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Chain making

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Chain making (handmade welded)

 

The making of handmade fire welded chain.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Cradley Heath, Black Country
Area currently practised Black Country
Origin in the UK Chain making was at its height in the 19th Century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 0
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
11-20

4 volunteers at Mushroom Green Chain Shop

The Black Country Museum has a pool of around 14 trained staff who demonstrate chain making

Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
0
Current total no. of leisure makers
0

 

History

Cradley Heath in the Black Country was the centre of the 19th Century chain making industry. During the industrial revolution there was a high demand for chain for a wide variety of uses from anchor chain to dog chain.

Women’s chain

Heavy and medium chains were made by men in factories but lighter chains were made by women and children, often in extremely poor conditions. This lighter chain was known as ‘hand-hammered chain’ or ‘country-work chain’ and had a wide range of uses in agriculture, mining and industry.

The women would have worked on a piece rate for middlemen known as ‘foggers’ who would supply manufacturers and take a hefty percentage of the pay. The women chainmakers’ work was a prime example of ‘sweated labour’ – long hours of toil for poverty wages carried out in unsanitary, often dangerous conditions.

In 1910 the Women Chainmakers of Cradley Heath laid down their tools to strike for a living wage. Led by the charismatic union organiser and campaigner Mary Macarthur, the women’s struggle hit the national and international headlines. They were the first in the world to enforce a national minimum wage for a trade and should be seen as part of the wider movement toward gender pay equality.

In 2012 a statue honouring the Women Chainmakers was erected in Cradley Heath. The statue was made by Luke Perry, a local artist and metalworker from a family of chainmakers.

Slavery and chain making

Despite a lack of written records, it is now certain that production of chains and collars for the slave trade would have been a notable part of production in the Black Country.

 

Techniques

  • Working with hand held and foot hammer
  • Manipulating metal into shapes
  • Fire welding

Hand forged chain can be tested and approved for use as functional chain. The only chain maker who is still doing this is Liam Eglington-Parkes.

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

  • Women’s chain
  • Ship’s chain – not done for around 50 years
  • Twisted chain – not done for 20 years
  • Open link fire welded chain
  • Stud chain
  • Leaf chain making

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: chain is now electrically welded and mostly imported to the UK
  • Cost of raw materials and energy: the volunteers at the Mushroom Green Chain shop have reported that the costs of producing chain continue to rise, thus making it increasingly more difficult to continue.

 

Support organisations

  • Black Country Museum
  • Mushroom Green Chain Shop
  • Friends of the Women Chainmakers

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • Luke Perry – as a volunteer at Mushroom Green Chain Shop, open 6 times a year
  • Natalie Perry – as a volunteer at Mushroom Green Chain Shop
  • Liam Eglington-Parkes – as a volunteer at Mushroom Green Chain Shop

 

Training providers

 

 

Other information

Mushroom Green Chain shop is open 6 times a year as a social activity. https://www.ihsartworks.com/mushroom-green

Avoncroft Museum has a 19th chain shop that is open to the public but it is not currently producing chain.

References

  • Book on chain making by Geoff Marshall soon to be published
  • National Education Union teaching resource pack: Mary Macarthur and the Cradley Heath Women Chainmakers’ Strike of 1910
  • http://chain.org.uk/history-of-chains/
  • https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/dancing-story-chain-making-industry-and-its-links-slavery-and-emancipation
  • TUC, Women Chainmakers: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/women-chainmakers
  • Slavery and the black country: collars and chains: https://simonbriercliffe.com/2017/09/03/slavery-and-the-black-country-collars-and-chains/#
  • BBC, 2021, Statue honours women chainmakers of Cradley Heath https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-18367505