William Skelding

Workday Wednesday – Nail Makers

Workday Wednesday is a daily blogging prompt used by many genealogy bloggers to help them post content on their sites.

Here’s a way to document your ancestors’ occupations (they weren’t all farmers), transcripts of SS-5s, photos and stories of ancestors at work, announcements of retirements, etc.

David Skelding is my wife’s 2nd great grand uncle – the brother of her 2x great grandfather William Skelding.

David was born sometime in 1825 to parents George Skelding and Elizabeth Roberts – his baptism is recorded at Old Swinford, Worcestershire on 21 August 1825.

Sometime in the June quarter of 1855 David married Emma Apperley and they had two children, William and Alice Jane.

In the census returns from 1841 to 1881 David’s occupation is given as “nailmaker” or “horse nailmaker.” In 1891 he was described as a “general labourer”.

In the Black Country during the mid 19th century nail making was one of the main industries. Many of the Skelding family are shown in the census returns with this occupation.

Trawling through the newspaper archives on Find My Past I came across the following story from the Worcestershire Chronicle of 30 October 1861.

Worcestershire Chronicle - 30 October 1861.png

BELLOWS CUTTING – On Wednesday night last, the nail shop of David Skelding, of Oldswinford, was entered and a pair of blast bellows and two pairs of puffers were cut. On the same night the nail shop of John Hill, of the same place, was also entered, and bellows and puffers were cut, besides a quantity of nails stolen. It appears that Skelding and Hill refused to pay the union, which it is believed was the reason of the tools being destroyed.

Intrigued by the story I decided to do an Internet search to see what more I could find. I found the following article published in the Black Country Bugle from December 2004.

Even before Richard Foley fiddled his way around the continent and brought the secrets of the slitting mill to the banks of the River Stour, thereby allowing the production of cheap rods for nail-making, the manufacture of hand-made nails was a central trade in many parts of the Black Country. For every purpose there was a specially designed nail, often with such delightful names as billycocks, sheepnet hooks, cricket spikes, holdfasts, mop nails, dogs and uglies, battins, fine wing clasps, brads, coopers’ clips and sparrables (this latter was a corruption of “sparrow bills,” tiny triangular nails that were used to hold panes of glass in frames). The skilled nail makers often specialised in the production of one or more of these types of nails, often depending upon the district in which they lived.

However, the cream of the nail makers were those who made horse-nails, used to affix horseshoes. Although numerous attempts had been made to make horse-nails by machine, unlike other machined nails they had failed miserably, unable to compete with the firmer and more ductile hand-hammered product. This was rapidly recognised by the horse-nail makers, mainly based in the Dudley, Old Hill, Halesowen, Lye and Cradley areas, who considered themselves vastly superior to the mere “common-nail” makers.

However, things reached a head by the middle of the nineteenth century, when the prices paid by the nail masters to their already over-worked and underpaid employees began to spiral rapidly downwards. In addition, the nail masters continued to pay the nail makers in “truck,” or in kind with exorbitantly-priced goods from their own “tommy shops” and pubs, rather than in cash, and went to every possible length to pay the lowest price they could for the completed nails. The horse-nail makers established a trade union to safeguard their wages and rights; but in 1860 tensions, not only between the horse-nail makers and their employers, but also among the nailers themselves, erupted into violence – and almost murder.

Pressure upon the horse-nail makers to join the union was great, but many were mindful of previous strikes. These had been frequent throughout the nineteenth century, and often descended into disorder. This was particularly so in the nail makers’ strike of 1842, when several nail masters were seized by an angry mob and frog-marched into Dudley. This sparked further disturbances amongst nail makers all over the Black Country, and had ended in the calling in of the military and the reading of the Riot Act.

Feeling began to run high as the unionist nail makers believed that, in order to have their demands met, they would all have to stand and strike together. Blacklegs, or “knobsticks” as they were known, were seen as profiting in the misery of the strikers. However, involvement in such strikes not only meant the cessation of pay for the nail makers, often for months at a time, but also the very real threat of imprisonment, hard labour, or even worse, transportation to Australia. With wages already meagre and with wives and children to feed and clothe, it was perhaps little wonder that some horse-nailers refused to join the trade union.

Those that opted not to join soon found that their lives were made a misery. Ostracised by their co-workers and neighbours, they soon found it difficult to continue their employment as well as a normal social life. They would awake to find that the bellows in their backyard nail shops had been slashed, preventing them from making any more nails. And in January 1860 the attacks took a more sinister turn.

A Cradley horse-nail maker, Job Dunn, was one of those who had refused to join the union, and like the others had become the constant target of attacks and abuse. He had so far managed to avoid any serious injury by keeping a sharp lookout for any trouble, so when he was roused by a strange noise outside at one o’clock one morning, he was immediately suspicious. Job threw on some clothes and rushed outdoors, only to see four or five men beating a hasty retreat from his property. On that dark winter’s night, Job was only able to recognise two of the men, William Felton and Zachariah Willetts, whom he knew to be committee members of the trade union. However, nothing seemed amiss, so Job crawled back into bed and was soon fast asleep beside his wife and young child.

Only three hours later, there was a terrific explosion. Job awoke to find that the wall of his house had been blown in by the force of the blast, and that a large portion of it had toppled over the bed. It now hovered menacingly over Job and his wife and child, just inches above where they slept. Lucky to be alive, Job was able to extricate himself from under the precarious masonry and rescue his wife and child, who were shocked but relatively unharmed.

Job then went to survey the damage. His workshop had been totally destroyed in the explosion, evidently the object of the attack. The Dunns’ brewhouse had also suffered irreparable damage, and for the radius of some fifty yards there was barely a neighbour’s wall or window that had escaped harm.

It was discovered that the explosion had been caused by a bag of around a quarter of a hundredweight of gunpowder, let down the chimney of the nail shop on a cord. A long fuse attached to the bag had been the means of detonation.

Dunn identified Felton and Willetts as the suspicious prowlers to the police, and they were hauled before Stourbridge magistrates. They were flatly refused bail, and brought to trial on Friday 27th January 1860.

Job Dunn appeared for the prosecution, and the accused were defended by Mr Best and Mr Burbury. However, Police Superintendent Freeman could offer no further evidence that they had been the culprits, aside from Job’s questionable identification in the dark. The magistrate, Mr Hunt, announced that there was not enough evidence to bring the prisoners to trial, and Willetts and Felton were discharged.

Job Dunn now found himself in desperate circumstances. His workshop was completely useless, rendering him unemployed, but he was so afraid of the continuing threats that he was afraid to construct another. Furthermore, he was so frightened for his life, and that of his family, that he had to employ men to watch his premises around the clock. The watchmen endeavoured to catch several people who repeatedly trespassed on the property, to no avail.

In March, an anonymous benefactor offered a reward of £20 to those who might catch the culprits of the outrage, later increased to £100. A free pardon was also offered to any perpetrator who confessed on his abettors. However, the horse-nail makers remained staunch, refusing to succumb to the reward, and the perpetrators remained shrouded in mystery.

However, acts of intimidation, abuse and bellow slashing continued throughout the Black Country as the trade union and the nail masters headed inexorably towards a dispute. In June 1860, the trade union gave one of the nail masters notice for an advance in wages, which by that time were so low that they were barely keeping body and soul together. The nail masters ordered that either the horse-nail makers withdraw their notice, or they would all be locked out. The men refused to withdraw their demands, and the lock-out began.

Violence towards those who were not on strike increased, but eventually the strikers achieved their demands and such acts abated. However, for all involved it had been a hard-won battle; for twenty long weeks, both strikers and blacklegs had had to endure no pay, hungry bellies and cold hearths.

So it seems that David Skelding was taking a stand against the union and made some enemies as a result.

Advertisements

Black Sheep Sunday – Elijah Skelding (1827-1888)

Black Sheep Sunday is a daily blogging prompt used by many genealogy bloggers to help them post content on their sites.

To participate in Black Sheep Sunday simply create a post with the main focus being an ancestor with a “shaded past.”

Elijah Skelding is my wife’s great grand uncle – a brother of her great grandfather Imri Skelding.

Elijah was born about 1827 in the area around Lye, Worcestershire. His parents are William Skelding and Catherine Taylor, my wife’s 2x great grandparents.

Elijah married Harriet Taylor sometime in the December quarter of 1850 in Dudley, Staffordshire and they had at least five children:-

Eunice – born 1855
William – born 1857
Agnes – born 1859
Adam – born 1862
David – born 1864

In the census returns for 1851 to 1881 Elijah is described as a “nail maker” or a “horse nail maker”.

I recently found the following newspaper article from the Worcestershire Chronicle of 21 October 1857. Elijah is described as an “Odd Fellow”. The Odd Fellows are one of the earliest and oldest fraternal societies – see this history from Wikipedia

Worcestershire Chronicle - 21 October 1857.png

ODD FELLOWS – Elijah Skelding was charged with stealing an umbrella, the property of John Taylor, on the 11th instant. Prisoner and prosecutor are Odd Fellows, and on the day named had, with others of the fraternity, been at a the funeral of one of the brethren. They afterwards adjourned to the Kings Head for business. Taylor took an umbrella with him to the house, and it was shortly missed. Prisoner, who had left, was suspected, and prosecutor’s brother, William, followed him. He overtook him in the road with the missing article, and at once accused him of theft, upon which a tussle ensued, which gave rise to two summonses, Skelding charging William Taylor with an assault and William Taylor charging Skelding with ditto. The summonses were both dismissed, Skelding being committed for trial on the charge of larceny.

Details of the alleged crime were entered in the Worcestershire register of Persons Committed, or Bailed to appear for Trial, or Indicted. The image below shows that Elijah was charged with “simple larceny.” The final column of the page is to record whether the person was acquitted or the case discharged. For all the cases on this page, including Elijah, it says “No Bill” – in other words the case did not proceed to trial.

Elijah Skelding - Criminal Registers.png

Interestingly Elijah married Harriet Taylor and his mother was Catherine Taylor – I wonder if the Taylor’s from the newspaper article are relatives and there was some sort of family disagreement at play here. Pure conjecture and fantasy on my part no doubt!!