This documentary photography was submitted to Edge of Humanity Magazine by Documentary Photographer Janine Wiedel.
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From project “Chain Making – The Black Country Birmingham 1970’s” by Janine Wiedel.
Chainmaking in the Black Country
These photographs were taken in 1977 in the village of Cradley Heath in an area south of Birmingham known as the Black Country. During the Industrial Revolution the area was described as being “black by day and red by night”. Coal mines and iron works sprang up everywhere. Nailers and chainmakers settled here as iron and coal were right on hand. By 1890, the village of Cradley Heath was the centre of chainmaking in the world, not just Britain.
Everyone I met in Cradley Heath was closely connected to generations of chainmakers. Everyone had tales of the past, and of men and women who would slave so hard over hot forges that when they stood up they would have ‘pools of sweat around their feet”. In the past the workforce was mainly made up of women and children. The women might work for 12 hours a day at their hearths trying to make enough chain to supplement the poor pay their husbands earned digging coal in the mines or working in the iron foundries.
In the1980s, shortly after I took these photographs, the Thatcher Government came into power and most of the industries and workshops in The Black Country were forced to close down and unemployment soared. Today much of the area still remains as one of the most economically deprived communities in the UK.
These photographs are from my book and exhibition ‘Vulcans Forge’. This was a 2 year documentary project on Industries of The West Midland funded by West Midlands Arts, The Arts Council, and ATV Television.
By Janine Wiedel