Glam­orous black­smith of the 1930s

Black Country Bugle - - FRONT PAGE - by DAN SHAW

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)

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