Glamorous blacksmith of the 1930s
WE turn the clock back to the 1930s with these two pictures of Black Country workers in Wolverhampton. They are very different scenes but both illustrate the craftsmanship upon which our region built its renowned reputation as the manufacturing heartland of Britain.
The first photograph was taken in January 1934 at the LMS workshops in Stafford Road, Wolverhampton, and shows a pair of signwriters at work.
The works date back to the 1840s, when the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway opened their line into Wolverhampton in 1849. At that time there were many railway companies and competition was extremely fierce. The smaller companies could not hope to compete against the big ones and so the S&B threw in its lot with the GWR in 1854 – after the London and North Western Railway had blocked their line into Birmingham.
After the take-over the GWR enlarged the facilities at Stafford Road and developed the site into its main works and headquarters for its northern section. The first locomotive built at Stafford Road was completed in 1859.
A total of 794 locomotives were built at Stafford Road before 1908, when the GWR decided to concentrate construction at its Swindon works. Stafford Road was also a repair centre and it continued in this role up until the demise of steam under British Rail. The works were closed in 1964.
The signwriters are making nameplates that would be hung on the sides of carriages for the LMS’S prestigious express services:
The Royal Scot was the LMS’S premier service (the name was adopted in 1927), running from London Euston to Glasgow Central.
The Sunny South Express ran from Liverpool and Manchester to Brighton and Eastbourne.
The Merseyside Express was from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street.
The Royal Highlander was the sleeper service from London Euston to Inverness.
The Mancunian ran from Manchester London Road to Euston.
The Welshman ran from Euston, via Chester, to stations on the north Wales coast.
The Manxman ran from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street to connect with the Isle of Man steam packet to Douglas.
Irish Mail ran from London Euston to Holyhead and the boat to Dun Laoghaire.
Our second picture, from 1930, purportedly shows a Wolverhampton blacksmith at work, assisted by his wife who is working as a striker – but we think there is something not quite right with the photograph.
It has clearly been staged. The wife may be wearing a tatty old apron but beneath it she’s got on her best frock. And just look at her shoes! Surely, she didn’t wear those every day she stood beside the anvil block and swung that heavy hammer. We’re guessing she decided she was going to look her best for the photographer, with her hair freshly shingled.
Her husband is more suitably dressed but appears remarkably clean for a blacksmith at work and there may not even be a fire lit in the hearth behind them.
Quibbles aside, it is a fine photograph of an old blacksmith’s workshop, with its anvil mounted on a wooden block, the bellows and water tub and the row of tools hung on the wall; the kind of workshop that could be found in the hundreds in the old Black Country.
Is there a chance that after 88 years someone may recognise this blacksmith and his glamorous wife?
LMS workers in Wolverhampton making nameplates for express trains, January 1934. (Harry Todd/fox Photos/getty Images)
A blacksmith and his wife at work in Wolverhampton, 1930. (Underwood Archives/getty Images)