Tuesday, 25 November 2014

"Rouse, Ye Women" - Chainmakers Strike of 1910

Chainmaking is a job that's usually thought of as heavy labour, and the biggest chains were made by men in factories - the sort of chain that would hold a big anchor for a ship, for instance. But smaller chains were made by women at home, in little forges in the back yard, and the short lengths they made were joined together into longer chains.
I remember reading about a typical woman's day in one of the areas where chains were made, where she got up in the morning, stoked the fire, made a yard of chain, and took it down to the foreman who gave her the money for it - and then she could go and buy enough food for breakfast for the family.
In 1910, 800 women chainmakers went on strike in Cradley Heath in the Black Country, after a minimum wage was set for chain making which their employers refused to pay. This was the princely sum of tuppence ha'penny an hour, which was about double what some of the women were getting. The strike lasted for ten weeks, and in the end all the employers agreed to the new wages. Twelve of the women strikers were over 70 years old and one of them, Patience Round, was 79. She combined chain making with caring for her crippled husband, and was quoted in a newspaper article saying "these are wonderful times - I never thought that I should live to assert the rights of women."
There was even a song "Rouse, Ye Women!" to the tune of Men of Harlech, and there is an annual Festival in the Black Country celebrating the women chainmakers.

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