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Alaska.
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Black Country Chainmaking. Cradley Heath, Netherton.Hingley.




I have, up till now, left this subject alone. Mainly, as you will appreciate, because such a lot has been written about the Cradley Heath connection. If you have been left, with the impression that the area was the world centre of production, thats a pity, because it wasn't, and never has been. Chainmaking was, at least up to 1830, a small cottage industry, making light chain. There were already, other places in production. Newcastle, in the north east, Manchester and Sheffield, in the north west, Birmingham and Coventry in the midlands, and a fairly well established industry in London and the south. Germany and France produced a large quantity well before Cradley Heath took off, and there was well established industry in America, prior to 1854. It was the decision of the Royal Navy, in 1830, to replace rope with the longer lasting Iron chains, ( Anchors, fastners, and steering ) that sent the British industry into overdrive. This decision rapidly spread to the vast merchant fleet, and by 1856, almost all the ships were fitted with chains of one sort or another. Coal was needed to fuel the furnaces of the nation to produce the Iron, and mines were equipped with winding and haulage chains. All good news for the men who sold the chain, but not so good for the men and women who produced it. The horror stories that were uncovered by numerous inquiries, a great many from this region, are an example of the conditions that had to be seen to be believed.


No cottage industry could of course produce, the amount of chain required, and it wasn't long before larger " Chainshops " were established. One of the largest in our area, was the Netherton Works, of Noah Hingley. In the 1850s, he set up a testing shop, which guarenteed the quality of his products, and was stamped by the Company. This put paid to some of the smaller chainshops, and led to the foundation of other Chainworks. Very light chain, which was not subject to same stress levels required for the Navy, or the Mining industry, continued to be made in little workshops attached to the dwelling places of the population. By 1853, any chain submitted to the Navy for sale, had, by Law, to have a Certificate, stating both it's quality, and breaking stain. Again, some smaller places shut down, unable to compete, or afford the quality of Iron required. The whole process was again reviewed in the 1860s, due to several accidents with stamped chains. Fraud had raised it's ugly head. In 1865, under pressure from Lloyds the Insurers, the Government agreed to the setting up of proper testing houses. So Lloyds opened a place in Tipton, and took over Hingleys testing house at Netherton, and from then onwards, every chain, before sale, had to survive a test. Sometimes, to absolute destruction.


The smaller chainshops had to comply as well, and to absorb the cost, cut the payments made to their sweating work forces. Chain, was still being paid for by weight, and the wages were a national disgrace. The same could be said of other places, but the writing was on the wall for many, as the machines now made more chain than the hand hammered method. By the time of the strike, made famous by Mary MacAthur, in 1910, the hand made chain trade, was already in decline. The boom had lasted just about 70 years, and although it still continued to be churned out in Cradley Heath, it was no longer profitable, the machines saw to that, and by the late 1930s, most of the back street chainshops were deserted or had been demolished. After WWII, the decline was dramatic, and it almost vanished completely. Every year now, a rally is held, to mark the struggle of the woman in 1910, and long may it continue. A little local event, that briefly made national headlines, deserves to be kept alive.



There are a number of photo's concerning the Trade, in the " Images from the Forums " Album, in the Gallery.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 21, 2011 at 4:00 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Chainmaking, Cradley Heath,


There are a lot of records on the subject, some of them in The University of Birmingham archives. As a follow up to a report on the trade, some things stand out. It was apparent, that there was opposition to improvements in the area. Machines for making perfectly good chains, was thought to deprive the women of a means of earning a living. This, despite the harsh working conditions, the low pay, the long hours, and the hard work involved, was a wide spread view in Cradley Heath. Fostered I should say by the myth, that handmade chains were better than all the others.They did not appear to have the mental capability, of being able to grasp the facts, so in 1910, they all went on a futile strike. Meanwhile, the modern mechanised chaimakers happily carried on. The very poor quality of the hand made goods, continued to blight the reputation of Cradley Heath. There are a few interviews with some chainmakers, Mary Ann Tibbetts was one. She had started making chain from about 6, and was about 60 at the time. She was one of the few who never married, and consequently, found herself not having to work such long hours, as she also kept house for the family. Her Brother and  two nephew's, worked in the same chainshop, turning out heavy cart chains, swivels and screws, She herself, together with her niece, made the lighter "back-bend " chain, from 5/16th Iron rod. The youngest employed in the shop, was a 13 year old girl, who was paid 3 shillings a week to work the bellows. A bit of a mystery about another interview, a Mrs Louisa Haddington, and her husband Isaac Haddington, owned a chainshop with 4 hearths. They employed their daughters, and some local women, but her main occupation was as a dreaded " Fogger ". Barely able to make chain herself, she bought in chain from the area, and sold it on at a good profit, to a large local, and very well known chainworks, Eliza Tinsley.  As Eliza had died some years before, the firm was run by her relatives. Louisa Haddington, or Hadlington,  had a fearsome reputation for her cruel treatment of the young chainmakers, and for the very low prices she paid. Anyone who complained, got a visit from one of her 13 children, and the Iron to make the chains was stopped. On the day she was interviewed, she even followed the party out of chainshop and intimidated the neighbours into saying nothing. The name Haddington appears in the 1891 Census, but as it's the only time it does, it's not liable to be the correct one. I would be grateful if anyone can supply the right one. They say there's good and bad amongst us all, and the chain trade is no exception, it's just that you very rarely hear about all the other stuff that went on.

Chain makers. c1900s. Look how young some of them are.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 23, 2011 at 3:41 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Chainmaking, Noah Hingley, Anchors.


Just a bit more history of the Chainmaking Trade, thanks to one of the site members Carol. She has kindly sent in details she has recently come across, and which she felt was worth sharing. Thank you Carol.


the following extracts, are from a report made in 1886, concerning the current state of the trade in the Black Country, and Birmingham. It opens with a bit of history about chains, mainly with Julius Ceasar's failed attempt at cutting the cables of the Gaul's Ships. This was the first time he had come across iron chains. There is though, back in time, a mention that the Romans also failed to cut the Greek cables that wreaked their fleet in A.D 100. In 1808, Robert Finn, a North Shields blacksmith, made an iron cable for the large 221 ton ship, Ann and Isabella. Following a bad winter, there came a thaw which saw the River Tyne choked with large ice floes. These cut the hemp cables of the moored ships, except those tied up to the Ann and Isabella, whose iron cable held fast. Lieutenant Samuel Brown, ( Royal Navy ) cottoned on very quickly, persuaded the Admiralty to adopt the chain cables, and then took out a Patent. Together with the engineer John Rennie, he started a factory in Millwall, London, complete with a testing house for there products. He later became, Sir Samuel Brown. ( and also very rich ) The idea spread, and before long, we had factories in Liverpool, London, Bristol, and Aberdeen and Irving in Scotland. On to the scene, in 1820, came this regions would be champion iron basher, Noah Hingley. His occupation at the time, was as a Nailmaster, and buyer of small Chains. He used to make business trips to Liverpool, and on one of these, he came across the remarkable sight of a one and a half inch chain cable. It had an added feature, a bar or stud across the middle of each link, to give it extra strength. Hingley, seeing the potential of this wonder, signed a contract with a large Liverpool Ship owner to supply similar cable, dispite never having made one before. Back home, using a skilled men, two strikers, and a couple of young lads to pump the furnace bellows, he manage to turn out enough to fill the order. And it was good quality as well. He did though, have his eye on another bit of kit that the ships used. That big lump of iron that fitted on the end of the Cable, The Anchor. For this he needed help, so back to Liverpool he went, and recruited some lads of Irish origin. Then he installed one of Nasmyth's Steam Hammers, in the iron works he had purchased, and bob's your uncle, he had struck it rich. Good old Noah.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 2, 2011 at 12:59 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Chainmaking, Cradley Heath, Tipton, Walsall, Netherton, Old Hill, Wolverhampton, Birmingham.




In some respects, Noah Hingley, drastically altered the production system of Chainmaking. For his large works at Netherton, he required men and boys, this confined the women and young girls, to the small chains, used for farm equipment, harness trace's, and other domestic applications. The men could earn between 30 and 60 shillings a week, while the women would be lucky to earn 5 shillings. Chainshops behind the house's, were the ideal place's for mass exploitation, and so it proved. The area of chain making shifted, mainly as a result of the cheap labour available to the owners, from most coastal area except Tyneside, which was of course a Shipbuilding area. Other firms quickly sprang up, Cradley, Cradley Heath, Netherton, Old Hill, Tipton, Walsall, Wolverhampton, and Birmingham are just a few. Hooks, Swivels, and all the other fitting, were soon being produced at a prodigous rate. It was estimated, that between 50 and 70,000 tons of iron was required yearly to service the industry. It meant of course, that when demand for chain and cables dropped, so did the work and the wages. Competition from cheaper foreign imports had a marked effect, lessons were being learned abroad, which further reduced wages, and produced an unwanted by-product, Strikes. The firm of Noah Hingley and Sons though, continued to do well, expanding and updating machinery and methods. Whole families from the area, emmigrated to distant parts, setting up Chainworks of their own, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and even to the much nearer Stoke-on-Trent. There must be a fault in the way some businessmen look at the future, because there seems to be a lack of any major investment, which has cost this country dear over the years. Better and cheaper mass produced chain, finally put paid to the manufacture of cables in the Blackcountry. Noah Hingley, 1797 - 1877, was a man of his time, not afraid to take a risk, and who reaped the rewards of his hard labour during his own lifetime. My grandmother made chain, I wish I could say that about her life. By the way, if anyone has a relative, who was a chain striker, and had an Irish name, blame Noah, he was the one that bought them here in the first place from Liverpool. Next time you hear someone bragging about the area's Chainmaking, just spare a thought for the hardship and heart ache it caused, through the mass exploitation of the uneducated. natives. That puts a slightly different slant on the story.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 2, 2011 at 4:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Chainmaking, Stoke, Ford Green, Burslem, Lye, Quarry Bank.


In response, to several people who have asked, just where in Stoke-on-Trent, did these chainmakers and their families settle. The Ford Green Iron Works, was founded in the 19th century, in a place called Smallthorne. This was an area just to the east of the more well known Burslem, and was well served by the canals, and contained at least 5 coal mines. Smallthorne, I believe, up until 1922, was fairly independent from both Burslem, and Stoke itself. Ford Green Iron Works, did mainly forge work, and the need for skilled workman in the early days, resulted in a few recruitment drives. The main products being Chain, Cable, and Anchors, led to them taking on men from the Black Country Chain Trade. Many families, from Cradley, Cradley Heath, Quarry Bank, and Lye, made the transistion, and settled in Smallthorne, Norton, and nearby Burslem. To make them feel at home, there was a strong community based on Primitive Methodism, something that most of them would be very familiar with. There will be many names, still in the area, that will be found in the Black Country Towns they left behind. I have uploaded a photograph into the Gallery, complete with some names, it dates from about 1914, just before the War broke out, and was taken in Burslem.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 10, 2011 at 2:45 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Chainmaking, Tipton. Henry Pershouses Parkes. The Neptune Forge.


Back to Tipton for this post, and two factories which equaled, if not exceeded, the output from Cradley Heath at the time. Two family names associated with the area, Pershouse and Parkes, were combined in the person of Henry Pershouse Parkes, who in 1840, next to the canal, set up The Castle Street Chain and Anchor Works. The business, and the firms reputation for quality, steadily grew, and both chains and anchors were dispatched all around the country, by both canal, and the fledgling Railways. When the largest steamship in the world at the time, The Great Eastern, designed and built by I.K.Brunel, required a replacement anchor, it was to Parkes, that the owners turned. The finished article weighed 8 tons, was 20 feet 6 inches long, and was delivered, on time, in 1866. The firm continued to produce quality products from the site, but failed to survive the years of depression in the late 1920s. The works were closed, and demolished in the 1930s. A little bird tells me that there's a Plaque somewhere in Castle Street. The other firm was started by Joseph Wright, a man from Teeside, who arrived in the region in 1860. He set up, not far from Parkes on the old line of the Birmingham Canal, just off what is now Sedgley Road East, in 1851. He called the works The Neptune Forge, which was quite a neat little touch, for a Chain and Anchor works. If anything, it grew bigger than Parkes, and was described in 1873, as "one of the largest Chain and Anchor works in England ". Another product, were Boilers of a different design that sold well, and a range of general forging that kept the factory going until 1994, when the site was cleared for re-developement. A clever man was Joseph Wright, and he married well, his father-in-law being Theophilus Tinsley, one of the areas major nail factors.Standing on the site today, is the Neptune Health Centre, and the works are commerated by a suitable sign on the wall. There are picturesof both the old works in the Gallery, and if anyone can add to them, I would be grateful.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 10, 2012 at 2:47 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Chainmaking, Raybould and Westwood.


Mind you, not everything went well for the owners of some Chain shops, take what happened to Raybould and Westwood, an Old Hill company. A man arrived from Sunderland, looking to buy a large quantity of tested chain. R & W were only too happy to accommodate him, and struck a deal worth over £2,000. They were duly delivered to Old Hill Station, and the next day, Mr Raybould went off into Birmingham, as arranged, to take part payment for the goods. To prove that the shipment was on the way, Raybould produced the Goods Carriage Reciept, which was carefully examined by the gentleman, who then said he did not carry so much money and that when back in Sunderland, he would arrange the full payment. They parted company, but on the way back Raybould began to have doubts, and when they got to Old Hill, he went to the Station and issued instructions not to deliver the goods to Sunderland. He forgot about the carriage reciept, which he had handed to the gentleman. The Great Western Railway, like many others, only had lines to certain places, in this case, due to GWRs broad gauge, only as far as Wolverhampton. The Chains had been loaded onto a Northeastern Railways goods train, which was well on the way by the time Raybould issued the order. The GWR however, failed to pass on the instruction not to deliver the goods, and when a few days later, the gentle turned up at the depot in Sunderland, all he had to do was show the reciept and the Chains were his. He did just that, and Raybould and Westwood never got paid. The GWR, denied all responsibility for the error, so R&W sued them for the Price of the Chains, the carriage charge, and all their legal costs. With a poor show of grace, Gods Wonderful Railway were forced to pay up. Oh but it must have been hard work running a railway, well it was if you ran it properly.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

April 29, 2012 at 4:33 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Chainmaking, Cradley Heath, Mary MacAthur, Charles Sitch.


Now if theres one thing almost guarenteed to get up the nose of a serious researcher of history, it's some pompous twit getting the facts wrong. I don't have any problems with the facts, no matter how unpleasant they may be, for some people to accept. There has been a lot of Newspaper space taken up this week with a " Statue ", that has been erected in Cradley Heath.  For a start, Mary MacAthur was not " one of the chainmakers ", nor indeed, did she ever get her delicate hands dirty, doing manuel work. She came from a rather well off middle class family, who had moved to London, from Ayr, Scotland, where she had been born. She already had political ambitions, but needed to get her voice heard.. As a skiful political agitator, and self proclaimed champion of the low paid, when she heard about this bit of local trouble, she wrote several strong letters to leading figures, and the Press, and then got on a train and came to arrange a series of meetings. The large turnout when she got here, was due entirely to the press coverage, as the number of women actually making back street chains was numbered at no more than 800 in the whole district. ( Cradley, Cradley Heath, Old Hill, and Netherton. )  If you take a look at the picture of these women, in my Images from the Forums Album, you will see that over 14 of them are clearly over the age of 70, and in one case, 83. The old age pension, which was introduced in 1909, gave these women the freedom from having to carry on working till they dropped. Why then, would they be on " Strike" for something they no longer had to do. Now if anyone is thinking it was all a rather put up job, you may very well be correct, but not by the old dears in the picture. At the same time, she was also supporting higher pay for the women at the Millwall Food Preserving Factory, and the Kilburnie Netmakers, in Scotland.  The next year, having learned a great deal about organizing strikes, she was involved with no less than 22 other actions, up and down the country, and also, from somewhere, found the time to get married. 


The hand made chain trade in the area was on it's last legs at the time, and this, is a provable fact. For someone to now say, that their family came to Cradley Heath, in 1910, to begin a long career in making chains, and indeed, to make a good living out of it, ( not in a back street sweat shop I wager ) has clearly not thought their story through. If that was the case, why were they not prepared to dig up some cash, instead of accepting from Lidl, a German Company, a contribution of £25,000 of their cash, to purchase a lump of old Iron, and call it a statue. ( And I was always led to believe the Germans had no sense of humour.) To coin a phrase from The Prince of Wales, " it really is appalling ". It looks like it has been spilled from an overflow of a blast furnace, or the cone from a volcano that froze mid eruption. £25,000 for that! Whoever conceived such a monsterously ugly piece of work, and then had the gall to accept that much money for it, deserves to be run out of town. Lets hope that some kind and generous metal thieves, quickly come along and nick it, for as a piece of the areas future heritage, it's already an eyesore.


As for the women strikers setting a minimum wage for women, they didn't, did they. A national minimum wage did not come about for many years, and it took a World War to bring about a change. As for a lasting effect of the strike, there wasn't one, and I notice with amusement, that a local M.P,  Charles Sitch, and I will refrain from calling him " The Honorable " , isn't mentioned at all in the history. Why would someone not be proud of a man, who stole thousands of pounds from the Workers Insitute that was set up, thus robbing the very people who were supposed to be helped, and was then sent to prison. Someone has  surely got something wrong about the history of Cradley Heath chainmaking, and it isn't me.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 18, 2012 at 3:51 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Unicorn
Member
Posts: 46

I have to admit I also think the statue is terrible and could not see what it had to do with the poor chain makers.

May 19, 2012 at 1:55 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Cradley Heath.


Well Unicorn, and thank you for replying, there are a few pictures of the 5 ton load of scrap steel being lowered into place in this weeks Blackcountry Bugle. I have no doubt some folks will think it's fantastic, there will be others though, just like me, who will take one look and mouth the word, " rubbish ". As for the cut out iron figures, well just look at all the stick, Milton Keynes took, over the concrete cows, and the Iron men statues dotted along a certain beach. It's an out and out laughable piece of old iron, and an eyesore that would look a lot better outside one of the many scrapyards in the district. No wonder the " artist " was looking a bit relieved, he can now bank that cheque for £25,000, and enjoy a well earned break in a sunnier spot than Cradley Heath.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 25, 2012 at 10:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Chainmaking, Lady Dilke. 1840 - 1904


Now you won't find this perticular Lady mentioned in the records of Blackcountry Nail and Chainmaking, unless you look hard. Her birth name was Emily Frances Strong, and she was born in the Seaside Town of Ilfracombe, Devonshire. The family moved to Oxford while she was young, and she took an avide interest in the world of Art. Reported to be a bit uptight about morals, although some rumours suggested other wise. Every upper class Victorian family, did what was necessary, to marry off their female children to weathly men. Emily, now 21, and for one so young, decided to marry one Mark Pattison, the ageing Rector of Lincoln College Oxford, he was 48 years old. ( Possibly Emily didn't want any bedroom shenanigens, and there were no children from the union.) She became an authority on works of art, paying perticular attention to the French school. In 1884, her husband died, and the widow took up with someone she had met at Oxford, a man who had a reputation for the ladies, Sir Charles Dilke. He was a firebrand politician, and she took onboard some of his views. In 1885, during a notorious Divorce case involving him, they married, but the case wreaked his career. She had always been a strong advocate of womens rights, and wrote several essays on Womens Trade Unions. She was involved with both the Womens Protective and Provident League, and the Womans Trade Union League, which she had joined in 1874. As the now Emilia, Lady Dilke, she toured the country, holding forth her views, and encouraging women to fight back against low wages and exploitation. She also tried to encourage women to have less children, recognising that large families led to poverty, although this did not go done well everywhere she spoke. The Daily Telegraph, which had for some years been campaigning for better working conditions for women, now stepped up a gear, following several Government inspections of the regions, with a series of articles, regarding the appalling wages paid to women. To ram home the point, on the 14th October, 1889,  Lady Dilke, arrived in Cradley Heath, fresh from the North of England, and made several speeches while touring the district. Urging the women to band together and press for better wages, expounding the virtues of forming a trade union, and demonstrating how just how badly paid they were, she was well received. The call though, to be more independent, seems to have fallen on deaf ears, for it would be a further 21 years, ( and far too late then ) to make any changes to their poor and misery stricken lives. A keen supporter of the Sufferance Movement, she remained active right up until her death in Surrey, in Ocotober 1904. I am left wondering why more isn't said about the work of Lady Dilke, I trust it hasn't anything to do with her becoming a member of the aristocracy, because I believe it's what you do, not where you come from, that counts.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 13, 2012 at 3:53 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

There are a great many sad and tragic tales of the poor conditions that had to be endured to earn money at making chains. Some were born into the trade, others, like Elsie May Stringer, were thrown into it by circumstances. Born in Old Hill, in 1891, her father, Joseph Stringer, was a miner, and married Mary Ann Gove in 1890. Elsie had two brothers, Joseph and Percy, and a sister, Rose. In 1901, they were living in Peartree Street, and he was working at the Yew Tree Colliery, which was owned by the Corngreaves Ironworks. The family story is, that he was killed in an explosion at the pit, in 1902. He certainly did die in that year, but there's no record in the mining book that he lost his life down the mine. By a strange quirk of fate, there are records for two of his relatives, James Stringer, killed in a gunpowder blast with three others in 1863, and Henry Stringer, killed in a similar fashion in 1891, both at Salt Wells Colliery.  So, at 13, young Elsie had to roll up her sleeves, and get hammering making chain. At the factory of Benjamin Price, she found herself working from 6am to 6pm, for what amounted to half an old penny per hour. Her take home pay rarely exceeded 2 shillings and 6 pence a week. What kept a great many sane, was religion or the drink, Elsie chose the former. Luckily for her, in 1911 she met a nice young man, Percy Brettle, and in 1912, she hung up her thick leather apron, and quit the dirty old chain shop. Three children followed, but sadly her happy life fell apart again in 1920, when Percy suddenly died. Ther was no welfare state then, and Elsie needed money to feed her family, so back on went the leather apron, and off to the nearest chain shop she went. It wasn't far this time, just a few doors down in Bank Street, at John Johnsons little shop, where the family had moved to some years before. The work had improved somewhat over the years, although the pay left a lot to be desired, and the hours were just as long. She also had to supply her own fuel for the hearth, which she purchased each week from the local coke men, Roland and Benjamin Hill.  ( picture in the Working Life album ) This then was to be life for the next 16 years, until, in 1936, she met, and married, Enoch Willetts. This time, the leather apron would be hung up for good. They were together until death seperated them in 1955, when Enoch died. This time, Elsie did not have to take up a hammer, for the welfare state now took over, and Elsie had her pension money. She never lost the religion though, hard working folk like her never did, her faith kept her going. She passed away, in either 1978 or 1979, difficult to tell, as there were two women with the same name, and from the same area, listed in the records. Just one story from thousands of others, but typical of the time, and an insight into how life was back then.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

April 21, 2013 at 4:01 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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