Chain shops and workshops around High Town Ragged School
Including Rex Walker’s memories
The Ragged School in Mapletree Lane was surrounded by chain shops. Opposite the front of the church was a gully going between Maple Tree Lane and Colley Lane with chain shops on either side belonging to Henry Reece. The house at the end of the gully was the offices for Henry Reece and also Sam Willetts’ bakery, the bakehouse was in the back yard. (Rex Walker remembers having jam tarts from there on the way home from school and Sam’s wife Gertie fetching his beer in a large jug from the Liberal club or the old Crown.) His son Ken carried on the business which later moved to Holden’s Bakery.
On the opposite corner of Ladysmith Road was a chain works belonging to Caleb Southall. He owned the two houses in Maple Tree Lane, living in one of them and the field behind. Further down Ladysmith Road on the righthand side going down the Fendall sisters worked in a chain shop in the back garden of their house (now demolished) Miriam, Polly Cilla and Sarah, there was another sister Tamar who married. They made chain for Caleb Southall.
Behind the Ragged School was another gully running from High Town to Ladysmith Road along that gully was the chain works of Charles Willetts. The first house below the Ragged School was where Charles Willetts lived and had his offices. The two houses on the corner of Maple Tree Lane and Ladysmith Road also belonged to Charles Willetts with a chain shop at the back in the chapel yard, this was rented from Charles Willetts by Mr Bradley (no relation to Keith Bradley) who lived in the last house at the end of Mapletree Lane, he wore a large trilby, and made chain there early in the morning and late at night, by the light of a small candle. Rex Walker and his friend would try and hit the candle with their catapults.
Further down Ladysmith Road on the left-hand side was the chain works of Joseph Bloomer which backed onto the gully running from Furlong Lane to High Town. Rex’s great grandfather Charles Hodgetts sold the land to Joseph Bloomer without knowing he was going to build a chain works. He said he wouldn’t have sold it if he had known he was going to have competition. Joseph Bloomer had two sons John and Joseph. It was later turned into a foundry when the chain making finished.
Charles Hodgetts was the brother of Benjamin Hodgetts, ‘The King of the chain makers’ and owned most of the land at the bottom of Ladysmith Road, he built a terrace of seven houses on the right going down Ladysmith Road, one for each of his children when they got married, they also received a large copper kettle.
The Black Country and Its Industries compiled by the County Express 1903 price One shilling
Page 23 Chain Manufacturers H Reece Chain Manufacturer
The chain works of Mr H Reece, Cradley, deserve special notice, for of the many similar works in the locality few are conducted in such a business-like manner and receive such assiduous attention from the owner as these. Mr Reece has been brought up in this industry and succeeded his father some years ago in the management of the business. Chains of almost every description are made at these works, and their crane and rigging chains have received the highest commendations of consumers in and out of the United Kingdom.
The premises have been extended so as to meet the increasing demand made upon the goods manufactured, which include chains for colliery and inclines, and also those of smaller patterns, used for agricultural and other purposes. All the most effective appliances and tools have been called into requisition, and the system of production has been studied and looked after in all its details. However large the uniformity may strike one in chain making, there are always to be observed some special characteristics belonging to every works. We find them here in the well planned workshop and the successful endeavours of the workmen to carry out their employer’s idea of what a perfect chain should be.
The chains undergo the Government test, and the materials used are selected with the best regard to the customer’s interest. Mr Reece is a progressive manufacturer possessing an intimate knowledge of everything pertaining to chain making.
(The only Cradley entry for chain making in this directory)
1881 Census Cradley Anvil Yard
Richard Reece Head Married 40 Rock Worcs
Hannah Reece wife 39 Cradley
William Reece son 15 Cradley
Elizabeth Reece daughter 8 Cradley
Henry Reece son 6 Cradley
Tidal Parsons boarder 74 Cradley
(Hannah Reece was the daughter of Tidal Parsons)
Entry from Cradley Parish magazine January 1897- Marriages
December 25th 1896 Henry Reece, Intended Street, and Lottie Bloomer, Church Lane
Henry Reece manufactured hand-made chain and owned Reece’s Chain Works, Maple tree Lane, Cradley. When Henry died in 1924 his son Glen inherited the business.
The family lived at Linton House at the junction of Drews Holloway and Beecher Road which was named after Noah Hingley’s wife Anne Linton Hingley, whose family had occupied it previously.
Chain manufacturing at Maple Tree Lane ceased when the chain works closed in the late 1950s and the buildings were demolished in winter of 1960/61. The house at the end of the gully in Coley Lane which was the offices is still standing and now a private residence.
Henry Reece was buried in St Peter’s churchyard together with his daughter Jessie who died aged 23 years in 1922 and wife Lottie who died aged 83 years in 1957.
Except from Sam Bate – Elegy for a craftsman by Peter Barnsley cradleylinks.com
In 1912 Sam Bate moved to Reece's in Colley Lane and worked there throughout the 1914-18 War, making mostly 1in. chain. Later, during the depression of the early twenties, Sam -like so many others - spent months 'on the labour'. He eventually found work on the testing beds of Kendrick and Mole, later returning to Reece's where he stayed until his retirement in 1939. Towards the end of his working life he developed cataracts - the occupational hazard of the chain maker - in each eye: the result of continual exposure to the heat and glare of the furnace alongside which he made his chain. Both eyes were operated on; the operation preserved his sight but left it much weaker.
Sam felt that the modern chain maker had a comparatively easy life. He remarked, but without boastfulness: " We med as much in a day as they mek in a wik now. We'd start at six and work till nine. Then we'd 'ave 'alf 'our for breakfast; or if we w'n strong enough we carried on till 'alf past eleven. Then we'd let the fire settle and see if there was any bits of cinder or anythin' to be got out. Then we'd work till one, 'ave 'our for dinner and then work on till five." He paused and remarked, almost unnecessarily, "The unions wor like they bin today." As time went on and the unions grew more powerful, the hours improved. "At Reece's we'd start at seven, finish at four. Later on we only worked till dinner."
Henry Reece was a member of the Cradley Parish Council, he was also on the board of school managers and a member of the War Memorial committee.
County Express 18th March 1922
Colley Lane Boys School. Monday night. Annual Parish Meeting….. a crowded attendance, and considerable interest was shown. There were 24 nominations for the 15 parish Council seats. The British Legion submitted four candidates, as did the Labour Party…. Three old members (including George Davis, a member of the Parish Council since its formation) did not receive nominations. Eleven of the old members were returned. The new members are Mr Oliver & Mr Hill, (nominees of the British Legion), the Rev. R A Norris and Walter Pugh, who was nominated only three minutes before the meeting began. There was no demand for a poll.
As Mr Reece was a candidate, Mr W H Chapman was unanimously voted to the chair. (The six tellers are named) The chairman emphasised that only parochial electors could vote, & not more than 15 votes must be given by any voter.
Frank Hipkiss (287) Alf Westwood (277) Henry Reece (229) Harry Auden (224) Joseph Bloomer (205) Walter Pugh (195) Harry Hill (188) Alfred Bloomer (188) Herbert John Cox (186) T S Oliver (171) Benjamin Hodgetts (161) Benjamin Tromans (152) Adam Cook (131) William Hodgetts (125) Richard Alban Norris (124)
Not elected: Walter Clift (113) Arthur Harry Meredith (112) Samuel Waldron (92) John Fred Priest (67) James Willetts (109) Joseph Alfred Meredith (51) Stephen Robinson (50) Jesse Billingham (53) Joseph Cox (12)
There were ten minutes, during which five persons could demand a poll. None did…. The clerk presented the accounts: Receipts: £139 10s 7d.Expenses £134 15s 4d Balance: £4 15s 3d.Accounts were left open for inspection.
Both Henry Reece and Charles Willetts are first listed as chain makers in the 1908 Kelly’s Directory.
Henry Reece in Maple tree Lane and Charles Willetts in Ladysmith Road.
In the 1912 Kelly’s Directory for Cradley there are 65 entries for either chain makers or manufacturers, 4 of whom are ladies, by 1940 there are 13 entries, with only one lady Mrs Gill.
Joseph Bloomer & Sons Ltd Manufacturers of high-class crane and sling chains, coupling chains etc.
Ladysmith Rd. Telegrams “Slings Cradley” telephone Cradley Heath 6105
Cradley Chain Manufacturing Co. chain makers Mill St. Cradley Heath 6284
Mrs Mary Gill chain maker 10 Butcher’s Lane
Jones & Lloyd Ltd. Chain manufacturers Scotia Works (Cradley Heath 6033) and Cradley Forge
Joseph Morris chain maker Lyde Green
Albert Nock chain maker Butchers Lane
Henry Reece Ltd Chain manufacturer Maple Tree Lane Cradley Heath 5823
Harry Scott-Homer chain manufacturer Alma St.
Caleb Southall chain maker Ladysmith Road Cradley Heath 6159
George Southall chain maker 28 Banner’s St.
Willetts & Sons chain makers Ladysmith Rd Cradley Heath 6509
Worton B & C chain makers 29 Banner’s St Cradley Heath 6045
Solomon Worton chain maker 66 Alma St.
6 entries are shown in both the 1912 and 1940 Directories
Joseph Bloomer, Henry Reece, George Southall, Willetts and Sons, Charles Worton, Solomon Worton.
Willetts and Sons
Please take a look at some of the images on the bottom of this page.
Sam Taylor’s memories
My first job where I was directly employed making cable chains was at Charles Willetts, a small local chain works on High Town Cradley, employing about twenty or thirty men. Many of the workshops were mere sheds with tarpaulins or corrugated tin sheets to keep out the wind and the rain. The only lighting would be from the fires of the chainmakers already at work. As there were no fixed hours of work, the early arrivals would have to pick their way past piles of chain and coke to get to the stall where they worked. Sometimes they would have a lighted candle, or perhaps a flash lamp. In the early days these were oblong, about three inches by four and about three quarters of an inch wide. The batteries were sometimes in short supply, and so a trick to make them last longer was to place the batteries in a warm oven. Before electricity became widely available, a gas engine was used to provide both the blast to the fires and the shears for cutting the links. In the winter months, when it was cold, some of these engines were very difficult to start. As work could not begin until they did, the men would have to go and turn the large fly-wheels and belts to get them going.
Information on Charles Willetts from Black Country Connections
Marriage 1 Jul 1888 St Giles, Rowley Regis
Charles WILLETTS 23 B Chain Maker Cradley Heath Father Joseph Willetts Chain Maker
Leah BLOOMER 23 S Cradley Heath Father Caleb Bloomer Chain Maker
1901: Maple Tree Lane, Cradley, Worc.
Charles Willetts 36 Head Link Chain Maker Cradley Heath, Staffs
Leah Willetts 36 Wife Link Chain Maker
Gilbert Willetts 12 Son
Harold Willetts 8 Son
Charles Willetts 3 Son
1911: Ladysmith Road, Cradley, Cradley Heath, Staffs
Charles Willetts 46 Head Iron Chain Maker - children 5/5/0
Leah Willetts 46 Wife - married 23 years
Leah Willetts 5 Dau
Gilbert Willetts 22 Son S Chainmaker Dollied
Harold Willetts 18 Son S Chainmaker Dollied
Charles Willetts 13 Son
Wesley Willetts 9 Son
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966
WILLETTS Charles of 52 Ladysmith Road, Cradley Worc died 4th Nov 1947
Probate Brimingham 9th April to Gilbert Willetts Harold Willetts chain makers and Wesley Willetts chain works manager. Effects: £5892 9s 4d.
Memories of Muriel Bennett
“ I went to High Town Ragged Schoolfrom a very early age, three times each Sunday, my earliest memories are of the brick walls being painted green. As you walk towards the front of the church on either side of the windows were two large black boards with the Lord’s Prayer on one in gold lettering and the ten commandments on the other. The organ then was in the same position as the present one, but much smaller, the organist was Bert Head and the choirmaster Caleb Southall.
When it came to Anniversary time Bert Head and Caleb Southall would put our names in a book if we were to go on the platform.”
Rex was told that William Pegg, (Ashley Pegg’s father) worked for Caleb Southall before starting his own firm with two other partners in 1921, The Cradley chain and Manufacturing Company which later became Cradley Castings.
Caleb Southall was born in 1873 the eldest son of Caleb and Sarah Southall, he had brothers, Frank and Thomas. His father Caleb died in 1877 at the age of 24 years, and his mother Sarah later married Giles Bloomer.
1891 census Cradley- Maple tree Lane
Giles Bloomer Head married 27 Cradley
Sarah Bloomer wife 38
Caleb Southall stepson 18 Iron block chain maker
Frank Southall stepson 15
Thomas Southall stepson 13
Ellen Bloomer daughter 7
Jane Bloomer daughter 5
Alfred Bloomer son 3
Ethel Bloomer daughter 0
20 years later 1911 census Maple tree Lane Cradley
Caleb Southall head married 38 Iron chain manufacturer Cradley
Elizabeth Southall wife 37
Florence Mabel Southall daughter 11
Caleb Herbert Jesse Southall son 1
Part of a poem by Jim Hackett who grew up in Maple Tree Lane called Times gone by.
A little further up in Maple Tree Lane
There’s Reece’s chainworks and Southalls as well.
At the rear of his house was “Ode Bates chain shop”
By the ragged school he toiled and did dwell.
Reeces was the ultimate in all the chain works
They even possessed their own pulling Test,
Many grade one chains were hammered home there
So they really were the best.
Southalls in Ladysmith Road they were also select,
Caleb, the owner a just man and fair.
No hand bellows were fitted to his chain hearths
He used an engine to supply the blowing air.
At the top of our road was Mole & Beddall,
Their main gates always seemed locked and barred
Though that never stopped us kids that lived round about
From playing games in their yard.
Three smaller chainworks were in Ladysmith Road,
And another down Cradley Hill.
One could see the glow from the hearths on most nights,
The chain being made by Mrs Gill.
Lots of beer was drunk to replace the sweat lost
Though some still drank tea in the cold
Home brewing quite common by Chapel folk all
Up the back outside on the fode.
They were all special characters that toiled at those hearths
Hard drinkers, but true men to the last.
To recall a few like Eck, Sammy, Joey and Cliff
So many more but sadly now all passed.
We have now reached the end of this little saga,
But all Cradley folk that are still living here
Will never forget those times gone by,
And of that you can have no fear.
Henry Reece died in July 1924, his son, Glen took over the business. A likely date for this picture is about 1930. Back row left to right; unidentified, Sam Bate, John Bate, Harry Willetts, Sam Willetts, Wesley Robinson, Bill Fowkes. Front row, David Deeley, Alf Slater, Unidentified, Glen Reece, (the next three men are unidentified)
Chainmakers at Glen Reece’s chain shop which lay between Colley Lane and Maple Tree Lane alongside the gully which connects the two roads. The works closed in the late 1950’s and were demolished during the winter of 1960-61. Back row from the left, Alec Davies, Richard Reece, Joe Cox, Neri Cox, Sam Bate, Arthur Ward, Edward Coley, Alf Slater, Fred Bate, David Harris, Glen Reece. Middle Row, John Bate, William Fowkes, Clifford Willetts, George Bradbury, Frank Pearson, Jim Clark, William Worton. Front row, David Deeley (Warehouse man), Harry Willetts, Vic Woodhouse, or Fred Unitt, Sam Bate (no relation to his namesake) and Sam Willetts.
Workers at Caleb Southall’s chainworks identified by Mrs Sarah Bowen who lived in the house next door to Caleb Southall in Maple Tree Lane. The date is thought to be about 1920 or earlier. Back row from the left, s Mobberley, unidentified, F Bills, W Bache, J Willetts, A Bloomer, E Hill, H Bloomer, W Westwood. Middle row, G Tromans, (Kneeling) G Davis, S Tromans, W Wallace, P Hill, W Clift, (kneeling)