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We broke into Netherton friend's Grandad's shed

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 10, 2014

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I SAW in The Bugle Mr Morgan's letter about Dr Michael Hall and his interest in nail making in the Black Country.

He may be interested in a story from my childhood which is very directly connected to this industry. Please bear with me while I set the scene.

I was born in Netherton in 1933 and via "The Brewery, Northfield Road and Netherton Church of England Schools, I went to Dudley Grammar School and qualified in medicine in 1957 (University of Birmingham).

It was during my first year at the Grammar School (aged 12) that the incident occurred.

My father was a miner and to describe us as poor was an understatement but I had a more affluent best friend whose parents ran a haberdashery business in the middle of Netherton while his aunt had a general grocer's in St John's Street and it is in this building that the interest lies. It lay on the corner of St John's Street and one of the various 'Folds' which seemed to run between roads or streets but did not themselves qualify for so lofty a title.

It was during one of the long school holidays that my friend and I were going down the fold that allowed access to the side of his aunt's shop that we noticed a small dilapidated wood/brick building.

This was attached to the rear of the shop but at a lower level due to the slope of the fold in relation to St John's Street.

It was shuttered up but was easy to break into. We found ourselves in a very dingy, dusty room containing some interesting objects, these were small anvils, furnaces, vices and various tools.

There were also thin 6-foot lengths of hexagonal metal and bundles of smaller 6-inch lengths which tapered and had a head fashioned at one end.

We were aware that my friend's grandfather was described as a 'nail master' so it was easy to work out what this place was and this was confirmed by the family, though I seem to recall that they were less than enthusiastic about making the admission.

My parents described the arduous process of nail making and I think that a figure of "a penny a hundred" was mentioned as a payment to the worker.

We had a lot of pleasure from this building for the rest of that holiday but then lost interest.

This interest was revived years later when, with my family, I visited the Black Country Museum.

One of the guides was talking about nail making and seemed to suggest that the exact knowledge of the process was incomplete.

I told him my story and was gratified at his excitement but saddened when we realised that the building had been demolished years ago.

I take The Bugle regularly and keep up my interest in the area, visiting Netherton and Dudley from time to time.

I corresponded with Trevor Raybould when he was preparing his book on the Grammar School and mourn its passing because without it I would probably have followed my father into the mines and, like him, suffered a premature death from respiratory disease instead of reaching my 82nd year still healthy and playing regular golf.

With kind regards and very best wishes.

Cyril Bate,

886 Chester Road, Erdington.

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