I recently had the pleasure of meeting Ginnie. One of her recent posts mentioned that she was about to visit England and was meeting up with photo bloggers from the Shutterchance community not far away from where I live. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet her.
On the day, there was initially a bit of a mix up about the exact place to meet but we found each other eventually. As a result of the mix up, I got the chance to sit in an authentic 1910 pub, which was a bit like stepping back in time. Children under the age of eighteen were not allowed in the bar area. Most people don’t realise that children are still not legally allowed in a public bar. Also, a comment was passed that it wasn’t seemly for ladies to be in the bar area…
We had a wonderful day and, amongst our conversations, we talked about the history of the region and also the women chainmakers and their struggle for a decent basic wage.
The Black Country Museum gives a great insight into the social history of the Black Country. Old buildings have been moved from their original location and been rebuilt brick by brick authentically within the museum to recreate a village that is centred around a canal. The museum is a living history of the traditional skills of the area where skilled craftsmen and costumed demonstrators bring history alive. There was a special event taking place that celebrated the metal industries that brought fame to the Black Country. This meant that we were able to see amongst other things; chain making demonstrations, brass foundry demonstrations, the rolling mill in action and the Cradley Heath women chainmakers’ strike exhibition.
The museum has been host the annual women chainmakers’ festival. A couple of years ago I attended the event with friends (a theme seems to be emerging). The event commemorates the struggle of the women chainmakers to earn a decent living wage.
In 1910 the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath successfully fought a a 10 week dispute to establish a minimum wage for their labour. The dispute was led by union organiser and campaigner Mary MacArthur. By the end of the dispute the women chainmakers had managed to increase their earnings from 5 shillings (25p) to 11 shillings (55p) a week. The victory helped to make the possibility of a national minimum wage a reality.
Women chainmakers were a good example of ‘sweated labour’ manning hours of toil for minimal wages. The women chainmakers’ pamphlet, which gives extensive information about the dispute, quotes the following about the working conditions of chainmakers:
“Author Robert Harborough Sherard visited Cradley Heath to collect evidence for one of a series of articles, later published as a book ‘The White Slaves of England’ (1898), on the sweated trades of the land. He was taken by James Smith, secretary of the Chainmakers’ Union, to a place called Anvil Yard. Sherard Wrote:”
“Two of the girls working in the shed were suckling babes and could work but slowly. Those who could work at their best being unencumbered could make a hundredweight of chain in two and a half days. Their owner walked serene and grey-haired among them, checking conversation, and being, at times, abusive. She was but one of a numerous class of human leeches fast to a gangrened sore.
I enjoyed the history of the museum and my visit was all the more pleasurable for spending time with Ginnie, Astrid and the Shutterchancers. The memory will stay with me for a long time to come.