BLACK COUNTRY WOMEN The legacy lives on ... BE INSPIRED
Patience Round is said to have started making chain every day from the age of ten. In her
lifetime she made many miles of chains and is said to have recorded over 3,000 miles of
links by the time she was fifteen.
As a child she would have been working alongside her parents and siblings in the backyard
where the family forge was located. She said she was happy with the warmth of the fire and
the fascination of the sparks as hammer beat out the metal.
She was paid less than 1p in today's money for each hour she worked.
It was a hard life and a typical working day would start at 4am and last until the light faded
in the evening.
Although she lived just 10 miles from Birmingham in Cradley Heath, she never visited the city
or travelled any distance from her home.
One wonders how any of the women who made chain had time to look after their households
and bring up a family, but they did.
Patience worked for over 67 years at the forge. In 1910 she went on strike with many other
chain making women to have their wage increased which was eventually agreed but still
didn’t double the hourly rate.
Patience was born into industry and like so many other women of the time in the Black Country,
worked alongside their men to earn a living, to survive! Although the long hours and back breaking
work took their toll on her body she maintained her faculties and lived until she was 103.
During the 19th century the Black Country, in particular the Cradley Heath area, became the centre for chain making in Britain. Heavy to medium chains were produced by men in factories, however the smaller chains (often known as 'hand-hammered' or 'country-work' chains) were often hand-worked by women or children in small cramped forges in outbuildings next to the home. The work was hot, physically demanding and poorly paid. Like other home working, chain making was an example of a "sweated" trade, where workers (often women) were paid a pittance to produce cheap goods at home.
In 1909 the Liberal government passed the Trade Boards Act to set up regulatory boards to establish and enforce minimum rates of pay for workers in four of the most exploited industries - chain-making, box-making, lace-making and the production of ready-made clothing.
In the Spring of 1910, the Chain Trade Board announced a minimum wage for hand-hammered chain-workers of two and a half pence an hour but many employers refused to pay the increase.
In response, the women's union, the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW), called a strike.
The founder of the NFWW, Mary Macarthur, used mass meetings and the media during the 10 week strike to bring the situation of the striking women to a wider audience. The strike became an international cause célèbre and the employers capitulated and agreed to pay the minimum rate.