Better men than us?

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Few would now realise the peace of Pelsall North Common was once shattered by a huge foundry here – change isn’t always for the worst! Imagery from Apple Maps.

Peter, as usual, wasn’t content to drop the matter there – he’s gone on to expand on his original article and supplied this astonishing piece of work in which he not only explodes the myth of the benevolent industrialists, but also questions their morality.

I thank Peter for yet another stunning piece or research and I’m sure some of you will have more to add – please feel free. Comment here or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Peter wrote:

In the article ‘Having no Truck with it,’ featuring Boaz Bloomer (1801-1874) and the Pelsall Ironworks, the comments raised more interesting points concerning the Bloomer family and the Tommy Shop in Wood Lane, Pelsall. Could the use of the Truck System be seen as type of paternalistic employer setting up a shop that sold food and other commodities in exchange for works tokens; an act of public benevolence consistent with religious belief? Also, as Methodists, the Bloomers may be concerned that cash could be used on the demon drink? Were the Bloomer family indeed staunch Methodists?

In probing deeper more errors can be found in the Wikipedia and other descriptions.

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A truck coin – more to come on this soon from the young David Evans.

The Pelsall ironworks existed from about 1832 to 1892, a period of around 60 years. It was not founded by Boaz Bloomer as some say, but by Richard Fryer, a banker from Wolverhampton. Although Richard Fryer did die in 1846 in seems that the works were carried on in the ownership of his son, William Fleeming Fryer, and were not taken over by Davis and Bloomer until at least 1850. At some point around 1865 Davis retired and the firm became Boaz Bloomer and Son until 1873. At this time shares were issued and it became a different Company, albeit with Boaz Bloomer Jnr as Chairman and MD.

It can be seen that the period that the ironworks (and associated coalfields) were under sole ownership of the Bloomers was only around 8 years!

William Fleeming Fryer was still owner in 1850 when we find in the Staffs Advertiser…

The Truck System….

With reference to the recent convictions at Walsall, butty colliers in the employ of WF Fryer Esquire, for paying wages in truck, instead of money, we have much satisfaction in being able to state that Mr Fryer has given positive directions for the men in his employ to be paid in cash. We are informed that the same directions were given at the opening of the shop at Pelsall, that it has been entirely voluntary on the part of the men if they have applied for goods at the shop, and as not the least influence has being used, or any means taken to induce them to spend their money there, and that they have been supplied upon the same terms as if they have been perfect strangers.

So what type of employers were the Bloomer Family? There can be confusion when looking into families like the Bloomers, where the same names appear for several generations, but a few mentions of the name…

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The flip side of that truck coin. Image kindly supplied by David Evans.

In 1821 at the Worcester Courts there was a conviction of a Jos Bloomer of Cradley, Nail factor, for paying his workmen indirectly, otherwise than in money. The charge was affirmed with £38 18s 8d, treble costs.

In 1831 Thomas Bloomer, nail ironmonger signed a petition against Lord Russell’s Reform Bill… “Should it pass to law, would, in our opinion, prove dangerous even to the existence of our glorious Constitution.”

Perhaps it is not surprising to find a few financial problems. In October of 1833 there was a Joseph Bloomer, late of Cradley, nail manufacturer and victualler, an insolvent debtor, who was discharged from His Majesty’s goal Warwickshire. Also in 1835 a Thomas Bloomer of Cradley declared bankrupt.

In 1837 a partnership between Joshua Bloomer, Benjamin Bloomer and Boaz Bloomer was dissolved to be carried on by Boaz.

Boaz Bloomer Snr, at the time of the take over of the Pelsall Ironworks and coalfields around 1850, was, amongst other things, a nail manufacturer and ironmonger based at Holly Hall in Dudley. He was already in partnership alongside Thomas Davis in the New Ironworks at Gold’s Hill, West Bromwich where in 1847 and 1852 there were fatal explosions.

It seems that Boaz was a firm believer in the Master and Sevant relationship..

1848 May…Caution to workmen.., at the petty sessions on Friday, a nailer, named John Jones, was committed to prison for 21 days with hard labour, by J Roberts Esq on the complaint of his masters, Messrs Bloomer and Davies, nail manufacturers, that he had neglected his work.

The partnership was also involved in the Ironworks at Crookhay in West Bromwich where in 1853 twenty six Puddlers in their employ were summoned for neglect of work. One of the magistrates was James Bagnall, who was a coal and ironmaster, and a Mr Holland had been instructed to push for a severe punishment against William Hunt the ringleader; the Bench committed him to 21 days. Mr Bagnall said he knew from personal observation that Hunt was a very dangerous fellow to be connected it with the ironwork.

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Pelsall Ironworks – a remarkable artwork by Steve Dent, via Pelsall History Online.

In 1854 Davis and Bloomer, Pelsall, summoned two men for neglect of work; leaving work without notice. They were ordered back to their employment and to pay the expenses, or to be imprisoned for 14 days.

In May of 1868 there was a strike over wage reductions by Puddlers in the Black Country. A confrontation at Bromford Lane, West Bromwich, was averted as police had received information. About 20 police officers armed with cutlasses, reached the works in time to stop any breach of the peace. Several policemen were then stationed about the works to protect the men at work and they continued to do so as long as it was necessary.

In June, Boaz Bloomer a large employer of labour, speaking to the Press, said that all his Puddlers had gone in at the reduction and that they had consented to level 1 1/2 pennies in the pound to being deducted from their wages as an education rate. (It seems an opportune time to bring in compulsion!)

The summer of 1868 was very hot and dry, with some of the highest temperatures ever recorded for the second half of July. There was a remarkable spell of hot weather with temperatures over 30 deg C.

July 1868…The excessive heat of the atmosphere has brought the ironworks here (Birmingham) nearly to a stand-still. The workmen apply themselves to their exhaustive labour with much determination, and with persevering endurance, but during the past fortnight they have been repeatedly compelled to stop, after having worked only a turn or two, considerably to the loss of the employer, as well as to reducing of their own earnings.

It is much to be regretted that the willingness of the men to work has sometimes been attended with more serious consequences to themselves. A young man, a puddler at the Pelsall Works Walsall, belonging to Messrs Boaz Bloomer and Son, fell at his furnace on Tuesday afternoon, and soon expired. This fact, as it became known, checked the ardour of the men, but Wednesday evening was cooler, and more work could be got through than for some days. The incapacity to work is not confined to the forges, but extends to the mills, and particularly those in which plates are rolled.

So were the Bloomer family staunch Methodists and local benefactors? Did they help their workers in any substantial way?

Boaz Bloomer Snr was involved in the building of the New Weslyan Methodist Chapel which opened on 14 July 1859, for which Boaz had donated the land and supported the cost of construction. But Boaz may be more concerned with what was beneath the land, and many small contributors probably gave more in proportion to their wealth.

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The Wesley Chuch at Pelsall was demolished 50-odd years ago, but was a remarkable edifice. Image from Pelsall History Centre.

If the road was developed in the 1880s with further houses being built near to the chapel, to house the employees of the ironworks, it was done by the Company after the Bloomers moved from area.

Wikipedia states that there were three major accidents at the ironworks…

The first disaster occurred on Thursday 14 November 1872 when the Pelsall Ironworks saw the Pelsall Hall Colliery disaster, which lay claim to the lives of twenty two men between the ages of 13 and 89. There had been an explosion at the Pelsall Hall colliery and one of the mines had flooded. Boaz Bloomer set up the Pelsall Hall Colliery fund in honour of the men to ensure each child of the men under 14 would receive 2/6d per week and each widow until remarried or otherwise provided for would receive 9/6d per week.

A memorial obelisk of Aberdeen granite was also constructed and remains there to this day. Personalised leather bound bibles were given to all the men who had aided in the rescue efforts. The initial sum donated by Bloomer exceeded 100 guineas.

I am not sure of the relationship between the ironworks and the Pelsall Hall Colliery as the colliery was run by Messrs Morgan and Starkey. It could be that they leased it from the Pelsall Coal and Iron Company bearing all the costs and supplying coal at a reduced rate. They were faced with the cost of the clearing the pit and the prolonged search for the remaining body. A aid fund had been set up by the coal masters but…

‘was not responded to anything like as generously as it ought to have been, particularly by the wealthier colliery firms.’

The Birmingham Daily Post, on the 29 November, reports a meeting at Birmingham Town Hall to organise assistance to those left destitute by colliery accident at Pelsall; with the Lord Mayor presiding. The Hon Sec was a Mr EJ Shoemack, and it was estimated that a fund of £8,000 to £10,000 would be needed, ‘but there was no definite scheme at the moment, the Fund would be administered by gentleman from Walsall, Pelsall, Rushall and Bloxwich &c.’ The first mention Boaz Bloomer Jnr is around the 21st of December when he appears as Chairman of the Committee.

The disaster was well-covered throughout the country and the were several donations from far afield. It also started a call for the setting up of a permanent miners fund. John Robinson McClean, from Cannock Chase Collieries donated £500.

The Personalised leather-bound Bibles that were given to all the men who had aided in the rescue efforts had an inscription, beautifully written, on the fly-leaf of every Bible presented as follows…

This bible was presented to ………….. by a few Christian friends in Gloucester, as a memorial to his earnest and self-denying labourers in trying to rescue the 22 unfortunate miners who lost their lives in the fatal accident at the Pelsall Colliery. December 2nd 1872.

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2 Responses to Better men than us?

  1. Andy Dennis says:

    Good work, Pedro!

    I wonder if the relationship between the colliery and the ironworks was mainly to do with sale of coal by one to the other – the ironworks would, presumably, use prodigious quantities.

    Andy

  2. Pedro says:

    1856… Fletcher and Sharratt, spirit and wine merchants, Bridge Street, Walsall have disposed of their wholesale business.

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