Keep­ing the fires of in­dus­try burn­ing

Work­ers at fa­mous pot and pan mak­ers

Black Country Bugle - - FRONT PAGE - By DAN SHAW

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

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