It was a day to remember for all those who attended the unveiling of a tribute to the women chainmakers in Mary Macarthur Gardens, Cradley Heath on Saturday 9th June, 2012. The statue, standing ten feet high, is a memorial by local artist and sculptor Luke Perry to evoke the emotions of the struggle the town's womenfolk endured 100 years ago, toiling away in their brew house workshops, making chain from dawn till dusk, and finally having the strength, resolve and courage to strike for a living wage.
An estimated 250 people or more gathered to watch the unveiling; a throng of historians, television presenters, newspaper photographers, descendants of women chainmakers (Sylvia Shaw was present to remember her great grandmother Patience Round, the oldest striking woman chainmaker aged 79, and one of the most important personalities at the time), dignitaries, casual observers and other interested parties, all there to witness history in the making.
Speeches were made, the local Phoenix Brass Band filled the air with some traditional tunes, and with the sun just beginning to peep from behind the clouds, the delayed unveiling took place to rapturous applause. The statue now forms the focal point of a small garden in the corner of Mary Macarthur Gardens, named after the inspirational Scots woman who led the chainmakers to their victory in October 1910, The unveiling ceremony was only the beginning of a full day of celebration and remembrance of the chainmakers strike, which continued at Bearmore Recreation Ground where the Women Chainmakers’ Festival was taking place. A parade consisting of both youngsters and trades union representatives was mustered at the edge of the park before setting off towards Cradley Heath High Street which had been closed to traffic.
The closure allowed a marching band to lead the colourful parade down the middle of the road, and just behind the band's regimental ranks came children from five local schools, holding aloft the banners which they had helped to make under the supervision of Mrs Sam Bishop.
The Black Country's modern day woman chainmaker Annette Bradney and her daughter Sarann were also at the vanguard of the march, dressed in period costume and striding alongside Lynn Morris who was playing the part of Mary Macarthur, as it progressed down the street.
The weather had been kind on a day in Cradley Heath when the town's link with one of the most significant events in the region's industrial past had once again been reiterated.
The hundredth anniversary of the strike was celebrated two years ago, the Black Country Museum remembers the woman chainmaker's strike every year near the anniversary of the victory they won, and local trades unions now celebrate the event at their own rally in Bearmore Park. Luke Perry's statue can now been added to the town's commemorations and will stand as a proud reminder and tribute to those who won a famous victory and were lifted from the mire of sweated labour.
A series of programmes showing on BBC 2 at the moment are telling ‘The Great British Story : A People's History’, broadcast at 9pm on a Friday evening. Last year the Bugle caught up with Annette Bradney making chain at Temple Meadow School in Old Hill during filming for the series, and recently Fiona Dye, the Learning Project Manager for the BBC in the West Midlands, contacted us about an interesting event that is coming to Temple Meadow School in July that might well interest many Bugle readers.
She told us: "On Sunday July 15th Temple Meadow School will host a special BBC event to celebrate the remarkable history of the women chainmakers of the Black Country. Supporting the current BBC 2 series, the event will give people the opportunity to learn more about the hugely significant role these women played. In order to hear the real story of these women, the BBC need to hear from local history experts, perhaps even descendants of local women chain makers, who would be willing to come along on the day and share their knowledge and personal stories.
“Also taking place on the 15th July there will be a special screening of a recently rediscovered BBC documentary exploring the lives of former female chain makers.
It is thought the film has not been seen publicly since in was made in the 1970s. Alongside this will there will be a screening of the classic Philip Donnelly documentary called ‘Joe The Chainmaker’, and there are also plans to have the chainmakers forge in the school grounds up and running for demonstrations of chain making by Annette Bradney. If you think you can help bring this event to life, please phone me, Fiona Dye, on 07912583584 or contact me at email@example.com."