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Nail Making Limestone Mining
Coal Mining Sand & Salt

During the latter part of the Tudor period and throughout the 17th century, nail making and coal mining were the main industries of the parish according to historians the nailers of Sedgley made plough, cart and fire irons, horse shoes and locks, bolts and hinges, bars for windows, squares for trunks and coffins, staff heads and buckles. It was also reported that during this period there were no less than 2,000 nailers in the district. Farming also occupied a prominent position and even today goes on in the area. Sedgley also became famous for the manufacture of steel pens and were the pioneers in this branch of industry.

Nail Making

The beginnings of the nail making trade in Sedgley(NEW LINK), and the Black Country as a whole, are lost in antiquity. Reference to nails being made in the area go back as far as the 12th Century.

The early trade was always domestic (ie. the nails being made in small workshops either attached or close to the Nailer's house.) Up until the 17th Century the trade would probably been part time along with agriculture. The nails being made during times of bad weather and in winter.

Material for the nails was supplied by "Nail Masters" who then paid for the completed nails with goods or tokens that could only be redeemed in their own shops. These shops were locally known as "Tommy shops". The Nailmasters often added interest to outstanding debts.

Sedgley Nailmasters included Elwell, Newton, Parkes, Willets and Wilkes families.

Delivery routes from Sedgley to the rest of Britain, the Americas and British Empire countries were usually via canal barge from Wombourne (to the west of the Manor) along the Staffordshire-Worcestershire Canal to the Stourport Basin on the River Severn where they would be loaded onto larger vessels for transport to Gloucester and Bristol to await sea going ships. Up until the 18th century the nail trade was prosperous but the American War of Independence drastically reduced the amount of nails being exported.

Around the early 1800s machinery for nail making was being introduced and by 1830 most nails were manufactured by machine.

In 1842 there were marches and riots by the nailers who were rapidly being put out of work. Equipment at nail making factories was damaged and even armed (sabres) cavalry troops were sent in to quell the unrest and protesters arrested.

Further reading: An excellent booklet on the Nail Making trade is Arthur Willets. "The Black Country Nail Trade" available from Dudley Metropolitan Borough 1987. 34 pages ISBN No. 0 900911 21 2. History of the nail making trade in Bromsgrove and the Black Country.


Limestone Mining

The Limestone formations of the ridge that runs from Castle Hill, Dudley to Beacon Hill in Sedgley have been exploited by man for hundreds of years. Originally the rock was used for building purposes, it can by seen in many buildings throughout the area including Dudley Castle itself.

Later it was discovered that by burning limestone to create Lime a good fertilizer was created and so the demand for the rock increased. Lime was produced by placing alternative layers of coal and limestone in a kiln and burning it for several days. Several of these kilns can be seen within the Wren's Nest Nature Reserve.

In the early 18th Century a way was found to smelt iron into steel using limestone as a flux in the process. Hence limestone became a valuable commodity. As more limestone was required mining changed from surface to deep mining. The mines becoming too deep for easy hauling to the surface so that a series of underground canals were dug so that the stone could be carried on barges to the furnaces in various areas of the Black Country.


Coal Mining

It was the mineral wealth that was to determine the area's future, especially the coal. The Black Country can thank its geology for much of its growth with surface outcrop coal mining recorded as early as 1273 in Sedgley.

The famed "10 Yard seam" (9.14 Metres) ran from the east side of the limestone ridge (where it was near enough to the surface to be mined using open cast and small "Gin pit" methods) to the west side of the ridge where it disappeared deep underground to be mined at Baggeridge Colliery.

Baggeridge Colliery on the Western boundary of the Manor, at Gospel End, was one of the biggest employers of men from Sedgley and the surrounding district. (The mine was opened in 1895 and closed in March 1968),

The "10 Yard seam " - the thickest coal seam in Britain - was mined at depths of 1800 feet (550 Metres) using the Pillar & Stall method with pit ponies used to transport the coal underground. In some places tunnels went as far as Wolverhampton, 3 miles (5 kms) away.

Boys as young as 14 were employed at 12 shillings & 6 pence per week and at the height of production the pit employed 3,000 men and extracted 12,000 tons of coal per week.

With capital provided the the Earl of Dudley, the Colliery was claimed to be the most modern and largest pit in the world. It was in full production by 1912.

Open cast mining was carried out mainly in the Coseley and Woodsetton areas of the manor. Gin pits were also used in these areas. The Gin pit was usually a small shallow mine employing a maximum of 4 or 5 men. Often whole families (men, women and children) worked these pits.


Sand and Salt

A strange combination you might say, but the Upper Gornal and Ruiton were famous for both.

Salt and sand were top commodities to the people of the area as well as much further afield. Salt (collected from Cheshire) was needed for the obvious reasons of cooking, preserving etc., and sand was used used for floor covering and cleaning (scouring table tops etc.)

The Watton, Hickman and Harper (see link "the carts" below) families of Upper Gornal and Ruiton were probably the three families who dominated the trade in the area.

The sand was excavated mainly in Ruiton by hand from open cut mines. It was crushed by a large stone wheel (up the 5 or 6 feet in diameter) fixed to an axle which was in turn fixed to a central vertical post. A horse was used to pull the wheel in a circle and the sandstone was crushed beneath the rotating wheel.

Alternatively the sand was crushed using a windmill similarly to the way flour is milled.

For the four warmer months of the year the families travelled by horse drawn cart around the countryside selling the salt in blocks and sand. During the other months the carts were covered with tarpaulin and they travelled selling various tools, buckets, chains, nails etc.

The Ruiton people were well known for their scrupulous cleanliness and took great pride in polishing all their horse brasses.


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