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You are here: HomeAbout UsOur SocietyEventsNail-makers of Bromsgrove (Jan 2012)

Nail-makers of Bromsgrove (Jan 2012)

Albert CraneThe topic of the January meeting was the 'Nail-makers of Bromsgrove' and the talk, given by Pat Tansell, was very well attended.

Pat explained that nail-making was widespread throughout the Black Country but was also associated with Bromsgrove particularly Sidemoor, Catshill, Wildmoor and Bournheath. The number of people employed in nailmaking increased after the production of rod iron by slitting mills began in the 17th century. Many varieties of nails could be  made with Bromsgrove specialising in small nails. The industry was in its heyday in the late 18th and 19th centuries but was already declining by the 1820s.

There are many valuable records, for example wills, inventories, apprenticeship documents, Poor Law records etc, which provide information of what life was like in these communities. Pat mentioned some resources available at Bromsgrove Library, including a rare transcript of the 1811 and 1821 census for the local area and a copy of a list showing payments made to the poor of the district in 1806. Pat described how nails were made and how the workers depended on the nail-masters both to provide rod iron and to buy the finished product. The docks apparently required huge numbers of nails for many years but a decline in the number of nails required, including those used for tea chests together with the introduction of overseas competition meant an eventual loss of work for the nail-makers. 1842 seems to have been a particularly bad year when there was a sharp downturn in trade followed by an associated reduction in wages. Around this time the living conditions of working families were being investigated and this led to the introduction of several laws such as the Poor Law Amendment Act and the Factories and Workplace Act. All members of the family were expected to play a part in the nail-making although often it was left to the women and children when the men went to find seasonal agricultural work. However, the passing of the Education Act in 1870 resulted in children having to fit in making nails around attendance at school which meant that they had to endure long, arduous days.

Pat described the 'truck' or 'fogger' system which consisted of middle men who paid in kind so that the workers were tied into one shop or alehouse for provisions. This was illegal as it bypassed the nail-masters although it did offer instant payment and was therefore attractive to the workers. The practice managed to survive even when informants were offered half of any resulting fine as an inducement - being an informant could be quite lucrative!

Nail-making continued in Bromsgrove on a small scale until just after the end of WW2. Rupert Rea, who had learnt the skills of the trade by watching his grandparents, is remembered by many who saw him demonstrate nailmaking at Avoncroft Museum until shortly before his death in 2005. Pat dedicated her talk to Rupert and also to Bill Kings and to Henry Ince who championed the cause of the nailers in the 1800s. Ince was a Methodist preacher who travelled many miles to deliver his sermons. Pat ended her talk with a song called 'Henry Ince' written and performed by Keith Judson, a local Baptist Minister and folk singer. There are many reminders of our nail-making heritage around Bromsgrove but Pat suggested a more permanent reminder, perhaps in the form of a plaque, would be a suitable tribute to those who worked in the trade.

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