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Forum Home > Living and Working Conditions. > The Nailmakers Strike. 1842.

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

  The Beginning.


This of course, wasn't the first Strike that included Nailmakers, Miners, and Ironworkers. There had been a serious one in 1838, which resulted in an agreement signed by the Manufacturers, to pay a fixed amount for the Goods they needed, giving the working man a steady wage for his efforts. Agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws persisted however, and some years, the price of the counrtries staple food, Bread, was outragerous. A slump in the Iron trade, coupled with over production, forced men out of work, and with starving families to feed, it was only a matter of time before trouble flared. As for the Nailers, there were just too many being made for a shrinking market. The Belgians had begun to make their own, as had the French, both of whom could produce them much cheaper, and with the Corn Law in force, The Americans could no longer exchange their Flour for Nails, so they also made their own.


Working conditions in the industrial centre's of the country in 1841, were, to say the least, appalling. The wage that many exsisted on, you couldn't say actually lived on, for that would imply they still had enough to feed a family, which certainly wasn't the case, were exceedingly low. It only needed a small spark, and following a bad harvest, it wasn't long in coming. In early April, 1842, The area we call The Black Country, exploded into action. With hundreds of factories idol, and valuable machinery rusting away, the manufacturer's, not wishing to lose the fortunes they had already made, decided to reduce the rate they paid by 20%. The wage of a miner at this time were about 15 shillings a week, of an Ironworker about 11 shillings, and a Nailer, at times, would be hard pressed to earn 7 shillings. ( some were recorded as low as 4 shillings and sixpence, for a twelve hour day ) The reduction would see him have to put in a 17 hour day, just to earn 4 shillings. All of them, Miner, Nailer and Ironworker also had to put with the " Truck System ", whereby wages were paid in goods, not cash, and as explained elsewhere on the website, the goods supplied were not of the best. Employment Laws at the time were draconian; it was perfectly alright for an employer to sack a man without reference to giving two weeks notice, but it was a mortal sin, according to the employer, to leave your employment without giving said notice. This meant of course, that any one striking, that is to say, downing tools and walking out, committed an arrestable offence, which meant that the poor Nailer, convicted of a criminal offence, would find it hard, if not impossible, to gain any employment. So much then for equal rights.


It's impossible to say just where the whole lot took off from, there was trouble in Lancashire, Wales, Newcastle on Tyne, Durham, in fact everywhere that had any industry to speak of. The Potteries of North Staffordshire were almost totally shut down. No one knows whose idea it was, but on Tuesday, 25th April, 1842, from the bleak landscapesof Lye Waste, Cradley Heath, Netherton and Sedgeley, a vast throng of Nailers, Miners, and Iron workers, spread out across the district, and began to pay " Visits " to the manufacturer's Iron works, and to the Wharehouses of the many Nail Masters. Some men were still at work, and it was their intention, to put a stop to this practice, the men being known locally as " Knob-sticks ". The owners obviously protested, and they were violently grabbed, and abducted. Mr Nock from Cradley Heath, Joseph Jones from Reddall Hill, ( Old Hill ) his brother was also grabbed, and Mr Lewis from Darby Hand, ( Windmill End ) Lewis subjected his workers to some of the toughest conditions in the district, and was not a popular man. The entire band, then some several thousand strong, marched off to Dudley, where a meeting had been hastily set up. Twelve of the aggrieved men were selected to attend the meeting to put their case, but while this was going on, messages had been despatched for help. In Garrison Lane, in nearby Birmingham, a Troop of the 6th Enskillen Dragoons was quickly mounted, and set off at a fast trot to Dudley. The action was about to begin.


Military Intervention.


The Striking men had all gathered outside a Hotel in Dudley, unaware that the message for Troops had been sent. The delay in organising this meeting, between the various Nail and Iron Masters and the striking men, was quite deliberate, and the first inkling any of the majority of peaceful workmen had of any trouble came when one of the Magistrates began to read the Riot Act. The meeting was then in full swing. The Dragoon Guards, having been deployed just out of sight of the enormous crowd, as soon as the reading was finished, and with Sabres drawn, charged the crowd. Panic ensued, as men ran from the flashing swords, streaming into the side streets of Dudley, in an effort to escape. Men went down under the horse's hoofs, screaming in pain and agony, others suffered injuries from the backs and flat blades of the sabres, and many others were severely hurt from troopers slashing at their heads with open blades. Most of the vast assembly managed to escape the carnage, fleeing to the nether regions of the town, or heading for the safety of home territory. Back in Birmingham, the chief of Police, Mr Burgess, received a request for 50 extra Constables, who were quickly despatched to Dudley. The Authorities needed men who could actually arrest people, for the Military, who had no such powers, had, in the action of breaking up the crowd, captured about 40 striking men. Groups of strikers continued to be harrassed, and the number being held began to grow. The Town, which by now had effectively been shut down, ( all the Beer houses and Shops ) still held a great many " strangers " as the strikers were called, and the local Troop of Yeoman Cavalry had been put on standby. They had not of course been used in the initial action, for fear that many, who would have known some of the strikers, would rebel and not act according to orders. Tuesday night drew to a close, with an uneasy peace resting on the Town.


Overnight however, fearing even worse on the morrow, another Troop of Eniskillen Dragoons had been ordered to garrison other Towns of the area. Sections moved into Cradley Heath, Oldbury, Halesowen, Old Hill, and Rowley Regis, and the Dudley Yeomanry followed suit. A message had also been sent to London, which summoned the Commander of the widely spread Worcestershire Yeomanry, one Colonel Robert Clive, to attend to his troops now deployed. On the way to Birmingham, he ordered the other nearest units, at Evesham, and Tardibrigg, to ride to the area and await instructions. Many residents of Dudley, were also surprised to see, the arrival of two Artillery pieces, complete with full gun crews. Fearful, that the Miners among the strikers would avail themselves of the explosives used at the many Colleries, the Authorities caused even more panic among the townsfolk, who believed they would be the targets. Angry strikers, faced with well armed soldiers, fought back in a series of little actions, throwing stones and other missiles. The main target being the Horses. Meanwhile, the detention of stikers continued, some of whom were immediately shipped off to Stafford Gaol, without the benefit of being placed before the Magistrates; this of course was unlawful. Another meeting had been arranged for the next day, between the Strikers and the Masters, and Dudley settled down to another uneasy night.


Having, by Thursday morning, cleared the streets of " strangers ", and frightend of further mass demonstrations, about three hundred of the strikers were allowed back in front of the Hotel where the meeting was taking place. Some pressure had been applied to the Masters it seemed, for they now suggested a reduction in wages and rates by only 10%. This was rejected, and it's wasn't hard to see why, given the ragged and starving appearence of the population of the district. There began a series of ambushes, as troops patrolled their alloted areas. The strikers had amassed at points along roads, piles of bricks and cinders, and fought running battle with the mounted troopers who, like the strikers they had so enthusiasticaly charged two days before, began to suffer causualties. Thomas Pargeter, at his Nail wharehouse in Rowley Regis, was besieged by strikers, and the Dragoons were forced to undergo a barrage of rocks and stones, to effect a rescue. A similar scene was enacted in Old Hill, where another running battle finally petered out in Netherton, and in Oldbury, where the local lock up was destroyed. All designed of course to stretch the military presence, and which in the end worked. Faced with more pressure, and with a growing bad press about the handling of the disturbance, and the over response of the local authority, the Nail, Coal, and Iron Masters, now agreed to return to the terms of the 1838 agreement. This removed the reason for the strike, and although it did nothing to alleviate the rotten conditions of the working class, it had demonstated, that if you make a loud enough noise, the message will be heard. There was only then the aftermath  to deal with, and the awkward questions that would be asked in Parliament, what now would be the fate of those arrested, ( over 600 wre locked up in Stafford Gaol ) for merely standing up for their rights, and asking for food and decent working conditions. The answer wasn't long in coming, and for some it was a bit harsh, but that, as they say, is another story.



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

November 15, 2013 at 3:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

You would have expected the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry to be well equipped, and smartly turned out. And so they were, for they could at times be confused with being the private Army of the Earl of Dudley, the richest man in the whole of England. ( Some said in the World.) They were in action in the Black Country in 1831, 1832, and various other dates up until 1842, which was the last time they were used for riot control. As you can see from the picture, very smart indeed.



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

December 13, 2013 at 3:44 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Pedro
Member
Posts: 25

Simon Briercliffe, in his Blog "Up the Oss Road" has posted an article concerning an area of Dudley called the Mamble, around 1866. Well worth reading and showing that the conditions of the working poor had not changed much. In the comments I have made a reference to the Dudley Yeomanry and one of the "better class" being William Bennitt.

 

https://uptheossroad.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/slums-of-the-black-country-the-mambles-dudley/

October 14, 2015 at 1:25 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

I have just been asked by a visitor to the website if I put any names to the striking nailmakers who were arrested. And of course, what happened to them. So here we go Sue Brown, and I hope it all helps.


When all the fuss of two days of rioting died down a bit, saner heads began to evaluate the situation, Most of those hastily arrested were released without charge, for they shoudn't have arrested in the first place, the Military had no powers of civilian arrest. This left just 10 men, identified as the major ringleaders in the resulting fracas. In no special order, they were, Elijah Bingham, Ebenezer ( Ebor ) Johnson, 20, Edward Greenfield, 39, Joseph Foster, Jacob Baker,38 William Edwards, Benjamin Bache, 29, Charles Bridgewater, 26, Elijah Chapman,26, and John Sheppey,45. All of them pleaded not guilty to the charges, and some were indeed let off lightly, but for 4 of them, and one in perticular, there was a harsh price to pay. Elijah Chapman, the man who had thrown bricks and rocks and injured a Police Officer, was given, dispite having already served over 9 weeks on remand, Six Months Imprisonment. Ebor Johnson, Benjamin Bache, and Elijah Bingham were all given Four Months imprisonment, with Hard Labour.


This may not seem to bad to many modern eyes, but given the really hard conditions of the prison regimes of the time, those short months must have seemed like a life sentence. It would be fair to say, that some men sentenced around this time, never recovered their health afer they were released. Thankfully, in this instance they all did. You can find the above details Sue, in the newspaper archives of the old Worcestershire Guardian, which I believe are now on-line via the British Library. ( You do of course have to pay to view )

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

December 18, 2015 at 12:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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