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Black Country town stages tenth Women Chainmaker's Festival

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 02, 2014

By John Workman

  • Annette Bradney in action on the ommer. Original photograph by John Workman, original artwork by Grant Mills

  • Striking women chainmakers at a rally in Cradley Heath High Street in 1910

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A BLACK COUNTRY town, that in the days of yore was the chain making capital of the world, is proud to present its tenth Women Chainmaker's Festival over the first full weekend in June, with history, fun and enjoyment the main ingredients.

On Friday evening June 6, and all day Saturday June 7, the organisers of the Cradley Heath festival, with the full support of the local community, have pulled out all the stops to make this year's extravaganza one that will live long in the memory, and fingers crossed blessed with a fine weather forecast.

Cradley Heath is steeped in the history of chain making and the somewhat misty-eyed romanticism of the women chainmaker's struggle for a living wage back in 1910, and over the past ten years the town's folk have warmed to the idea that many of their ancestors at that time were engaged in fundamental changes to industrial work practices. The strike, which began with just a handful of women, was full of courage and daring and was to become the first step of many made by a unionised workforce to establish the minimum wage.

In this neck of the woods it was the first time that women had stepped out from behind their aprons to fight so vigorously for female rights. They went on strike, despite the possibility of putting both themselves and their children at risk of starvation. But their indomitable spirit was galvanised into an immovable force thanks to the charismatic leadership of Mary Macarthur, whose respect for the women was immeasurable, and with a background of instigating industrial reform for women, this Scottish lass stepped forward to encourage, support, and finally lead the women to victory.

Annette Bradney, a friend of the Bugle for several years and probably the only woman at the moment who has the wherewithal to keep the historical legacy and local tradition of women making chain going, is someone who continues to demonstrate the skill and spirit of endeavour that the women chain makers of a century ago showed in their daily lives; a strenuous, exhausting and unforgiving occupation that was fraught with danger.

As part of the Festival Annette will be demonstrating the craft of the woman chain maker at the Temple Meadow School Chain Shop in Old Hill. The accompanying picture, a black and white etching, is a wonderful interpretation of Annette making chain and has been created by Cradley Heath artist Grant Mills, who has been able to capture the very essence of a woman chainmaker in action.

The Women Chainmaker's Festival opens on the evening of Friday June 6 at Bearmore Park, Bearmore Road, Cradloey Heath, between 7pm and 11pm with music in the Leftfield Marquee by various artists including Carol Widenbar from Wolverhampton and Brett Huckfield from Oldbury, both singer/songwriters.

On Saturday June 7 activities begin at 11am with a commemoration at the chainmakers' monument in Mary Macarthur Gardens followed by a banner procession along Cradley Heath High Street. The Festival will then continue in Bearmore Park. Throughout the afternoon a mini bus will be on hand to ferry people from the park to Temple Meadow School to see chain making demonstrations by Annette Bradney.

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