BILLINGHAMS OF CRADLEY HEATH
Updated February 2006
The Lye and Wollescote.
By The Late Wesley Perrins M.B.E.
I am not sure if there is any copyright to this information if there is and anybody complains I will take the information off this website straight away. I think though if Wesley where still alive he would welcome it this gentleman was very well known for his knowledge of the local area, he was an elected Member of Parliament and a local historian much loved and looked up to in Lye and Wollescote.
He was also a member of the local Bethal Church more on this later.
Wesley Perrins left school at the age of 13 years to help his father in the Nail forge at home.
Of the people he worked among he said; " They were a sturdy independent folk, answering no mans hooter (factory siren) but earning their living as nailmakers in their own homes."
The Industries of the Lye area by Wesley Perrins.
One of the earliest records of industry in the Lye is associated with fireclay. Mr Millward, living in Wollescote Hall during the civil war(1650) sold fireclay to a Mr Knight of Bewdley, who sent it by trows down the river severn to Bristol. He was paid part cash and part in flagons of neat cider.In an agreement dated 1714 Edward Thommas Millward agreed with George Knight of Bewdley that they should sell him all the glass house pot clay from their mines in Lye. Payment for this concession was to be forty shillings a ton and five dozen quart bottles of the best ,pure,neat, cider, together with the bottles.
Coal was also mined and used for firing the kilns in which bricks, retorts,firebricks etc were burnt hard.
A map of 1699 shows The Lye Forge at the bottom of Dudley Road on the banks of the river Stour. The river Stour rises close to St Kenelms church Romsley. It flows through Halesowen, Cradley, Lye and Stourbridge on its way to the river Severn at Stourport. On its banks stood Hell Hole Forge, The Lye Forge, Stambermill Forge, Stourbridge Forge and many others.
Fiddler Thomas Foley, who built and endowed Oldswinsford Hospital School in 1667 made his fortune by splitting iron into nailers rods. Nailing was an inportant industry in Lye.
Over the years, men and women in the Lye learnt to shape iron and made anvils, vices, edge tools, frost cogs, nails, chain, agricultural machinery, holloware, galvanised and enamelled, and there foundries and forges.
CLAY AND COAL MINING.
The older generation of miners often said that the Lye was held up by a large submerged lake of water and that clay and coal were two minerals readily available. Even before the enclosures act settlers camped on the Lye waste and stayed on to build mud houses thus the Lye became known as the mud city. Excellent fire clay was found throughout the Lye area. Tradition has it that the Hungarian refugees digging holes to erect tents on Hungary Hill near Stambermill, discovered the clay and at once realised its value for use in glass making.
Rufford and Co. Had an extensive brickyard near to the viaduct. Two old photographs of the wooden structure that preceded the present brick structure built in 1851, shows the river Stour being put to use with a water basin for boats, there is a kiln on the right hand side of the main road facing Stourbridge.
The works also covered a large area on the left which stretched across New farm to Grange Rd.
The clay was obtained from pits and a large marl hole on New farm. Over Grange lane stood Hadcrofts Brickworks. On the skyline stood Oldnall pit and later on Beech tree. Just beyond was Top Park pit while below, in Park Road was Harper and Moores. In the Oldnall bank but below the Oldnall Colliery was a "walking in pit". There was a marl hole in Balds lane and when I was young almost opposite Brook St, there stood three brick built, beehive like structures which covered the disused mine shafts. As boys we played there and where the brickwork was broken we used to drop a stone through the opening and listen to the sound as the stone hit the water at the bottom of the shaft.
Near the Wollescote Nursary School stood the "coffin pit", so called because the coffin of a woman who had died in Crabbe St was cast down this pit following a family disagreement. However the coffin was recovered in good condition with a line and hook and the funeral was delayed.
The Lye Parish Church was built in 1812 with bricks all made on site. Men dug the clay in the churchyard. Also in the churchyard women moulded the bricks and kilns were built in which they were baked.
There was a brickyard in Chapel Street and bounded by Morvale Street. At the back of the "Rising Sun" Pedmore Road and Cemetary Road, stood Hickmans Brickyard and on the Stourbridge Road was at the rear of St Marks day school was Timmis Brick works. There was Lunts in Bott lane, a gin pit in Cridden and G.K.Harrisons in Dudley Road. All prove that clay and coal were readily available throughout The Lye. In many cases the clay and coal seams were very close together and often the same shaft was used to bring the coal and clay to the surface.
Unfortunately many workings have been forgotten and lost. For example The Lye Sports ground, Stourbridge Road was constructed in 1930 there was a drainage problem because the general level of the ground was below the level of the surrounding streets. Old miners insisted that a pit shaft was at the rear of Broadfield house, Stourbridge Road, which was the home of Dr C.H.Darby. A search was made, the shaft found and the land drained into it. Later still, another pit was uncovered nearer the Ludlow Works, when further extensions to the playing field were made.
Perhaps the last pit to reopened in The Lye was the Huddy Castle in Grange Lane in 1947 for Mr A. Porter who ran a brickyard there. The shaft was originally sunk about 1875/78 by James Hill and it was a coincidence that his grandson Howard Gaulden Hill should have re-opened it the shaft seventy years later.
Stourbridge Fireclay at the beginning of the nineteenth century was in great industrial demand.
It was also established (According to William Scott in 1832) That the best clay covered an area of about 1-1/2miles in length and 1 mile in breadth having the village of Lye nearly in the centre.
Working in the Brickyards by Wesley Perrins MBE.
Clay is the basic material used in brickmaking. The clay is extracted from the ground either by digging in marl holes or from pits underground. The red clay is used for making bricks for house building etc.
The White clay was piled high in the open air like small hills and left out to weather. This meant that the rain, frost and sun helped to soften the clay, making it more workable. If high quality clay was needed for special jobs, women with baskets worked on the clay bank, gathering clay free from impurieties such as iron segments.
When ready the clay was taken into the works and processed. It was shovelled into a "mill" and ground down, water being added when necessary. The clay was then wheeled to the moulders who formed the the shapes required in wooden moulds. After moulding the shapes where placed on the floor of the "stowe" to dry. The floor of the stowe was kept warm by fire holes around the outside of the building. When the shapes were green dry and firm enough to move, they were loaded onto barrows and wheeled to the kiln to be fired.
Many kilns in the Lye brick yards where circular in shape with a dome and fire holes spaced around the outside. There was a spy hole for looking into the kiln after it had been sealed.
Two men, the setter and his assistant, took the bricks from the wheelbarrows and carefully placed them in the kiln for burning.
Many kilns in the Lye brickyards were circular in shape with a dome roof and fire holes spaced round the outside. There was a spy hole for looking into the kiln after it had been sealed.
Two men, the setter and his assistant, took the bricks from the wheelbarrows and carefully placed them in the kiln for burning. The bricks were so stacked as to allow the heat from the fires to circulate evenly throughout the kiln during burning.
When the kiln had its full load stacked, the doorway was sealed with firebricks and clay. The fires were then lit, a slow fire to start with, the heat gradually building up to maximum required. The fires were then slowed down untill they finally burnt out. The firing time from start to finish was 14 days. Each kiln had a pyrometer tube which registered the heat and enabled the setter to tell if he was gaining heat or losing heat.
A kiln could hold between 6000 and 10000 bricks. After the kilns were opened, the bricks were stacked in the open ground untill required. Sometimes a few bricks might be over burnt or distorted out of shape. These were placed outside the kiln and later ground down into "grog". The grog was mixed in with the clay to make other bricks.
Some of the Lye brickyards were close to the main Birmingham to Stourbridge railway line so they were able to have a private siding where the railway wagons came right into the yard. Women standing in a line a short distance apart tossed the bricks two at a time down the line right into the wagon from the stockpile.
The wheelbarrows used in the brickyards were a special design enabling the weight to be carried over the wheel. It was all a question of balance. Normally women wheeled 12 bricks at time. The weight of each brick before firing was 10lbs. so the load was 120lbs.
All the brickyards had brick built buildings known as the Hovel. These had a rough form of seat on either side and a big fire at the end. The fire was never allowed to go out so the Hovel was very useful for drying the outer garments of the workers who had to work outsides in all sorts of weather. Employees could also boil a kettle of water to make tea and cook bacon in a frying pan. I still have in my collection of industrial relics, a frying pan which was so used. It measures 3 feet 10ins long overall with the handle part being 2 feet long. This enabled the workers to cook at the fire without singeing their clothing.
Author Colin Billinghams Footnote; During the 1970s I worked at the Round Oak Steel Works, and sampled bacon and eggs cooked in this way all I can say is that I have never tasted bacon and eggs better anywhere.
Special skills and acquired knowledge was a feature in the brickyards. The kiln setter needed a long period of training. The burners needed to keep the fires burning day and night. Gas retort makers slowly built the retorts which were like long sewage pipes, 12 feet in length and shaped like a letter D. They were put in horizontal beds and packed with coal. The ends were sealed and fires lit under the retorts. This drew the gas from the coal which was drawn off and stored in the gas holder. The retorts were rodded and the coke pushed out. The coke was sold for industrial use.
I think the good relations existed because the employers knew all their employees by name. After all, if 100 workers were employed it would be considered a big works. A more general sized works would have about 50 workers employed. Families followed each other into the trade. One of the best known was the Charnock family of Attwood St Lye . Mr Charnock died at the age of 84 years having served all his working life in the fireclay industry. His eldest son, Harold, started in the trade when he was 14 years old and continued till untill he retired. Harold was a kiln setter and very active in the union. He became the branch chairman and was a member of the wages and conciliation board. His mother was the first woman appointed as a collector of the members contributions. His sister Rose, was also a collector and once a month they walked to the workers Institute, Cradley Heath, to pay in the contributions to the union officer, Miss Mary Howarth. Harolds brothers, Joseph and Alfred, were also active members of the union.
Rufford and Co, made fireclay baths, which after burning were glazed. Mr Rufford gave the land upon which to build St Marks Church, Stambermill. He also added 10% to all the money raised to build the Church but he stressed that so many pits had been worked on the land nearby that he feared the Church might be subject to subsidence. However, this problem was overcome by cast pillars being built into the Church.
Mr Timmis, the proprietor of the works that bore his name was a qualified mining engineer and every Thuresday he travelled to Birmingham to lecture students of Birmingham University.
Traditionally women worked in the Lye brickyards, both as moulders and labourers. The women brick moulders worked worked in a building called the "Stowe". It was a large building with fires around the outside which kept the floor of the Stowe warm. The labourers would wheel the clay spreading it on the floor of the Stowe. Women would remove their shoes and stockings and dance on the clay to soften it up. The labourers would then wheel the clay and set it down before the moulders bench. Each moulder had two open moulds with four sides and no top or bottom. The moulder would pick up some clay, cast into the mould, true it off, turn it over and true the bottom. Then repeat the operation on the next mould. She would carry the finished bricks and set them on the floor.Each moulder had her own territory. The days work was measured by count, and 1025 standard bricks counted for the days work. The odd 25 bricks were made in case some were spoilt,but spoilt bricks were very rare. A fast worker may save a few minutes on the day and could go home early if her count was on the floor. On the other hand a slow worker would have to work on after normal finishing time untill her days work was complete.
It has been claimed that taking all the manoeuves of the women moulders into account they turned over the equivalent of at least 28 tons a day. Men moulders made the heavy work,such as large fire bricks and fire bricks that stood behind the fire grates. After the firebacks were moulded they were kept in the Stowe untill they were "green dry". It was then standard practice for a woman to be called and two men carefully lifted the fireback and the woman became the "barrow" carrying it from the Stowe to the firing kiln for burning. In the kiln two men would place it for firing. Many of these firebacks would weigh over 1cwt. but if anyone questioned the weight being to heavy for a woman they were quickly told that they never hurt their backs because the women wore strong whaleboned corsets.
WOMEN FIREBRICK MAKERS.
The women employed in the firebrick trade up untill recently as slop moulders, were employed on what was known as a stint basis, and they were required to make, for their days work, 1025 fire bricks which would be roughly the same size as a modern size house brick, 9x4.50x3ins,and the weight of these bricks would be 11lbs before the bricks were burnt. The days stint for a woman slop moulder would be as follows; Her clay was put at the side of her bench, she used a metal cutter to cut a clod of clayto her bench, would shape it roughly with her hands and then lift the clod to the full extent of her reach above her head, and then would throw it down into the mould, which was open top and bottom. The clod would fill the mould completely, and she would then use a strip of wood to cut off the top of the clod level across the top of the mould.She would then pick up the mould with the wey clay in it, and turn it onto a flat piece of wood, and put this on the bench beside her. She would then carry the bricks two at a time along her drying Stowe and would place them on the floor to dry.
The length of her drying Stowe would be about 50 yds, and in the morning she would carry the first bricks 50yds there and back, and as her working day continued the distance would get gradually less.
After she had put the bricks down on the floor she would then go back along the Stowe to her bench and to repeat the process, so that her days work would comprise carrying out this operation over 512 times.
The following morning, before commencing her days work she would check that her previous days bricks were dry enough to turn over and fettle with two clippers and she would then mark the name of the firm on the brick. The following day the bricks would be ready for stacking and she would then pick up 1025 bricks that she had made the previous day and would stack them for transferance at a later date to the kiln.
Webmasters Note. After reading this I will never moan again about my workload!!!
THE CHAIN INDUSTRY.
The "Beach " report on the conditions of nailmakers and small chain makers in South Staffordshire and East Worcestershire was ordered to be printed by the House of Commons on the 9-11-1888.
This report suggested that the chainmaking did not date back for more than seventy or eighty years. That would be about 1810 and it settled mainly in the Cradley Heath area. In 1914 about twelve hundred men and an equal number of women were engaged in the trade. As nailmaking declined due to machinery taking over from the hand forgers, hundreds of nailmakers were without work. However, they had the knowledge and skill to operate the blacksmiths type of hearth and fire and they knew how to shape iron and weld it. They also had the backyard shops to work in, so it was only a short step to master chainmaking.
As in the nailmaking trade, the iron was rolled to the required size at the rolling mill and delivered to the factory. The outworkers usually fetched their bundles of iron from the employers warehouse and they collected the fuel at the same place.
The oldest firm I have so far traced was Thomas Perrins, Careless Green, Wollescote, established in 1770. The house in which he lived still stands, known as "Careless Green House". Thomas Perrins was buried in Old Swinford Churchyard.
The chainmaking Industry owed a lot to Lloyds, the maritime insurers, who offered cheaper premiums to the ship owners whose ships carried iron cables, for securing their boats instead of hemp ropes.
Children began to learn chainmaking from about the age of nine years. They started by blowing the bellows and they practised on the iron bends that tied the bundles of iron together..
Wages for women chainmakers were so low until 1910 that the newspapers refered to them as the "white slaves of England".
When working the women wore a potato sack as an apron and strong hob nail boots. If they popped out for shopping, they put on on a mans cap and a shawl.
Mary MacArthur of the Federation of women workers came to Cradley and organised a "Christian Crusade". She was encouraged by George Cadbury, the Quakers, Bishops and many titled people. The result was, that on the 10-1-1910, Parliament passed what was then called a trade board which improved conditions for the women in the chain industry. They had to be paid 2 and 3/4 pence per hour and they had a standard working week of 54 hours. The chain women were so elated when they heard the news that they marched around Cradley Heath carrying torches to the Sunday school of Graingers Lane Methodist Church. Those present said it finished up more like a prayer meeting.
I was secretary for the Cradley Chain Womens branch and the women often told me how their working day was spent.
They got up early to see their husbands off to work, for the men had to be at work for 6 am. Then, as they put it, they would turn into their backyard shop and work a rod or two. Next they would see their children off to school and do the domestic chores. Remember no industrial canteens or school meals were available so a miday had to be prepared. Somtimes pigs had to be fed and often a small barrell of beer had to be brewed as well. At 4pm they could put tea on the table for the children, and from 4pm till 8pm they used to make chains.
The workers institute, Lower High St. Cradley Heath, was built by Mary MacArthur with the residue of the money that poured in from all over the the country to help the women during their long strike.
Mrs Mary Woodhall (Old Hill) was the last women chainmaker to make chain by hand. She died 22nd October 1979.
The mend society, known as the the Society of thr Chainmakers and Strikers Association was wound up in 1979 and the assets divided amongst the remaining members.
Chain is still made today, but is now made by Machine.
Wesley was a pall bearer for a very dear old friend of mines greatgrandfather Mr Bennett who was married to Ada Billingham. She still says Cradeley with an E just as Wesley Perrins MBE did!! Have just received an email from Nigel Brown webmaster for The Cradley Links Website ; My mum used to
travel to work on the same train as Wesley in the 1930s. What a small world we live in!!