THE industry most closely associated with Cradley is that of chain making. But this was a late trade that didn't appear until the 19th century and it was preceded by the activities of nail making and scythe grinding.
Cradley people had been engaged in the metal industry for centuries. Early tenant farmers saw the possibilities of using the natural resources that were close at hand. It cost them little to make a small bloomery furnace from local clay, where they could smelt readily-available ironstone and limestone to make blooms, or blocks of iron. Using a few simple tools, consisting of an anvil, or stiddy, hammers and tongs, the blooms were split into rods of a convenient size. Nails could then be cut and shaped from the rods.
In an age when people were obliged to give a tithe, or a tenth, of all their corn and wool and other agricultural produce to support the church and clergy, it was more profitable to manufacture goods that weren't liable for tithes. Early nailers became the wealthiest and highest-status people in the community.
In the mid-1500s the short stretch along the Stour from Corngreaves/Belle Vale to Saltbrook, near the Hayes, would have taken you to at least three bloomsmithies located on the river bank. Nailers occupied tenements around the Washford, where sheep were washed, since before 1387 when Philip Reynold paid the lord of the manor 500 lath nails for entry to property he had acquired from John Luyde. This was at the lower end of Cradley village by Lyde Green and adjacent to what later became known as Lodge Forge.
Technical innovations in the early 1600s contributed to a gradual decline in the status of nail makers. The introduction of blast furnaces made it possible to produce a constant supply of cast iron in liquid form. However, the plant needed was costly and only people like Lord Dudley, who owned the Ironworks at Cradley Forge, could afford such an enterprise. Then the introduction of the slitting mill to the West Midlands c1627, when the Hyde Mill at Kinver began operations, cut out the process of having to slit blooms by hand. This made it possible for people to take to the final process of hammering out nails in a smithy attached to their own house.
I will be giving more details in an illustrated lecture entitled Industry in Cradley before 1640 at Overend Methodist Mission, Banner's Lane, Cradley, on Thursday, May 15 at 7.30pm. There is no charge and all are welcome.