. Across the valley the view from the Rowley Hills was an astonishing site, a dozen blast furnaces poured their flame and sparks into the night sky. Old Hill iron works were in full production and the canals busy with barges. The mineral railways, relics of the late nineteenth century iron age, still remained. The Black Country remained in 1921 to a great extent as it looked in 1821. No new housing estates had been built and it could be said that the desolation would be worse than Dickens ever knew, but I experienced no desire to run away from it. No natural parks or public playing fields can ever give the enjoyment the children experienced in those days, there was no feeling of squalor or horror, the pools among the slag hills and marl holes contained fish, it needed only juvenile imagination to turn the “jack bannock” into a shark or a wooden raft into a ship. The pit “bonks” were mountains and in Rowley they were so placed that it was possible to travel from Rowley to Cradley Heath, over two and a half miles, without to touching a street. Every child seemed contented and happy, the “bonks”, such as the “quack” at Rowley, provided football pitches, toboggan runs using old baths; camping sites, having borrowed mothers brewing bags for tents; battle grounds, using the old pit holes, and if persecution in the form of a policeman followed they could easily be eluded by using the tracks that we alone knew. The children with whom I went o school were from working class homes but they were clean well dressed and well fed, many of them passed scholarships and later attended secondary schools. They never were the unkempt savages of Black desolation.
As a child I knew every pit, every “bonk”, every wharf ,and every lane. At an early age I took interest in the Black Country – it seemed romantic. The place name’s , the derelict factories and the people interested me deeply and fortunately I was so placed that information could be gathered at first hand. In 1924 many relations had lived through the development period of the Black Country. My grandfather born in 1834 only 12 years after the enclosure maps was living. People were still living who knew when Rowley, Oldbury, Old Hill and Cradley had been farm lands and fields, they had fished for trout where the present day streams were dark and polluted. These people were Black Country and had made its history.
The strangest day of the week was Sunday, it was a Black Country tradition to attend Sunday school and Church. The children received their yearly new suit or dress upon their Sunday School Anniversary. No work and certainly no play were the Sabbath day order. In the evening accompanied by one’s parents, it was customary to visit grammars and here the real history of the Black Country could be gathered. I have listened to four old ladies one born in 1839, one in 1844, one in 1845 and the other in 1847 telling their stories. One old lady had been sold as bond servant at Halesowen cross and had received three pence per day wages, another had been employed down mines, harnessed like a horse and drawing tubs. They had all been nailers and had walked three miles to fetch iron, laboured 109 hours weekly for 1.1/2 pence per hour, raised 11 children and saved enough to be owners of three houses. The Black Country they said, had not been so black in their childhood, there were green fields, blackberries; lakes and streams where derelict iron works now stood. Indeed it would be difficult to see how the Black Country could have presented a scene of desolation to Dickens (his Curiosity Shop was published in 1840) and much of Rowley Regis, Dudley, Oldbury and West Bromwich were farmlands. The maps of 1821 show very little built up areas. They explained that industrialists of 1850-1870 had constructed pits wherever they struck coal and built houses as near the works as possible. Recreational hours were unknown and children did part time work from seven years of age. School was voluntary and the majority could not read.
Every Black Country home resembled its neighbour, the long entry the nail-shop and brew-house joined by a blue stoned foad. Houses were usually in threes with an open yard, one ash-pit and one lavatory. The interior, usually two rooms up and two rooms down with a large red quarried cellar seemed dark and dowdy: the wallpaper was of a gaudy flower covered pattern renewed very twelve years or so if the landlord was of a beneficent nature. The front room contained its aspidistra, the harmonium, brass fire irons a gaudy screen a podged rug and two large pictures of “Dawn in the Highlands”. The living room usually had a glass case full of souveniers bearing seaside coat of arms, models of ducks, hens and bull terriers and the wedding china that must never be touched. The fire grate was an example of craftsman’s art, flower patterns weaved in cast iron over every available space and it was black-leaded by the housewife with the devotion of a vestal virgin. Household labour seemed their only joy, there were copper kettles, brass candlesticks, copper gale hooks, black-leaded flower baskets and a large mirror over the fireplace; there was tth ess hole to be emptied each week, red quarries to be cleaned with a special stone, the knives and forks to be cleaned with “Brasso” and sharpened weekly. Every home had its religious picture of “Rock of Ages” or “The Gentle Shepherd” or “Christ upon the Water” and every home had its “Sunday at Home” and Family Bible library.
With eleven children to rear as well, I never knew these Black Country women to be resting and yet they were always singing on 15 shillings each week.
In sport Black Country men were inclined to be blood thirsty for they had not long developed from the cruel bull baiting stage and many secret cock fights took place on the Rowley Hills, Football amongst local teams resembled a rapid kick shins game with cries of “ommer im” or “kill im” from the spectators. They lived hard, worked hard, prayed hard, swore hard and died hard.
The Black Country dress remained unique even as late as 1925. The dress of the nail- making woman being masculine, large black lace up boots, woollen stockings, long black skirt with a plaid shawl and bare arms, upon their head a man’s cap and often a clay pipe in their mouths. The women were haggard and thin, frequent child bearing having left its mark, or at the other extreme shapeless and stout. The Black Country man typified in the description of Harry Hodgets of Rowley, a chain maker, pidgeon flyer, and cock fighter. Every Sunday morning I see him seated at the open door. He has grown too stout for walking now, the three hair covered chins overhang his collar , the old nail makers shirt of red and green check rolled up to the elbows, the great leather belt fastened with its strong brass buckle, used efficiently in younger days to correct his nine sons and his dirty half broken clay pipe proclaim him as a nailer of he old school. His wrinkled face has a weather beaten redness, his blue eyes have never cowed to any” mon” and his voice booms with the conviction that he alone is right. Many years ago his heavy iron fists, strong as the iron he has bent for 50 years, would have added weight to his arguments. Harry Hodgets had always been a drinker and his blue bulbous nose tells its own story. He sits there from morning until dusk a monument to hard living, hard drinking days talking of cock fights he organised and pointing out a long dark scar on his left cheek, a relic from a fight with the village policeman 30 years ago. The brown corduroy trousers buckled with string, and large heavy booted flat feet complete a picture of the typical Black Country man of the iron age of Queen Victoria.”
Nothing sums up what happened to the Black Country during the industrial revolution better than this picture. It shows the Old Hill Iron Company from the air in 1920. At the top of the picture one can see farm land and meadows merging with the giant factory, the farm land is land adjoining Moor Lane which can be seen snaking up the right of the picture today this is the area of the Brickhouse Estate and Rowley Regis hospital, Moor lane is an ancient pathway which ends in Siviters lane and Rowley Village, on the left of Moor lane is an old clay pit and further up there are farm houses, the land at the top of the picture would be Hawes Hill leading to the village and St Giles church today Hawes Hill is the sight of St Michaels senior school. The Road that runs through the Iron Works is Powke lane coming from Blackheath, the road or track that leads off Powke Lane under the smoke toward the top of the picture on the right is Doulton Road or as it was known "Pig Lane", you can also see Dudley number 2 canal running across the top third of the picture.
Link To Britain from above. <a href="http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW005074" mce_href="http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW005074" title="Oldhill Iron Works, Blackheath, 1920 - Britain from Above">Oldhill Iron Works, Blackheath, 1920 - Britain from Above</a>
Nailed to the Poverty Line - Nail Making in the Black Country
“From morn till night, from early light, we toil for little pay," was the first line of a well-known nail-making song. It was a line that summed up conditions in a trade where poverty was a way of life. Nail making became a competitive industry in the 17th century and for decades the Black Country revelled in its new found wealth. But the profits made from nail making hid behind them an exploitation of workers that had never been so severe before. As the nail-masters rejoiced in their enormous wealth, workers toiled for hours in hot, cramped conditions. Nailing shops were usually about ten feet square, ventilated through the door and lighted by one or two unglazed windows. Unlike the chain-making shops the fire was usually in the centre and often three or four families would crowd around the forge.
People worked together and in many cases lived together, with a few families sharing a tiny two-roomed house. An excerpt from the Illustrated Midland News told of a reporter's visit to a typical nail-maker's house:
"Parson's house consists of two rooms, one up and one downstairs, with a shop adjoining. In the lower room sat Parson's wife sewing. Their daughter, who appeared to be about 15, was sitting by the grate, huddled up in a shawl; nothing else.
The youngest child about four years - old was playing about the room. “Look here Sir!' said Parsons, whipping the child up in his arms and half crying, “look at her, poor dear, with hardly a bit of shoe leather to her feet.”
To detail everything in the room were a light task, one round table with a small basin on it, some poor tattered clothes, hung up to dry, a pannikin on the hob, a teapot and one or two cups, a rough wooden couch, destitute of covering. That was all. The mortar showed through the bare walls. The only neat looking article in the room was the polished grate.
The bedroom is about fifteen feet by nine. It contains a rough four-poster bedstead with bare poles, battered sacking, one miserable sheet and a bolster of the most attenuation.
There is a ‘shakedown’ - a flock mattress, with no sheets, blankets or bed covering whatever, if you except a dirty sheet about the size of a man's pocket handkerchief, and so tattered and torn as to be useless for the purpose of covering”. There is an empty grate, that is all. "In this wretched 15 x 9, five persons sleep nightly - the father, the mother, and three children aged respectively 20 (the son), 15 and nearly 4."
The houses were a reflection of the extreme poverty that most nailers had to live with. Many of them couldn't even afford to buy food. The excerpt went on: "Parsons assured me that he did not know the taste of meat; they mostly had cup of tea and some bread for breakfast, and dinner little else.
"But they bear their starvation bravely. You may walk through Bakers -fold a dozen times in a day if the sight does not sicken you, and never be asked for a halfpenny in charity!”
The Nail Shop. “A typical nail shop was usually about ten or twelve feet square with one door and one or two unglazed windows. The nail shop had a central hearth or fire ( this differed from a chain shop which had the hearths around the walls ) so that all the family could work independently of each other but using just one fire thus saving on fuel. There could be as many as six working round one fire. Nailers usually either rented or owned their own shop but a nailer who for some reason had no shop of his own, could rent a "standing" from a fellow nailer and share the fire to carry on making nails. Nailers provided their own tools, These were not numerous or expensive. The bellows, a small block or anvil, sharpening tools and for nailers making large nails, "the Oliver". The Midland Mining Commission report of 1843 includes this description:- "The best forges are little brick shops of about 15 feet by 12 feet in which seven or eight individuals constantly work together with no ventilation except the door and two slits, a loop-hole in the wall. The majority of these workplaces are very much smaller and filthy dirty and on looking in upon one of them when the fire is not lighted presents the appearance of a dilapidated coal-hole. In the dirty den there are commonly at work, a man and his wife and daughter, with a boy or girl hired by the year. Sometimes the wife carries on the forge with the aid of the children. The filthiness of the ground, the half-ragged, half-naked, unwashed persons at work, and the hot smoke, ashes, water and clouds of dust are really dreadful".
Hunger and poverty increased when machinery started to take over the industry after about 1830. The backyard nailers began to sink lower and lower down the earnings' scale but there wasn't very much they could do about it. They were too widespread to form a competent union even though the history of nail making is laced with strikes. Verses from a poem by Samuel Salt read:
"The nailers are now again on strike,
through being served with such tricks they don't like.
Nailers have been on strike for many weeks:
this is caused through the masters' shameful tricks.
"But if the strike lasts long I do dread,
many poor children will cry out for bread.
Oh! How hard when children are took to bed,
for them to say, 'Oh! mother we want bread’".
One of the most spirited of all the revolts was in the spring of 1842. Nailers actually seized several nail masters and marched them from Old Hill to Dudley where the Riot Act was read. The militia from Birmingham were called out and the nailers made special nails called 'Tis as it is as it was’, to slow down the horses. The tiswas nails were made by putting three nails together so that whichever way it was thrown a sharp point would always be sticking up.But the tiswas nails didn't stop the militia. The masters were eventually released and the mob of nail makers driven from the town.
“Around this time machinery for nailmaking was being developed, first the cast nail in 1780, and in 1811 cut nails began to be manufactured in Birmingham. By 1830 they were being produced in large numbers, Hand-made nails were also being imported in increasing amounts from Belgium adding to the distress of the nailers. During the "Hungry Forties" the people in the nail trade suffered terribly and by 1842 many of them were dying of starvation. The Worcestershire Guardian of 16th April 1842 stated that the nail trade in Bromsgrove and Stourbridge is so deplorable that at the petty sessions, held on Tuesday at the former place, the magistrates urged the surveyor to employ as many of the nailers upon the roads as he possibly could, remarking that they could not be permitted to starve and that it was not relief for one day that they required but every day till the trade turned, though when that may be we know not. The nailmasters replied by reducing the already low wages another 20% and just over a week later the nailers rioted. Several thousand from all the nailing districts proceeded to march on Dudley where there was to be a meeting of the nailmasters. On the way the nailers visited a number of warehouses and forced the masters to go with them as prisoners. They also slashed the bellows of any nailers found working. On arrival at Dudley the nailers were forced to hold a conference with delegates of the nailers but the nailers had been tricked. Help had been sent for and while the conference was being held a troop of cavalry arrived with sabres drawn. The rioters were dispersed and several were arrested and sent to Worcester to await trial. Over the next few days the cavalry was reinforced by troops bought into the area from other counties, Even pieces of artillery were bought into Dudley. From time to time there were clashes between the troops and the nailers who used their hammers as clubs. They used what was known locally as a "tiswas", this consisted of three nails welded together in such a way that when thrown upon the ground one point would always stick up. These were thrown under the horses of the charging cavalry crippling the horses and throwing their riders off. Gradually the riots were brought under control and the authorities distributed loaves of bread and other food to the people. The prisoners were taken to Worcester and given reasonably light sentences after the court had heard their plea of Starvation.”
The nail makers never benefited very much from the strikes because they were up against such tough opposition. And the only result was often an increase in poverty, illness and death. Deaths like Parson's ten-month-old baby who died because of the strike in 1869.
Infant mortality was always high among the nailers and it is said that in Lye the situation was so bad that the babies were actually fed to the pigs. A piece written by Walter B. Woodgate in 1865 read:
"The Lye Waste boasted that Coroner's inquests on infanticide were unknown in its area. There's some truth in the taunt, despite the notorious immorality of the district, but the solution was simple. Most Lye Wasters kept pigs; if there chanced to be a superfluous baby the family pig was kept on short commons for a day or so. Then the infant (somehow) fell into the sty, and in half an hour no coroner could have found, any remains to 'sit upon’".
The children who did survive grew up to take over in their parents' footsteps. Many of them would start making hobs or shoe bills at the, age of about seven with the promise,
“I will give you a penny for the first red hot nail you make."
It wasn't very often that the children escaped the nail-making shops until the age of 11 when they left school officially. Parents couldn't afford to let their children go to school. When they stopped going the school inspector would call once and then cross them off the register. Life a pre-determined pattern and women left their feminity behind to go into the nail-making shops.
“Some only got 7/- a week”.
The remarkable difference between rich and poor was never so marked as in the nail-making industry. The real profit from the trade went to nail-masters and the nailers themselves worked long hours every day for a poverty wage. The masters kept a warehouse and distributed the iron to workers who would take it to their small backyard shops and come back with the finished result. They were never paid more than a few shillings every week. An extract from the Illustrated Midland News on September 18, 1869 reads:
"The men have to work very hard to get as much as 10/- every week. Out of that 10/- it will cost a man for carriage of iron, firing and materials, I/- per week. At 16/-' in the pound, I take up 8/- at my house, a close place I have got a wife and three children, others have seven or eight. And where I get 10/- there are many as can't get 6/- and their families are the same as mine. I know a man that has seven children. He cannot earn more than 7/- every week and he shall work his hardest twelve hours a day. Our rent is on average for shop and house 2/- per week."
But the real exploitation was carried out by a middle-man, called ‘the fogger’, who usually owned a pub or tommy shop. The foggers preyed on the nailers by supplying them with iron on credit and then buying back the nails with cheques, which had to be spent in their, ‘truck shops’. An extract from "Walks in the Black Country and It's Green Borderland” by Elihu Buritt reads:
"Numerous workmen prefer to sell their nails at the ‘truck shop’ every day, and in many instances at every meal. "It is a well known fact that at present more than one - half of the hand made nails are paid for "in truck" but such nails are of very inferior quality, thereby injuring the prestige of the English hand - made nail in foreign markets."
From Geraldine Sheridan - with additional material
Rowley before the industrial revolution.
Before the industrial revolution, Rowley Regis was notable for its large number of closes and lack of common arable land, many inhabitants combined animal husbandry on a small scale with woodland management and small metalwork many dwellings having their own forge, what follows explains this and gives an insight into the way of life before the industrial revolution. Rowley village retained vestiges of its rural past even into the 20th Century .
“Although Staffordshire lay outside the main champion region of the English midlands, regular three-field systems and mixed farming economies predominated in the lowlands of the southern part of the county, where the best arable soils occurred.
Even there, however, the common fields were a far less significant element in the agrarian landscape than, for example, in the champion region of Warwickshire. 1° The farming
systems of the plateau showed all the diversity to be expected in an upland area of mixed, and
generally infertile soils. The number of common fields varied from two at West Bromwich to six at Sedgley, while some townships, such as Rowley Regis on the central ridge, lacked open arable complete”
Source; Survey of the Manor of Rowley Regis, 1556 , Staffs, Hist
Coil, 1936. The names of closes here powerfully suggest
the bleakness of the area: Bare Moor, The Heath, Hell
Meadow, Caldmore, Windyhurst
“A large proportion of families in south Staffordshire had little or no arable land, and depended largely upon stock rearing. The stock value percentages show this to have been the case, and this situation became steadily more common as the population increased. Of the poorer, landless families,it seems that many took up subsidiary crafts, particularly nail-making and other
small metal manufactures (Jews Harps for instance), to supplement their income sufficiently to buy corn.Figures from the probate inventories show that the metal-workers generally had some stock,but not enough to make a living from stock rearing or grazing alone. Before 1600 the. average metal-worker, with five or six cows and a few sheep in a close attached to his cottage, or grazing on the waste, and two pigs foraging for food, must never have lacked the staples of country life -- milk,cheese and bacon. His trade provided him with cash to buy bread and other necessities and he was probably prosperous enough to own a horse. At this point in the history of Staffordshire the financial situation of the craftsman must have been a happy one compared with the landless labourer who had no subsidiary trade. At this period, too, the symbiotic relationship between agriculture and industry had not broken down and few craftsmen relied solely on nail-making for a living. Thereby they avoided the worst effects of the constant downward pressure upon wages which was to depress the living standards of craftsmen in the following century.”
From “Metal Workers and Agriculture” Yeomen and Metalcraft in the dual economy of South Stafforshire. Pauline Frost
The Employment of Women
Report by Eliza Orme (Senior Assistant Commissioner) in the Condition
of Women in the Nail, Chain, and Bolt Industries in the Black Country.
Eliza Orme was asked by the chairman of the Royal Commission on Labour
to visit this area and examine the condition of women She describes
23 visits to women workers In general she confirms the evidence before
the commission, but she is rather sceptical of some of it, in general
blaming much upon the women themselves Most of the trades examined
were quickly being mechanized. 'The steady approach of a time when all
but a few workers in some special hand-made articles will be replaced
by machinery seems recognized by the women as well as the men, but
they have not the mental power to draw from this fact the necessity of
bringing up their children in another trade. The idea of abolishing
womens1 labour in these tradesseemed a parrot cry and none of the women
either complained of the hours or hardness of the work.
'The custom of early marriage, followed by the continuance of the young
people in their parents' home is very general ..there was no
prostitution- If the law interfered with the earnings of married women,
it seems probable that these young girls would -evade the law by
avoiding the legal ceremony of marriage. The homes the boys and girls
are brought up in are over-crowded. Their intercourse, at any rate
after working hours, is entirely unrestricted by the presence of older
persons, and every condition of their lives is such as to account for
a tendency to early marriage. This tendency has been sufficiently
strong to overcome the usual English practice of making a home first,'
"I cannot close this report without recording my astonishment at the
unsuitable dress worn by these workers. Instead of a short skirt with
a leather apron to guard 'them from the edge of the forge, comfortable
broad soled shoes without heels, and a loose cool jacket, they wear
the worn-out Sunday frock, ragged, burned, and heat-stained, tight stays,
high heeled shoes, and a bit of sacking pinned over the skirt completing
the untidiness. When they are hot they loosen the throat of the dress
and this increases the unseemliness of their general appearance. A
class for teaching the simple rules of health, and a supply of suitable
garments at cost price, are schemes well worthy of attention of kindhearted
ladies who wish to better the condition of the women in the
Here are extracts from Eliza Orme's description of visits. They
considerably add to the stark picture given in -evidence by the men.
First Visit - Miss Mary Ann Tibbets, a woman between 50 and 60,
works in a shop with five hearths. Her brother and two nephews make heavy
cart chains, swivels and screws. She and her niece make "back-band"
chains and other chains from 5/16ths. iron. The men are assisted by
a girl of.13, who blows at 3s. per week. M.A. Tibbets does not work
constantly, as she takes care of the home built by her grand-father,
and in the neatness of which she takes great pride. She was kept at
school till she was 16 years of age, and showed us a large piece of
fancy work (a crochet counterpane) which her father had encouraged her
to complete. The furniture was comfortable and the meal which she and
her brother were taking during say visit was decently served.
Third Visit -Mrsc Jane Cole works at a hearth which she rents in
another person's shop. She is 42 years of age, and has had 12 children,
of which four are dead, I saw one, a small stunted child of four. She
had him seated near her on the heap of fuel from which she replenished
her forge fire. She works for middlemen, and her earnings are variable.
Fourth Visit - Mrs. Haddington had a shop with four hearths. She
employs her daughters and other women. I saw one young girl she was
teaching. This woman had given evidence in London, and is strongly
opposed to any interference with the hours or kind of work done by
women. Mr. Smith assured me she is a kind of "fogger", and does little
work herself. She did some chain-making in my presence, but appeared
stiff and awkward in comparison with the rest. The work done in her
shop consists of heavy chains, 5/16ths. and larger. Her home was clean
and comfortable. She only works four days a week, reserving Monday for
washing and Saturday for cleaning. She disposes of the chains to a
large factory owner, and appears proud of being employed by him. Her
husband is a collier, recently out of work from illness. She has had
13 children, and brought them up in the shop. the plan of hiring a
nurse-girl she tried, and found the children were better off in the
shop and more kindly treated, Her custom has always been to continue
in the workshop until she was actually in labour, and to rest for three
weeks or a month after the child was born. I urged the advisability of
sending her daughters to domestic service instead of bringing them up in
chain-making, but she said they were too timid to leave her care. I
saw a married daughter who looked about 35. She had had 11 children,
of whom only two are living. Mrs. Haddington followed me after I left
the shop and made it difficult to obtain independent evidence from her
Sixth Visit - Mr. Hackett has a large workshop which is called a factory.
His wife works hard in packing the goods and looking after the home
and children. Hackett only overlooks the shop. His inability to read
and write prevents him from doing as well as he might. The work he sends
out is inferior and chiefly done by apprentices. I saw a girl of 13
years of age who looked about 10 One girl making fine chain had been
there for nine years. Her hands were dark brown, but she told me the
stain washed off easily and the skin was soft. I talked with her for
some time, and found her gentle and refined of voice and manner. She
can earn 12s. a week. Hacketts apprentices are from 13 to 15 years of
age. I saw a specimen indenture, requiring three ironths work without
pay, one year at 2s.6d. per week, and a second year at 4s.6d. a week.
Seventh Visit -the foreman who has minded the shop told me that
some time since he had great trouble with a gang of immoral girls from
Dudley. He spcke of it as an exception.
Eighth Visit - Stevens factory is the largest one I saw. It consists
of several shops, the largest containing 20 hearths with men and women
working in it. Mrs Stevens showed me over the premises. She is a
middle-aged woman, well-dressed, kind in manner, and apparently on
friendly terms with the girls employed. She and (her husband, with
several children, live close to the factory, and she is often in and
out. She comes in at 7.0 p.m closing time, to see that none of the
hands remain in the shop. She assured me that in winter lamps were
used in the shops, so that the men and girls were never expected to work
with only the light of the forge fires. She used to overlook the shop
herself, but has now given up doing so. In the large shop a young
unmarried man was the person in charge. The apprentices blow when the
men require the help, and this is only now and then Apprentices are
taken to secure a regular supply of labour, but are not profitable as
they spoil so much material, I saw an unmarried girl of 23 making fine
chain. All sorts of chain are made in the shop, and Stevens has a large
export trade. For fine work the girls earn from 8s. to 12s. a week.
They count on an average of 10s.6d, Coarse chains only make from 7s. to
10s. a week. The girls at work in the polishing dnd blackening room earn
from 10s to 12s. a week, and often have shorter hours. I was told by
neighbours that the sanitary arrangements at Stevens factory were very
bad. Until a abort time ago the only sanitary accommodation was at a
considerable distance from the shops on the other side of the dwelling
house. Now there is one closet in a field about 200 yards from the shops.
Mrs. Stevens told me the girls could leave the shop without question,
but the neighbours said this was untrue, and that girls had fainted and
had had fits in consequence of the long hours of confinement in the
shop Mrs. Stevens told us she allowed no bad language in the factory;
that the girls dressed well on Sundays and holidays; that she allowed
them half a day now and then; that she had never known any immorality
among her workers. She never employs married women, and has about 50
girls in the factory including apprentices'
Tenth Visit - The wife of a collier works by herself in a small shop.
Her husband is in the infirmary, having lost his foot in an accident.
She earns 7s. a week and has 3s. from the parish when her husband is
in the infirmary and 4s a week when he is at home. She only works
five days a week, as the infirmary rules compel her to fetch her husband's
clothes to wash. Her house rent is 3s.6d per week, wages of nurse
girl 2s. per week, leaving 4s.6d. only for food etc. She has four small
children. The youngest, a year old, she was suckling when I saw her.
One child died from lung complaint, which she said could not be helped
when infants spend the day in a heated shop and were carried home through
the cold air at night, Another child was burned to death by falling
into a fire in a neighbouring factory when she was not by.The home was
desolate and the woman looked quite worn out.
Twelfth Visit ~ James Basterfield's nail factory consists of several
shops in which men and girls work together. They make nails of various
sizes and the women "head" as well as "point" using the Oliver. Basterfield
considers it a great saving of labour for the women when used on hot
irony but he objects to women using it for the purpose of snapping cold
iron. The jar in the latter case he thinks gives an injurious shock, and
he asserts that he does not allow his female workers to cut cold iron for
this reason. Mr. Guest warned me that this was probably untrue*...,.
Thirteenth Visit - Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Price work together at two hearths.
They make large nails, the man cutting and heading, the woman pointing.
They were both using olivers and they agreed that the womans task would
be much easier if the Oliver had a heavier head. She had to exert more
force because she could not afford a larger one. They complained of a
scarcity of work and low pay, and said that after paying for coals and
tools it was very hard to feed the family. The man favours prohibition
of women's work by law, as he says their work lowers prices. This man's
first wife was consumptive, and three of her children are living. One
is brought up by its grandparents. The other two I saw in the home
adjoining the workshop. One is 15 years of age, and the other a little
younger, but they are the size of infants only a few years old. They
are hopelessly diseased and the younger quite an idiot. They sit by
the kitchen fire all day "very good and quiet" the step-mother said.
By his present wife the man has seven children. I saw one boy of about
five years old, a hearty little fellow learning to make nails on a tiny
forge his father had made him. The father regretted that compulsory education
in school prevented his children learning nail-making from early childhood.
The home was small but not comfortless as most in the district, and the
wife kept it in order in the intervals of her nail-making. She and her
husband were 37 years of age.
Sixteenth Visit - Mr. Homers factory with several shops. Homer ordered
us off directly, so that I could only take a glance. The girls stopped
working directly we approached* I asked one what she was waiting for, and
she said she had no iron, but there was plenty near her forge. The men
and girls were working together and there was no supervision by any
older person or overlooker...
Eighteenth Visit - Two sisters working in a small shop making long nails.
One is married to a man who makes ship cables. She has a child five years
of age taken care of by her mother. She is the only
woman I saw suitably dressed for the work she was doing. She wore a
short skirt of thick material and a light cotton jacket, at once decent,
cool and loose. The two sisters had each an Oliver, one pointing and
the other heading They like the work and find no ill effects from it.
They appear to he in excellent health and are well formed and pleasant
in manner and appearance.'
Twentieth Visit -A small factory consisting of several shops in which
men and girls work at large staples for American railroads. The Olivers
used for cutting the cold iron were worked by a man and woman at each*
The strain seemed great, and a spring or jump on the treadle appeared
necessary. A young fellow, the son-in-law of the proprietor, was
superintending the work I saw a girl jumping on the Oliver with
him and afterwards pointing nails.
Examined Mr. George Green (nail and chain manufacturer of Oldhill) and
Mr. J. Russell (nail and edge tool manufacturer of Dudley under the name
of Swindell and Co.) They gave evidence for the Dudley Chamber of
Commerce, Green said that prices were depressed by freelance nailers
using their own iron and selling to foggers at low prices in slack
periods. The prices spread through the trade and then led to strikes.
While the employers tried to work together they had no permanent association,
He said that many strikes were virtually at the bidding of the leading
employers to bring the people who bought cheap iron to heel.
Strikes rarely hurt trade for they helped the warehouses to sell stock.
But strikes were leading to an increased popularity of machine-made nails.
He favoured an agreed list price and the enforcing of it.
'Nail-making is a peculiar trade - it is a sort of family trade
and the father and the mother, and the children work together in one
shop. ...Practically everyone is under the control of the father in the
nail trade, but with regard to the chains the man has a large shop, and
perhaps 8 or 10 nailers, and sometimes he goes in for a lot of apprentices,
and of these one can make the common links, and the man himself will
make the better class of links, and he will have another man fixing them
together. It is more complicated than the nail trade.
Do you think the condition of things you have described is in
part attributable to the machine-made nails superseding hand-made nails?
- There is no doubt about it,
I gathered from your evidence that on the whole you were of the
opinion that the wages of the nail-makers are seldom what would be
sufficient to maintain a family comfortably? - I would not say that. I
know, taking them altogether, the nailers do not cut an unpleasant figure;
for those who know them, and live amongst them know that if they do not
earn much per week their habits from early life have been so economical
that I believe it is an understood thing in the district that many small
grocers and little shopkeepers will give them credit more willingly than
miners and iron workers who get much more money One year with another.
The nailers accounts are looked upon with as much favour as the accounts
of these other classes, who get heaps of money, and perhaps get into
habits of extravagance, and are not to be relied upon from week to week
like the poor nailer'S.
A strike in your district, if I understand you correctly, is a
cessation of labour agreed upon mutually by employers and workmen? - Yes.
(Questions were asked to discover whether there Were not too many workers
in the trade).
What part of the real work of nail production do the women do? They
make small hob-neils such as are driven into shoes.
What are the largest size of nail made by women? - About 5 Ibs.
to a thousand in these hob-nails, but they will work up to 10 Ibs. with
Do they take any part in the production if heavier nails?
Not the heavier nails in connexion with the general nail trade. There
is one part of the trade spike-making9 where they hare to forge the
points with an Oliver.
And they hare to use heavy hammers? - They use a heavy hammer.
The hammer is an Oliver that is worked easily by the foot.
Have you instances where men snd women produce the same
nails or similar nails? - There are some cases where men make what we
call women's nails, but hardly any cases where women make what are called
Is there a difference in the price paid to the women for making
the nails that are actually made by men? - No. They are paid the same wage? - The same payment*
20.120. Then what accounts for the difference in the wages paid to men
and women? - That has come about gradually It always haas been so. The
women have never been able to get as much per week out of a week's work
which they do as men have been able to get so far back as I know, and
I believe it is the same in other trades.
Is the woman able to produce the same amount of small nails as
the man is? - Yes, sone women will. Of course' she must be an exceptional
Then the difference of 70 or 80 per cent, in the wages is rather
the result of custom that has grows up in the district than anything else? ~
Yes. I think it has arisen in this way The men's wage had to be tempered
according to what a man had necessarily to earn. A man, as a rule, has
had to keep a family, and the woman has never had to keep anyone,....
(There was a long discussion of how workers and employers met, the lack
of a formal structure, the lack of an arbitrator. It was a fact that the
nail employers did not like combining.).
As to the qualification
necessary to make nails you do not think it could be classed among the
high-class handicrafts of the country? - No.
Mr. Bussell was then examinied, '....if the men can be combined in union, and if they work
together as some unions do, not for the abuse of the trade but to protect
their own interests, 'The nail trade is so different from most trades because the
surplus labour from other trades when they ere bad flow to it.'
(A board of wages was formed in 1880, but it did not last a year.
Underselling broke it).
Could not the nail manufacturers supercede the fogger? - No,
there are many nailers who,I am sorry say, will not work for a
warehouse because warehouses cannot be opened to receive work day by
day. We give the poorest the opportunity..of giving in their work, and
we open the warehouse twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday, in one
district,'but many nailers are not satisfied with taking their work
twice a week, but they will take it to the focger twice a day, and
they will always remain poor, and there are men who are everlastingly
running to the pop-shop, as the people call it. They will always keep poor.
A description of nail making in the area presents a dark and sordid picture of Black Country life. Boys and girls begin to make nails at the age of six. Their conditions of life were likened to slavery. In 1850 women were still making nails for one penny an hour. A typical scene is described as “ the youngest baby rocked to sleep on the bellows, the older children working with their parents and the parents toiling for 109 hours weekly for 12 shillings.”
With the coming of the Iron Masters men were served like animals and undercutting of payment and unemployment were widespread. The population increased in the area to 7000 in 1834 and 14000 in 1851. Since no national insurance existed people were paid as they worked and sickness unemployment and old age meant no income.
At a public meeting in 1841 it was considered the steps should be taken to prevent” the alarming increase in wickedness and immorality from the vast numbers of beer shops and public houses which abound.” There were 39 licensed houses and 57 beer shops in Rowley Regis.
"The parish being in a deplorable condition, the majority of its people were scarcely civilised and accustomed to a life style in which vice and immorality bore unbounded sway. Bull baiting, cockfighting and bear baiting were the popular amusements of the day supported by many who accounted themselves above the common rabble."
Gradually we come to flourishing hedgerows, and wheat-fields, and the lower slope of the Rowley Hills, a range nine hundred feet in height, whence the view over the region of darkness is singularly striking in contrast with sunshine and verdure. From the visible portion of the landscape we can easily infer the beauty that must have pervaded the whole country before it was subjugated by havoc and smoke, when every slope had its wood, every hollow its rill, bordered by pleasant pastures; when Dud Dudley was making experiments, and proving that iron could be smelted with coal, withmanifest economy to woods and forests. He would not recognise the landscape now; but the hills rise above it, and refresh the eye with pleasant scenes, interspersed with quarries, from which is dug the blue basalt, the Rowley Rag of builders.
The higher we go the more rural is the way, till we come to the village of Rowley Regis, whose church is as conspicuous from miles around as that of Harrow, and here the click-click, and thump-thump of hammers in nearly every house, make us aware of having arrived among the nail-makers.
The whole village resounds with the strokes, and each cottage has its little forge occupying the place of the wash-house. We look into one after another and see none but women at work, three or four together, assisted in some instances by a boy or girl. The fire is in common; and one after another giving a pull at the bellows, each woman heats the ends of two slender iron rods, withdraws the first, and by a few hammer-strokes fashions and cuts off the nail, thrusts the end into the fire, and takes out the second rod, and gets a nail from that in the same way. So the work goes merrily on; the rods growing shorter, and the heap of nails larger. " It ain't work as pays for men," answers one of the women in reply to my inquiry," " and 't ain't much better than clem- min' for women." To make a pound of ' fine clout' requires three hours, for which the pay is threepence- halfpenny : so it is hard work to earn a shilling a-day. The woman being a comely body, I ask her why she had not married, to which she replies " I hanna seen my mate yet; and 'tis better to do 'ithout than have a bad un."
In another cottage two women are busy over ' countersunk tips,' for which the pay is two shillings a pound; but the nails are small, and the heads must all be eone-shaped, hence, " 'tis good work to make half-a-pound a-day." One of the two lamented that the days were past when she could begin on Tuesday and earn thirteen shillings a-week. Poor woman! she had to come to the anvil the day after her baby was born, because her husband had long been out of work. She sits down to comfort herself with a pipe of tobacco while we talk, and says : " We be poor foak here, and mun dew what we can."
The founder of the Foley family was a nail-maker of this neighbourhood. He went to Sweden twice with his fiddle, where he cunningly made himself acquainted with processes of the manufacture then unknown in England, and thereby on his return achieved fortune. Now women make nails for a penny an hour, and are conquered by machines, which pour out a stream of nails in tons upon tons every week.
All around the Wrekin by Walter White 1860.
A BLACK COUNTRY SCENE
The Black Country, as it is picturesquely and not inaptly termed, is a sight well worth seeing. Black and grimy though it be, cheerless and unlovely as it looks, it contains within it more elements of material prosperity, a greater amount of mineral wealth, and a more densely populated area than any other equally sized tract of country on the face of the globe. Its entire length, from north to south, is a little more than twenty miles, extending from Stourbridge, in Worcestershire, over Cannock Chase, to Beverton, near Badgeley, and its breadth is about ten, Walsall and Wolverhampton being its opposite boundaries. In the daylight it is a region of illimitable chimney shafts and innumerable furnaces, of miles upon miles of dull, dead brick walls, broken by doors and windows, in which theminers have theirdwellings, and where they rear, after their own fashion, their generally large broods of young. Here and there are sparsely scattered better houses, the residences of the masters and factors, but the bettering consists usually in the size of the building and its small plot of brownish-green lawn, and not in any exhibiting of architectural ornamentations or refined taste. Over all these sixty square miles of superficies is spread an amazing net-work of canals and railways, all swarming with motion, all instinct with life. Every factory is connected with some main line of locomotives by its little branch and siding, and every mine has either the same or its miniature wharf, at which the long narrow barges lie and load. Notwithstanding the enormous population you know to be at work, there is a strange absence of noise, and bustle, and motion. Here and there you hear the dull, resonant "thud" of the ponderous hammer, the scream of the escaping steam, or the sullen, continuous rumble of the huge three-norse waggon, as it rolls cumbrously over the nard road ; but there is none of that torrent-like roar of restless, unrestrainable life; that whirl and clash and comminglement of human beings that you find in the great thoroughfares of London, or a large manufacturing city. The people are underground, moiling and toiling, digging and delving, blasting and excavating. There they all are fathoms deep from the sun's light, and the glad air of heaven, and not a sound ever struggles up to earth to betray their whereabouts.
At night the scene is changed. So soon as the shades of evening drop darkling down, the country becomes a conflagration. As far as the eye can reach, volumes of lurid flames, issuing from a thousand furnaces, shoot up the empyrean. Long lambent tongues of fire strike their pointed tongues into the night, and transform it into a monster. For twenty miles round the horizon glows with fervent heat; the stars wax pale and lustreless, and even the silver moon is shorn of half her beauty. Earth becomes an inferno, stricken with a terrible beauty—the firmament is a redhot roof. The very soil is a-light with innumerable fiery horrors, and its every acre sends up to heaven its separate tribute of lurid glory. A journey by night through this strange region is a spectacle that can never be forgotten. It is a type of the nether hell, and the end of the world seems at hand!
They are not a bad race, take them all in all, these miners. Rude and uninformed as they are, they are industrious and honest. Good fathers and husbands are they after their own uncouth fashion, and very many of them "fear God," while a still larger number "honour the King." Our borough is situated in the very heart of the " Black Country." For miles on all sides the eye rests upon nothing but the picture we have endeavoured to represent. A few green fields may be seen here and there, at long intervals, and now and again, on the summit of some rising ground, a little wood or a small clump of trees, but these are rare exceptions. The landscape by which we are surrounded is brick and mortar, with mounds of coal and mountains of "slag," chimneys and furnace-tops its forestry, and its canopy an ever unscrolled veil of leaden-coloured smoke. Our borough is infested with public-houses and beer-shops far more than are good for it in body or soul. Each of these houses is dashingly decorated. Mirrors adorn the walls and flash back the gleams of blazing gasaliers and gleaming crystal. Gilding and painting are lavishly displayed, and sensuous attractions reign supremo over all. In most of the better class —perhaps it might be said in all, without exception—music is provided as an unerring source of allurement, and it is somewhat remarkable that in very many cases, where love of drink or of good company assert no influence, the popular fondness for harmony presents an irresistible excuse for entrance. Some have a regular staff of male and female vocalists, many of whom would do no discredit to more ambitious localities; others trust to instrumental performances alone. In this one we find a fiddle and violoncello, in that a harp and piano; others sport "the musical glasses;" and in not a few are to be heard the euphonious strains of the Scottish bagpipe.It is a sad pity to see so many of these strongholds of vice and waste in our borough. You meet them at every step, and it is mainly through them that the mining populations have acquired a character for drunken and unthrifty habits. Beer is the staple drink; but rum, gin, and whisky, have many admirers, especially on cold or wet nights, when "maester" prescribes for himself two or three strong doses, just, as he says, "to warm un."
From the Dublin University Magazine 1861
The "Fogger" was a type of middleman bought about by the great amount of surplus labour in the trade in the 19th century. The Fogger prayed upon the poverty of the nailers supplying them with iron on credit, much as the nailmaster did, but buying the nails back at well below list prices or by truck, ( this was the practise of payment in goods not money, which although illegal persisted in Rowley Regis and the Black Country until the 20th century ). The Fogger was usually the owner of a public house or "tommy shop". When a nailer's supply of iron was stopped by the regular nailmaster for any reason such as high stocks of nails, fraud by the nailer or bad work, the nailer was forced to go to the Fogger or starve. He would then be paid by check which had to be spent in the Fogger's shop or public house on goods which were usually inferior or adulterated, this was known locally as "tommy trucking". The Fogger generally kept three sets of scales to cheat the nailers even further. One set giving short weight to weigh the iron rod, one to weigh the nails when bought in and a set which was correct for the benefit of the inspector. A witness, quoted in the Midland Mining Commission report of 1843, said "I will show you a man in Gornal tomorrow who will offer to do the work for me for nothing. He will pay himself out of the profits of his shop, he is an agent for the nailmaster, a middleman of the worst description, he takes all the trouble off the nailmaster's hands by taking the iron and giving it out to the nailers and collecting the nails when made. For this trouble he repays himself by coercing those he employs to buy his goods. He sells beer and all sorts of articles, clothing, bread, butter, flour meal etc". A witness before the Truck Commission gave evidence that government contracts were often given to works in the Black Country but generally to those that dealt in truck because they were cheaper. The majority of Foggers began as clerks or warehousemen, and knowing where orders came from they would solicit for orders and then recruit workmen by promising to pay the current price. This they did for a week or two then they began reducing the price but by then the nailer was hooked. At the beginning of the 19th century Foggers were blamed for keeping the price of nails down but as the century progressed more and more masters worked hand and glove with them.
Benjamin Bache proved that on the 26th March 1842 he took some nails to Smith's warehouse, they were weighed and came to 10s. He was told to go into the house and his (Smith's ) wife would pay him, he asked for money and was told he could not have any but must take goods. He then agreed to goods to the amount of 4s 10d and sent his wife for them. Smith kept a beer house, a witness said that he went one day and sat drinking there from one o clock till ten at night. He went several days during which he drank beer to the amount of the balance of what was due to him for the nails. That was 5s, all this was drunk in beer at Smith's house, he had no money, he could not get any although he asked for it. If the men wanted money they were obliged to sell the goods they took off the master and that at a great loss. Dinah Bache, the wife of the last witness, was sent to Smith's by her husband for some goods, She was to have goods to the amount of 4s 10d, She received:-
one peck of flour 2s-9d
one half pound of sugar 4½d
one and a half pound of bacon 1s-1½d
one half pound of butter 7d
She said "I asked for some money but was told I could not have any and was obliged to sell part of the above goods at less than they cost so that I might pay nursing and rent. My husband was drinking at Smith's beerhouse while I and my children were starving at home". Several objections were made by Mr Shaw as to the liability of the defendant, all of which were over-ruled by the magistrates who convicted him in a penalty of £5 and costs, ( Benjamin Bache was later convicted for his involvement in the nailers riots of 25th April 1842 and sentenced to four months hard labour ).
A typical nail shop was usually about ten or twelve feet square with one door and one or two unglazed windows. The nail shop had a central hearth or fire ( this differed from a chain shop which had the hearths around the walls ) so that all the family could work independently of each other but using just one fire thus saving on fuel. There could be as many as six working round one fire. Nailers usually either rented or owned their own shop but a nailer who for some reason had no shop of his own, could rent a "standing" from a fellow nailer and share the fire to carry on making nails. Nailers provided their own tools, These were not numerous or expensive. The bellows, a small block or anvil, sharpening tools and for nailers making large nails, "the Oliver". The Midland Mining Commission report of 1843 includes this description:- "The best forges are little brick shops of about 15 feet by 12 feet in which seven or eight individuals constantly work together with no ventilation except the door and two slits, a loop-hole in the wall. The majority of these workplaces are very much smaller and filthy dirty and on looking in upon one of them when the fire is not lighted presents the appearance of a dilapidated coal-hole. In the dirty den there are commonly at work, a man and his wife and daughter, with a boy or girl hired by the year. Sometimes the wife carries on the forge with the aid of the children. The filthiness of the ground, the half-ragged, half-naked, unwashed persons at work, and the hot smoke, ashes, water and clouds of dust are really dreadful".
THE METHOD FOR MAKING SMALL NAILS.
The nailer placed three or four rods into the fire, when a rod was sufficiently heated the nailer began forging the end into a point on the small nailer's block. The pointed end was then cut off to the required length ( measured by a gauge ) by being placed upon a fixed chisel called a hardy. It was then inserted into the bore, point down. The bore was made to fit the thicker part of the nail and was countersunk to form a mould for the nail head. A few blows with the hammer formed the head and a spring called a "whimsey" was touched with the hammer to release the finished nail. A girl could make over four nails a minute or over 250 an hour. Time also had to be allowed for fetching and carrying the iron and taking the finished nails to the warehouse.
The practice, known as 'trucking' was made illegal by the 1831 Truck Act, which gave employees the right to be paid in conventional money but was restricted only to workers employed in certain trades.
It took until 1887 for the Act to be extended to apply to all workers.
Interesting to note that in recent times this prevented employers from paying employees by bank transfer.
The Truck Act had to be repealed in 1986 to enable wages to be paid by this method.
The Truck Shop was also known by some as ' Tommy Shop ' A term which gave rise to the phrase ' tommy rot ' , used by its customers to describe the quality of the goods therein.
The Act in fact was pretty ineffective, seeing that all prosecutions were private and not many folk wanted to litigate themselves on to a bosses' blacklist. Besides, bad as truck was, it was better than no wages.
Attitude to the Poor in Rowley
Extracts from the Parish Registers throw light on Poor Law administration in Rowley Regis.
Rowley Regis Poor House; 3 jan 1820
"Resolved that Sarah Challenger be set to break stones at the Poorhouse under the inspection of J Evans, and she be kept to that work every day and always do a reasonable quantity of it before every meal is given her, and that same course be taken with all the other paupers who are capable of work, and that the stones to be broken by the women be first be broken into pieces or brought to the place in pieces , not exceeding 10 or 15 pounds, and be broken by a hammer, not exceeding two pounds, into pieces not exceeding 3 or 4 ounces.
5 February 1821.
At a meeting, the subject of letting the poor by contract was considered;" Resolved that it is both proper and expedient that the poor of this Parish be let by contract, to be maintaimed and emploced according to Act of Parliament and that an advertisement for that purpose be inserted in the Birmingham Gazette."
7 May 1821
"Ordered that (names given), and who ever else of the paupers in the house may be capable of any such employment, be immediately set to break stonres in the court of the Poorhouse, such of them as are capable with hammer to be used with both hands , and others with hammer to be used with one hand only.........and that they be not suffered to eat until the appointed quantity be broken by each of them, the stones to be broken down to the size of a hen's egg." (both overseers, however, refused to sign this order)
31 May 1822.
"Resolved that William Stokes of Gorsty Hill, in future have no pay in consequence of his being found in a state of drunkenness." Also he keeps a dog.
John Stokes to have no further Parochial relief, "because he keeps a dog."
Jane Davies be allowed no further pay "till a dog kept at house be destroyed."
Ratepayers objected to supporting the poor of Rowley but money could be spent on trivial things however, as evidenced by a Vestry account of 2 August 1821, "Cash for black cloth which covered the pulpit and desk on the death of King George 111 of blessed memory.......£12."
Strenuous local opposition was made against the Poor Law in 1834 and a petition was made by George Barrs and ratepayers to the Board of Commissioners im 1n36.
Education and an insight to life in Rowley Regis 1861.
In a room containing nearly a score of persons, to which I was directed because the two best nailors at Rowley Regis were of the party, only one could read a little, of the two " crack hands " neither remembered ever having been even at a dame's school, although the mother of one of them asserted that he had been at such a school for a time in his infancy while his elder sister had had a good job, and could not attend to him and the other children at home. These men were the owners of valuable breeds of pigeons, the cost of the keep of which reached, in the instances of several workmen of whom I inquired, from 4s. to 5s. a week for peas and barley, in the management and flying of which they spend a large portion of their time, and on the performances of which they bet largely. These men, as I found, were the standards of ambition of most of the boys living near them. Yet most of them told me that they could not afford to send any even of their youngest children to school, at a cost of 2d. or 3d. a week each.
Compared with these employments, which require nothing but bodily strength, and which can be engaged in at such early ages, there is in the immediate neighbourhood little demand for the service of schooled boys or girls. The ordinary business of the place is of that heavy and wholesale character that there is but small occasion for errand boys or shop boys. The people commonly market for themselves, and themselves carry home their purchases. Even the more prosperous and wealthy people know better how to make and to save money than how to spend it. They have no examples amongst them of the more highly educated classes, of gentry or nobility, living habitually near them, or in reciprocal sociality with them. Their households are commonly supplied in a very coarse and almost sordid way, without elegance or refinement, and their sociability is kept up in a way that involves little trouble or expense. Their household and personal servants are accordingly few in number, and from the want of refinement of masters and mistresses, generally ill-trained, though necessarily very highly paid, where all labour is in such great demand. They need no education, nothing but bodily strength, for domestic service, at high wages, in this district, and they naturally do not aspire to accomplishments which are not in request here, and are only required in distant places, where their wages would be lower and their freedom less.
The agriculture of this district is wholly subordinate and subjected to the exigencies of the other occupations of mining, quarrying, smelting, and forging. In large tracts the country, which was once beautiful wood and pasture, is now wholly covered with barren and chaotic mounds, and banks of the waste of pits, and the ash, slag, and scoriae of furnaces. All the surface of the land is held subject to the liability, always imminent, to be broken up at any time by the sinking of shafts and the deposit of waste. Under such circumstances extensive farming is impossible. The land un-invaded by the other industries is mostly in small holdings used as pasture, which is highly profitable, owing to the large demand, most inadequately supplied, for milk. One thing in which this district is more favoured than most mining districts is, the fact that the waste usually thrown out from coal pits is in the course of three or four years, owing to great quantities of valuable salts in this waste, covered with a fine grass, and becomes pasture for cows. A sheep is rarely or never to be seen on these pastures, and the dry and barren cows, hastily and coarsely fattened, afford the only beef known to the butcher, and this, poor and tasteless as it is, is seriously declared by most people to be usually preferred to heifer or ox beef. The farmers, if they may be called such, are usually only specimens of the rest of the population, are generally less able-bodied, but no less rude in their morals and coarse in their habits. They are certainly more thrifty as a class, and less given to spend their gains in drink, but they have no higher ambition for their children than that they should engage in the common pursuits of the district. Still their opportunities enable such of them as send their girls to school to keep them longer there than the workpeople do.
Taken from The state of popular education in England 1861
Description of an accident which occurred at the Rowley Hall Colliery in 1863 showing the hazardous conditions endured by miners in the heyday of coal mining in Rowley in the mid 1800’s.
“The charter-master, a worthy and excellent collier, on the morning in question descended the pit at an early hour, and in his over anxiety to start the " bond," decided to prop some coal which had been holed or under cut on the side of one of the gate-roads for the purpose of widening it. While he stood waiting for the timber to be brought, the coal suddenly fell upon him, inflicting injuries so severe that he died the same day at his own home, the sad result of too long delaying the timbering.Falls of coal and roof frequently happen in thick coal mining, owing to a phenomenon technically called a " bump," caused by the subsidence of the superincumbent strata over large cavernous excavations of " pillar and stall" workings, which by the " long wall " system is by no means so frequently met with. About 25 per cent, of the deaths under this heading during the year are chiefly attributable to this cause, and so long as the pillar and stall mode of working continues deaths will, more or less, I fear, have to be annually recorded. It is, however, gratifying to learn that in several instances the " long wall system " is now about to be commenced, an example which, so far as it can be carried into effect, will it is to be hoped be followed by " thick coal" colliery owners generally, as it is too well known in this district to require comment that the " long wall" mode of working the thick seams has highly contributed to the general produce per acre of ground worked, and most important of all, to the safety to life and limb of those employed therein.”
Account of an Accident , Rowley Hall Colliery 1868 taken from the Mining Review of the period.
Rowley Hall Colliery was one of the many collieries that once stood on the eastern side of the Rowley Hills, and it first began extracting coal around 1860. The Colliery was first owned by Frederick North who lived with his family at Rowley Hall, but like Haden Hill Colliery, the ownership of Rowley Hall Colliery later passed to Walter Bassano.
Given their locations, high on the hillsides, the collieries of Rowley Regis used a system of tramways to move coal
from the pit-heads to their own private canal basins where the coal was loaded by hand onto waiting barges, each barge being able to hold around 30 tons of coal. The Haden Hill Colliery’s canal basin was situated on the Dudley Canal and the Rowley Hall’s basin was on the Causeway Green Arm of the Titford Branch Canal.
The supply of, and demand for, coal was so intense that the coal seams at both collieries were soon exhausted and by the early twentieth century, both pits were closed down and filled in.
“ Frederick William North died on March 7th, 1917, and was about 73 years of age. At the time he was managing partner of the Rowley Hall Collieries, He was educated privately, and after serving several years as articled pupil to his father, he became in 1866 a partner in the firm of William North & Son. "...
The following article on Rowley Halll Colliery has been submitted by Dennis Neale of the Blackcountry muse website;
"The Shaft of Rowley Hall Colliery, seems to have been sunk between 1859 and 1861. It may very well have earlier, as the coal was quite deep, and it was noted as a " Wet Mine ". There were three coal seams, the " Thick " being part of the famous Staffordshire 30, a layer of clay, then another smaller seam, another clay layer, and then what was called " Heathen Coal ". All three were mined at Rowley Hall. Frederick North provided the initial finance for this, but he was in desperate need of more capital, so entered into partnership with a Mr Wright. ( who already had other mines on the Oldbury side of Rowley Regis.) The mine was listed as being in the ownership of Wright and North, as early as 1865. They had two deaths in the mine in 1867, due to not putting in enough supporting timbers in the gateroads. ( Tunnels ) John, or Joseph Waterhouse, there is only the initial, aged 23, and a pikeman,was injured by a fall of coal in a roadway on 20th June,1867, and died 10 days, later on the 30th. Barely two months later, on 2nd of August, Joseph Robinson, 17, a Bondsman, was crushed to death in almost the same spot as Waterhouse. More timber supports were put in, although many, already weaking from the damp conditions were not replaced. The mines supposedly experienced Chartermaster, Adam Latham, was happy with this, and the mine carried on. There were complaints in October 1868, that ominous noises from some timbers were being heard in one of the gateroads, so on the 23rd, Latham went down, with two miners, to have a look. While he was carrying out this inspection, a loud crack was heard, and the two miners ran for the safety of a nearby dugout. Adam Latham did not follow them, he had been buried under the several tons of coal and rock which came down in the roof fall. There do not appear to have been any more deaths until 1881, ( a great many records were destroyed by fire in 1877 ) when George Tierney, aged 35, and the pits main Engine man, having repaired the signal bell at the shaft bottom, tried to leap into the ascending cage. He didn't make it, and was crushed between the cage and the shafts brick wall. It was 8 years before another fatality occured, this time a double one. William Franks,31 was a Bondsman, and I should point out, that this meant he had signed a contract to work at the mine, for a set rate of pay, for a set number of hours, for a period of 1 year. John Robinson,also 31, was a pikeman, and both of them were killed when a section of seam they were undercutting, collapsed without warning. The 31st of May,1888 was not a happy time at Rowley Hall. Wright and North sold out to Bassano and Company in 1890s, and the last death recorded was that of Alfred Ashfield or Ashman, on 9th August,1894. There were several unnecessary deaths on the mines inclined and rope operated railway line as well, although they were not of employees, but local children riding the empty and loaded tubs. The Engine driver could not of course see all the way down the line, due to the hilly nature of the ground, and relied on a signalling system from the Canal Basin in Whiteheath. The mine was almost worked out after the Great War, and the miners strike, and the failure of the mine owners to pay to keep the Mine's Drainage going, resulted in closure in the 1920s. Today, you wouldn't even know it had ever been there at all.
Rowley Hall Colliery
From mongrel-mauler to a proud symbol of Staffordshire
When we explore the pastimes of the working folk of Rowley and the Black Country no reader will be surprised to find that many of those hobbies were of a rather bloodthirsty nature, but some of the details are pretty shocking even to those of us who have some idea what to expect. Naturally, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier plays a major part in the story.
In a local newspaper from 1866, which deals with the subject of bull-baiting in Hales Owen, as it was then spelt, a correspondent shares a story passed onto him by an eyewitness of the horrors of bull-baiting, which he claims were much worse than were generally imagined. Dogs had been seen hoisted high up into the air by the raging bulls, and very often stamped to death by a single blow of the bull's hoof. Furthermore, if a man was shamed by his own dog's reluctance to take on his much larger bovine adversary, he would all too often kick his own animal 'most shamefully and send him off yoicking'. The account continues:
'I am informed on good authority that bull baiting prevailed very extensively in the parish of Rowley Regis. Old people declare it true that, on one occasion, the Rev. George Barrs, who was curate of the parish for forty years, once went into the crowd at the baiting to do his best to put a stop to the baiting; and one of the leaders struck him on the face, knocking out some of his teeth.
'He entered the ministry in 1800 and, in his memoirs he says: 'The horrid practice of bull baiting here prevailed with all its revolting aggravations and, to their shame, be it recorded, received countenance and support from many who considered themselves far from the vulgar rabble. Cock fighting, bear baiting, and every other species of wickedness formed the popular amusements of the day. There was a bull ring at Farthings Lane or, as is now known, Aston Road.'
Cockfighting was very common in and around Rowley and Netherton, with there being cockpits at Yew Tree Hills and Northfield Road. But dog fighting was of course the prime attraction in the Black Country as far as illicit sports were concerned. A breed of dogs was developed by enthusiasts of the blood sport in Netherton, Rowley Regis and Cradley Heath, according to this account, by crossing the English Terrier with the Bulldog. After generations of careful selection, a new breed was created, retaining the agility and tearing power of the terrier and the strength of bone and jaw of the bulldog. Originally known as the 'miner's dog', it soon took the name, Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Another quote from a newspaper of 1866 outlines the fact that the horrific sport was still alive and well by that time, though it was being driven underground even then. The account of the training methods for the dogs are sickening and outrageous:
'Dog fighting, the most degrading, brutal and inexcusable sport imaginable, I believe still exists to-day in some parts of Staffordshire. I have been informed by an old friend of mine, now eighty years of age, that one of the methods of getting a Stafford fighting fit was to obtain a mongrel dog of the terrier type and tie him up short on the far side of a really big fire and allow the room to become very hot. Tie the Stafford up at the other end with a long elastic rope, just short enough not to allow him to slash the other. Leave for about ten minutes and work this up to twenty minutes at the end of the twelfth day, and always allow your dog to kill the mongrel each day. After ten to twelve days of such called training, the dog is supposed to be at his best and, during this period, he is kept in a pitch dark room and fed on raw meat and blood. They can then be brought out and are ready for the dog-pit, and would, I believe, if need be, face a tiger.'
With such a history, it's hard to imagine that the Staff was ever considered as a family pet, though the paradox, as we all know, is that the breed is now recognised as one of the most faithful of dogs. At the time of writing, 1948, the Staff's national popularity explosion was some way off, but even then the local breed's image was beginning to take a turn for the better. Its 'recent record of fidelity, obedience and companionship' was rapidly gaining national recognition, and already many were putting the dog on an equal footing with the Staffordshire Knot as a symbolic representation of the county.
Last year there came to light the only known photograph of William Perry the "Tipton Slasher", there has been much conjecture as to where this photo was taken. Tipton is very near to Rowley and the quarries on the Rowley Hills would have made an ideal venue for prize fighting. They were used for many years as a venue for illegal cock and dog fighting and the area was among the last to stamp out these cruel sports. If you look at the photo there is what appears to be a Mill in the background. Off Hawes lane in Rowley Village was Alsops Quarry, now the Rowley Regis golf range; between the Church and the quarry, on the edge of the present graveyard, just past Stanford Drive, which was the sight of "Club buildings", stood Alsops Mill, could this have been the sight of the photo ?
The Tump Colliery.
The Black Country which lies north of
Birmingham is full of disaster, and the special correspondent has a big
field there. Quite early in my career I was sent out to Pelsall Hall,
near Walsall, where a mine had been flooded and two-and-thirty men were
known to be in the workings. I was born and bred in the mining district,
and was familiar with the heroism of the miners. They are not all
heroes, and even those who are are not always heroic. But use breeds a
curious indifference to danger.
I remember once paying a visit to the Tump Pit at or nearRowley Regis
at a time when the men were taking their midday meal. There was a sort
of Hall of Eblis there, a roof thirty feet high or thereabouts, and the
men sat in a darkness dimly revealed by the light of one or two
tallow candles. Down in the midst of them fell a portion of the rocky
roof--enough to have filled a wheelbarrow, and enough certainly to have
put out the vital spark of any man on whom it might have fallen. One
coal-grimed man, at whose feet the mass had fallen, looked up placidly
and said, 'That stuck up till it couldn't stick no longer;' and that
was all that was said about the matter. I suppose there was a tacit
recognition of the fact that the same thing might happen in any part of
the mine at any moment, and that it was useless to attempt to run
away from it. A passive scorn of danger is an essential element in the
miner's life, and when need arises he shows an active scorn of it which
is finer than anything I have ever seen in battle.