Keeping the fires of industry burning
Workers at famous pot and pan makers
OUR front page photograph shows three large boilers and the team of five young men who kept them fired up and up to pressure, providing power for many machines.
This kind of apparatus was typically found at most factories in the Black Country in the early 20th century. In the days before mains electricity was widely available, many works had their own powerplants, with steam engines not only providing motive power for machinery, but also powering generators for electric lights and power.
We believe the photograph above, of a group of female workers and their male foreman in the 1920s, was taken at the same place. Both pictures come to us from Janine Willetts – she thinks they may have been taken at Ernest Stevens’s Judge hollowware works in Cradley Heath, but she is not certain.
Janine said, “The two photos come from my aunt Emmie Crew, née Askins, who is third from the left, bottom row, with her work colleagues. I never thought to ask her where she worked. This should be a lesson to all who want to do a family tree – ask questions before it’s too late.”
If Janine is right, and Emmie did work at the Judge Works, she would have been one of many young female workers employed there.
Ernest Stevens set up his works between the railway line and the river Stour in Cradley Heath in 1896 and it quickly grew to become one of the world’s leading hollowware manufacturers.
In his 2007 book Ernest and Mary Stevens: The Continuing Legacy, local historian Roy Peacock, described life at the Judge Works when Emmie would have been there:
“The manufacturing process in the 1920s still involved a great number of people. In the first place, the blank steel sheets, which arrived by rail from South Wales, were cut into smaller sections by heavy presses. These were then formed into shapes by small presses and lathes and went for tinning. So far this was men’s work and in this stage an element of heavy labour was present. Enamelling was the next stage and this was where women took over.they were surrounded by large vats of grey enamel, into which they dipped the metal for its undercoat. The products were then fired in small box furnaces and the enamelling process was repeated in the final colour three more times. Bright colours and different patterns were applied for the more expensive items. There was a great deal of moving around the site and this provided much unskilled work. Young people seem to have been able to start work at 14, although they did not receive full adult pay until 21.
“Some of the production was piece work and this gave a certain speed to the process. As in most local manufacturing, there was a great deal of Black Country camaraderie, which provided a strong attraction for both men and women. Generally, the women stayed at the company, as the alternative was the much tougher work in chain making and other iron forging jobs.”
Did any of your ancestors work at the Judge in the 1920s? Perhaps you can confirm if that really is where these two pictures were taken, or you may have stories and pictures of your own to share. Please contact the Black Country Bugle, Dudley Archives and Local History Centre, Tipton Road, Dudley, DY1 4SQ, call 01384 889000 or email [email protected] blackcountrybugle.co.uk
Did these young ladies work for Ernest Stevens in the 1920s?
The sculpture above the main entrance to the office block of the recently demolished Judge Works in Cradley Heath