Cradley Heath - High Street [c.1906]
Oak Street Chain Shop [c.1905]
Roadworks following Mining Subsidence 
Chain Shop Women and Children [c.1910]
Woman Chainmaker [c.1910]
Cradley Heath Five Ways [c.1904]
Vine and Railway Hotel [c.1907]
Women Chainmakers [c.1910]
Reddal Hill Road and Library [c.1910]
Cradley Heath Four Ways [c.1907]
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The name of Cradley Heath is Anglo Saxon and translates as 'Crada's Clearing in the Woods.' A forge was first established here in the seventeenth century by Dud Dudley. This was at Cradley Forge between Cradley Heath and Quarry Bank where Mousesweet Brook meets the River Stour. It is thought that this was the site where he made his first experiments using coal to smelt iron.
Gradually, from this seminal period, Cradley Heath developed on the north side of the Stour into a industrialised squatter settlement. The town was once packed with small workshops and cottages where workers grafted over furnaces and remains of this can be found at nearby Mushroom Green. Any trip to Cradley Heath should incorporate a visit to this picturesque pocket of the region. One should remember however that life wasn't too pretty here during the industrial revolution. By the end of the 19th century a thousand tons of chain was produced per week in Cradley Heath. It was common for sheds to contain five or six women workers, each at an anvil, and a pole running across the room from which dangled chairs for babies so that a mother could rock her child as she worked. Conditions were terrible and life expectancy was short. One of the old chain shops at Mushroom Green has been restored and demonstrations of traditional chain making are occasionally given in the building.
The former stadium of the Cradley Heathens is a short distance from Mushroom Green. It's been completely flattened now as a housing development has taken its place. There was once a pit mound next to the stadium colloquially known as 'Scotman's Hill' because it afforded free views of all the speedway action. Racing first started at Dudley Wood in 1947. When I was a young kid, I used to go in the late 1960's and early 1970's when the big names were Ivor Brown, Roy Trigg and Bernt Persson.
I’m glad I went to Dudley Wood in what was the stadium’s halcyon days. The atmosphere was terrific. Even though the team’s league position was fairly low, there would be great anticipation amongst the crowd making their way from Newtown. We’d walk along the dirt track along the side of the stadium to the sound of engines being tuned up and the greyhound dogs howling. We would emerge near the Victoria Inn where there would be a hot dog van, blokes selling rosettes and badges, somebody yelling “get your programme.” They even sold goggles for those who wanted to protect their eyes whilst they stood on the bend where, during races, the gravel would spray into the crowd. As a youngster you soaked it all up. I’m not sure of the attendance figures in the late 1960’s but it was probably a few thousand on a good night – there was always a good roar for a Heathens win. I was talked into going to a dog meeting towards the fag end of the stadium’s life and the place was a pitiful sight. Thankfully, my enduring memory will be that of the speedway during the height of its popularity.
The area between the Five Ways and the train station is known as Lomey Town. The old Workers' Institute building that stood here has been removed to the Black Country Museum. The Institute was constructed with money left over from the public donations made in support of the women chainmaker's strike of 1910. As such it was one of the town's most significant reminders of Cradley Heath's close association with the chain-making industry.
It is worth noting the shape of the High Street. Even today it has a slight dip. This is because on the night of February 18th 1914 a 200 yard stretch of the road collapsed due to a mining subsidence. The cost of repairing the damage to both the road and buildings [some had been broken almost in half] was £25,000 which was a colossal sum of money in those days.
Upper High Street leads towards Old Hill via the curiously-titled Spinner's End and Reddal Hill. A new housing development close to the library was once a large railway station for goods. After it closed it was a great place to play along with Bearmore Bank. Reddal Hill was once a self sufficient community has been almost completely flattened for a road widening scheme that never happened. However, the Waggon and Horses, a pub set back from the main road is one of two surviving properties.
In the 21st century Cradley Heath has become something of a one-shop town as
much of the 'old' place was pulled down for the construction of a large metal
box called Tesco. A leading economist once put forward a strong argument that
big supermarkets lead to a net loss of jobs. Tesco may employ quite a few people
but when the store forces the closure of other shops and services, plus the
logistics that supported them, it creates joblessness rather than jobs. In
addition, money spent in large supermarkets whizzes off to head office and does
not remain in the local economy thus diminishing the multiplier effect, the
consequence being that regional spending decreases.
"Eli Whitehouse, puddler, Cradley Heath, was charged with assaulting John
Whitehouse, his father. It appeared that defendant went home under the influence
of drink, and began to break the furniture, and when his father went into the
house defendant savagely assaulted him. Defendant was ordered to pay a fine of
20s. and costs, or in default one month's imprisonment.”
"Arthur Powell, chain and anchor manufacturer, of Cradley Heath, was fined
£11.5s. at Rowley for contravening the amended Factory Acts by neglecting to
furnish his work girls with particulars and prices of chains to be manufactured
for Lancashire traders. The Chainmakers' Association prosecuted, and counsel
stated it was the first prosecution since the Home Secretary had issued the
order, which was framed to prevent sweating and irregularities in the chain
"As youngsters we would emulate the speedway stars of the day by racing on a
dirt track. I spent many an evening track racing on the circuit between Bearmore
Bonk and the Corona pop place. A classic oval, bricks were used for the inner.
Alan Groves of Petford Street had a decent machine suited for the discipline.
However, most of us turned up with whatever we had or could afford. I made a
name for myself by competing on a Moulton Mini which meant I had to pedal really
hard and use my elbows when the racing action got up close and personal. There
was many a spill and broken skin but they were great nights. We raced from
teatime 'til it got dark."
"Can anyone remember the sports shop next to the High Street entrance to the
Royal Cinema? Following the Mexico World Cup of 1970, I was treated to a pair of
Puma Pele boots from this sports shop. They were black with a yellow puma
stripe. Unfortunately, they did not help me in the way that Billy Dane had an
'assist' from his old boots. I continued to play like a donkey. Most folks had
Winit boots made in Netherton but I remember boots with swivel studs that were
the rage around 1971. I think they were endorsed by Alan Ball when he was at
"I wish I had a photograph of the house that used to stand across the road from
the Holly Bush in Newtown. It would be a great bit of social history in relation
to the first generation of Asian immigrants that settled in Cradley Heath. I
used to walk past it many a time I went to the Speedway. We’d walk down to
Bannister Street from Reddal Hill, down the bank [no fancy steps in those days]
across the brook and then over to the wider dirt track leading to the stadium.
On the left, in the hollow by the brook, there was a house – gone now of course.
It must have flooded at times. Anyway, either in the very late 1960’s or very
early 1970’s the house was bought by a family from Pakistan. A nice family with
whom my mother had some dealings as, at the time she was selling furniture and
new incomers were very keen to buy cheap, affordable furnishings for their new
home. But the amazing thing was that they painted the house white and green and
also painted the Pakistan flag on the front of the property. Of course, they
were clearly very proud or their origins and it added a bit of colour to this
grimy industrial locale. I fear that today such a bold statement would create a
hostile reaction which, I guess, is a reflection on how attitudes have changed
for the worse. We seem to have become a very intolerant nation."
"One of the sons now owns the shop up by Netherton church, I think his name is
"About half-past six on Thursday evening a terrible explosion of gunpowder
occurred at Cradley Heath, resulting in the death of two children and in serious
injuries to three others. The explosion took place at the promises of Mr. Henry
Mould, ironmonger, of 134, High Street, Cradley Heath. It appears that Mr. Mould
received a consignment of about 200lb of powder on Thursday, and this was
deposited in a detached store situated about fifteen yards at the rear of the
shop, and some six yards from a row of half a dozen small cottages. Several
children whilst at play discovered grains of powder strewn about the yard, and
began to set fire to them with lighted paper. They gradually approached the door
of the store, where there was a quantity of scattered grains, which formed a
train communicating with other powder inside the storehouse. Unaware of their
danger, they ignited the powder, the result being that a tremendous explosion
instantly ensued, the whole of the kegs being blown up. The store was completely
wrecked, the bricks lying in all directions, and falling upon the unfortunate
children, most of whom were buried in the debris. Such was the force of the
explosion that the windows of the six cottages were blown out, and the buildings
more or less damaged, together with the adjoining shop of Mr. Birch, baker, and
also the establishment of Mr. Mould. The explosion was heard a distance of more
than half a mile. it was found that Lilly Birch, about five years old, the
daughter of the Mr. Birch before mentioned, had sustained terrible injuries, and
she was picked up dead. Another child, Thomas Lot Ellingham, two years old, died
on the way to the Guest Hospital, at Dudley; to which institution were also
removed Florence Billingham, aged eight years, and her brother James, six years
old, both being seriously injured. Laura Tipton, ten years old, was also hurt,
but was treated at her home. Shortly after the occurrence Mr. T. Standish,
surgeon, Mr. D. Denne, and another medical gentleman, arrived, and rendered
prompt aid to the sufferers. It seems that the powder had been removed to the
store by George E. Milward, Mr. Mould's assistant, who swept out the place about
half-past five o'clock, and it is supposed that either the kegs had leaked, or
the contents of the store had been swept into the yard with the dust. Yesterday
the condition of the three children who are in the Guest Hospital, Dudley, was
much the same as on Thursday night, when they were admitted. All are burnt about
the hands, wrists, face, neck, and scalp, Adam being the worst injured of the
three. The surgeon at the institution gives but slight hope of his recovery.”
"A mass meeting of the chain workers who are on strike in the Cradley Heath and
surrounding districts was held yesterday at the Four Ways, Cradley Heath; Mr.
Willingham presiding. It was unanimously resolved to play on until the employers
conceded the advance claimed. Subsequently the operatives walked in procession
through Old Hill and other chainmaking districts.”
"At a meeting of the chainmakers, who are on strike in the Old Hill and Cradley
Heath district for an advance of wages, held yesterday, at Cradley Heath, it was
reported that notes bad been received from several employers, offering to pay
the advance. It was resolved to adjourn the consideration of the notes until
Monday next, and play on until all the masters concede the increase claimed.”
"James Lane, anchor manufacturer, of Cradley Heath, was charged with employing a
youth named John Griffiths after two o'clock on Saturday, the 11th ult. The
youth was put in the box, and stated that on the day named he was allowed no
dinner hour, and his master asked him to work during the afternoon. Defendant
was fined 40s. and costs.”
"Yesterday morning a chainmaker named Samuel Walker , of Corngreaves Road,
was found dead in an outhouse. About seven o'clock his wife left him at work in
the chain shop, and a few minutes afterwards, upon going to look after him,
found him suspended from a rafter.”