1977 B&W Social Documentary – Laboring Iron In Black Country, England

Break Time. Every year Over 2,000 tons of anchor and fender chain were supplied to harbours throughout the Middle East. (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

This documentary photography was submitted to Edge of Humanity Magazine by Documentary Photographer Janine Wiedel.

 

Click on any image to see Janine’s photo library of social issues.

 

Welding Machine. After the chain is released from the Bending machine, the joints are welded together. Griffin Woodhouse (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Welding Machine. After the chain is released from the Bending machine, the joints are welded together. Griffin Woodhouse (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

 

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.

 

Shackle Fitter-Upper at Barzillai Hingley. (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Shackle Fitter-Upper at Barzillai Hingley. (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Newly Formed Chain. A bar of steel being heated in furnace will be bent and added. Each link can weigh over eight stone (112 lbs), Griffin Woodhouse (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Newly Formed Chain. A bar of steel being heated in furnace will be bent and added. Each link can weigh over eight stone (112 lbs), Griffin Woodhouse (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

 

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.

 

Shackle-Maker at Eliza Tinsley (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Shackle-Maker at Eliza Tinsley (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Maker of Small Chains at ElizaTinsley. (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Maker of Small Chains at ElizaTinsley. (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

 

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.

 

Tuning, Maintaining & Adjusting. (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Tuning, Maintaining & Adjusting. (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Ben’s Bending Machine. A red hot bar of steel bar of steel is bent and linked onto the previous one. (Griffin Woodhouse, Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Ben’s Bending Machine. A red hot bar of steel bar of steel is bent and linked onto the previous one. (Griffin Woodhouse, Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Clarrie Johnson. Clarrie is one of the two remaining hand chainmakers still using the traditional method. (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

Clarrie Johnson. Clarrie is one of the two remaining hand chainmakers still using the traditional method. (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

The Chain Workshop. Griffin Woodhouse (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands UK)

The Chain Workshop. Griffin Woodhouse (Cradley Heath, The Black Country West Midlands 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.

 

See also:

Social Issues / 12 galleries

International Projects / 9 galleries

By Janine Wiedel

 


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