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A day in the life of a chainmaker

By john workman  |  Posted: August 05, 2010

The chainshop at Mushroom (Musham) Green

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The Black Country is famous for its heavy industries of yore, when fiery furnaces lit up the night sky, and huge factories with clusters of smoke stacks dominated the skyline, producing any number of commodities that were exported all around the world.

But this industrial colossus started from small beginnings, in tiny workshops attached to even smaller cottages, where a family would live and work throughout their entire lives, eking out a meagre living making nails, then later, chain. It’s hard to imagine a day in the life of a chainmaker, toiling from dawn till dusk in a noisy, grime-ridden environment, knowing the next loaf, or if you were lucky, piece of meat, to be served at the dinner table depended on the number of nails or links of chain that were produced.

Stepping back in time to grasp just a little of what life was like in the chainshops of our Black Country ancestors is an opportunity not too be missed, and every second Sunday in the month at the Chainshop Museum in Mushroom (Musham) Green, Cradley Heath, Mick Bradney and his wife Annette are on hand to give chainmaking demonstrations and answer all the questions necessary to bring a snap shot of the old Black Country back to life.

Annette's contribution at the workshop is particularly important at this time because the 100th anniversary of the women chainmaker's strike in Cradley Heath is only sixteen days away.

There is a certain amount of debate about how old the Mushroom Green chainshop is, but as far as Musham Green itself is concerned it can be reliably traced back to the early years of the 19th century. However there is evidence of pauper nailors living and working in the area as early as the 1720's. With the advent of the cheaper machine-made nail from 1830 onwards, the nailors turned their skills of iron working to wrought iron handmade chainmaking, a trade that would dominate the social history of Cradley Heath for the next 100 years.

The Chainshop Museum at Mushroom Green will open for business at 2.30 pm on Sunday August 8th, and the sparks will fly until closure at 5 pm. It's location will be signposted off Quarry Road.

A repeat performance will then take place on 12th September and on 10th October; visits that are certain to live long in the memory.

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