Article Index

 2020 Women Chainmakers' festival

there is a virtual event organised. People will need to register for the event here:

NEU1896 Women Chainmakers Social Facebook 02


2020 TUC Women Chainmakers – ‘Forging New Links – building a better future for working women’
Join the Midlands TUC for the women chainmakers festival. The annual TUC Women Chainmakers’ Festival is moving online this year due to Covid-19.

This virtual event will include

1) The famous Mary Macarthur 'Call to Arms' and 'Victory Speech'.
2) Short chain making related films.
3) 'Forging new links’ interactive panel discussion.

Panel includes:
- Dana Mill, writer and activist.
- Eleanor Smith, ex- MP for Wolverhampton South West and long
standing local activist.
- Zarah Sultana MP, Coventry South
- Nicky Downes, Joint Branch Secretary Coventry NEU

Chair: Katherine Salt, TUC Midlands Women’s Committee, Chair

The panel will explore how progressives can build wider coalitions to broaden support and secure real and lasting change.

The National Education Union (NEU) is hosting this event on behalf of TUC Midlands Region.












Chainmakers Twitter Banner

annual Midlands TUC Chainmakers Festival, Saturday 6th July 2019,  the largest celebration in Britain of women's political history.

11.00 - 20.00 | Mary Macarthur Gardens
This year the festival was revamped with all activities taking place in Mary Macarthur Gardens.

Stalls, the new 'Leftfield Tent' withactivities for kids, as well as political debate, with panels exploring the role of women in trade unions and society and how to organise young workers.

The much loved theatrical re-enactment  with a banner parade around Cradley Heath,plus main tent with speeches and music.

Headlining the festival was the Latin funk band Wara


Leftfield Tent
12.00 Children’s activities workshop (and 'Call to Arms')
13.00 Young Workers Panel debate
14.00 ‘Women in Leadership’ panel
14:30 Victory Speech
14:45 Banner Parade

Main Tent
15.10 Third Junction
16.15 Steph Peacock MP
16.30 Sunflower Thieves
17.35 Cathy Hunt & Louise Townsend
17.45 Emily Lockett
18.15 Wara


It re-enacts the struggle and celebrates the achievements and strugle of the trade union movement both then and now. 

Tired of working day and night for starvation wages, the Women Chainmakers of Cradley Heath in the Black Country in 1910, downed their hammers and stood up for their right to earn a living wage.

Led by the founder of the National Federation of Women Workers, Mary Macarthur,  their ten week strike successfully established the right to a minimum wage.



 This year’s event will be exclusively held on Mary Macarthur Gardens (junction Lower High St/Sydney St) with a banner parade up the High Street at Cradley Heath.

 The iconic heart of the famous struggle where the Chainmakers worked, lived - and fought their successful ten week dispute to secure a minimum wage for their sector. 

marymacarthurA family friendly street festival involving market stalls, fun fair rides, speeches, street theatre, music and debate.
The bigest annual celebration of women's history in Britain.
 For more information please contact organisers Midlands TUC 0121 2626380 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
chainmakers17 3


With help from the Friends of the Women Chainmakers       contact:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 





How to get to  Cradley Heath from Wolverhampton by train: 

off-peak Day Return  
leave  Wolverhampton Rail Station, taking London Midland train towards Walsall
change at Smethwick Galton Bridge Rail Station 
 take London Midland train towards Kidderminster
arrive at Cradley Heath Rail Station                        see the journey planner here....


Lee Barron, Midlands TUC Secretary explains "What is the Chainmakers' Festival all about?" 

and the Relevance of the chainmakers today

THE world now is vastly different from the world of 1910. Nevertheless, the struggles of 1910 offer useful insights into the challenges that we face today.

  • Women bearing the brunt

Women have suffered tremendously as a result of the recession and austerity. For example, women working part-time earn nearly 38 per cent less than men and women make up the majority of those paid less than the living wage.

The TUC publication The Impact on Women of Recession and Austerity is a timely reminder of why it is absolutely right that we focus upon securing greater equality for women in the workplace and society.

  • Pay

Pay was the root cause of the chainmakers’ dispute and it could not be a more important topic today.

The statistics are simply stunning. The average full-time employee wage has fallen in real terms by £2,430 since 2010.

Moreover, just under a quarter of all workers in the West Midlands earn less than the living wage, rising to over 30 per cent for women.

  • Organising

In 1910 it was said that the chain-making industry was too difficult to organise because it was so fragmented.

They said that the workforce was too apathetic. Sound familiar?

Many of these challenges present themselves today with the increasing casualisation of large parts of our economy.

But Macarthur was a “smart campaigner.” She built broad alliances and drove a wedge between employers.

She used the media imaginatively and organised mass meetings as a way of bringing women workers together.

As she said: “Women are unorganised because they are badly paid, and poorly paid because they are unorganised.”

Therefore, the Chainmakers’ Festival is rightly an important date in the movement’s calendar. A great family fun day out with music, theatre, comedy, kids’ activities as well as speeches and stalls.

And in the struggles we face today, the lessons of the chainmakers have never been more relevant as we organise and campaign to secure fairness, dignity and security for workers today.

                                  by Lee Barron, Midlands TUC Secretary - reprinted from Morning Star article


The Friends of the Women Chainmakers     contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

March 2018

Dear Friends,
Welcome to the first edition of our Newsletter!

Just a little reminder of what we're all about...

In the Autumn of 1910 the Women Chainmakers of Cradley Heath focused the World’s attention on the plight of Britain’s low paid women workers. In their back yard forges hundreds of women laid down their tools to strike for a living wage.
Young Women in a Chainshop

Led by the charismatic union organiser and campaigner Mary Macarthur, the women’s struggle became a national and international cause célèbre. Mary led the Women to demand that the minimum rate of pay set by the Chain Trade Board was implemented fairly.
Mary Reid Macarthur
After ten long weeks they won the dispute and increased their earnings from as little as 5 shillings (25p) to 11 shillings (55p) a week. This was all the more remarkable because the women worked at home, or in small factories and had no history of working together to achieve a common goal. Using her 'bundle of sticks' analogy, Mary was able to convince the women about the strength of solidarity, empowering them to achieve wonderous results and lay the foundations of equality for future generations.

Their victory helped to make the principle of a national minimum wage a reality! We have such a lot to thank them all for.

2018 Year of the Woman

If ever there was moment in time to evaluate the progress made towards gender equality that moment is now! Barely a day seems to go by without society having to ask itself difficult questions about how it values and perceives the role of women. But, these issues are not new ones, the women standing up today to assert their rights are standing on the shoulders of those women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who began the struggle towards equality. One of those women was Mary Macarthur, who we, the Friends of the Women Chainmakers continue to celebrate and educate others about in our work.

Of course, you are welcome to contact us and get involved! Come and meet us at an up-coming event. Or simply read more about Mary Macarthur and the Women Chainmakers of Cradley Heath.
Don't forget to share with your friends and invite them to subscribe too!

Until the next edition of our newsletter,
Thank you for reading!
The Friends of the Women Chainmakers.

Saturday 1st July 2017


chainmaker speakers17 17chain music
chainmakers prog17



The 2015 Women Chainmakers' festival 


2015 official Chainmakers' festival  FaceBook page


Cradley Heath High street was closed off on Sunday 12th July for the Chainmakers festival involving the Cradley Heath community and as part of the Black Country festival.

The festival celebrates the achievements of 800 women Chainmakers who fought to establish a minimum wage for their labour in 1910, following a 10 week strike. The local employers sought to deny them their rights but were met with forceful opposition. The strike was led by trade unionist Mary Macarthur, who founded the National Federation of Women Workers and later stood for Parliament as a Labour candidate.

The dramatic course of events as the women workers of Cradley Heath battled for a decent wage - full article here...

The event costs around £14,000 and the Midlands TUC is currently seeking donations for the 2015 event.

The TUC-organised event backed by Sandwell Council has live music, stalls, speeches.

Further details/trade enquiries   Midlands TUC


 with help from the Friends of Chainmakers   contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

All meetings to be held at 5.30pm at Old Hill Primary School, Lawrence Lane




Tired of working day and night for starvation wages, the Women Chainmakers of Cradley Heath in the Black Country downed their hammers and stood up for their right to earn a living wage.

This event, which took place in 1910, when the women, led by the founder of the National Federation of Women Workers-Mary Macarthur, and their ten week strike successfully established the right to a minimum wage.

Supported internationally, the strike fund received so many contributions that a building was constructed with the surplus. The Workers' Institute, as it was called, became a centre for women to meet and organise, a place to learn and to socialise. The Workers Institute was under threat of demolition until the Black Country Living Museum saved it, and so it was taken down and reconstructed at their site in Tipton in the West Midlands.  

A HALESOWEN trade unionist has penned a book on the historical significance of the Cradley Heath Chainmakers Strike 100 years ago.

Tony Barnsley, a 42-year-old father of three, wrote Breaking their Chains, Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers strike of 1910 because so little has been recorded about the historical strike.
Tony, who works for UNISON in Sandwell, said: “I really wanted to write the definitive account of the strike and really put the event in its historical context.
“Anyone who is on low pay at the moment can identify with the strike which was the first to really tackle low pay in Britain.”
And the author hopes to raise the national profile of Mary Macarthur, the battling chainmaker at the centre of the strike who secured better conditions and higher wages for thousands of women in the Black Country.
Tony said: “Though a national figure at the time Mary has not really received the recognition that she deserved. She was a very able organiser who didn’t flinch and she got results.”
He added: “She was the first woman to contest a seat for Parliament and I’m sure if she would have won the Stourbridge seat she would have been as famous as the Pankhursts.”
Tony will be signing copies of his book at the Chainmakers Strike 100th Anniversary at the Black Country Living Museum on Saturday, September 18.
Speaking at the event will be legendary Parliamentarian Tony Benn who has backed the book describing it as ‘an excellent history of the strike’.
Mr Benn said: “The Chainmaker’s strike which took place 100 years ago is important for many reasons.
“First because it tells the story of a historic struggle by low-paid women workers for decent pay and recognition as workers who need representation.
He added: “Today this generation has to fight those same battles again and the story of Mary Macarthur will help to inspire us to follow her lead.”
For more information about the book and the 100th anniversary event visit or read the Morning Star's review

Click HERE to see Warwick University Chainmakers' archive

Hands off our history!
It's not just women who are largely ignored by history, of course.

Despite decades of attempts to foreground working-class and black and ethnic historiographies, we seem to be back to endless kings and queens and the heritage agenda, in which rosy-cheeked rustics are jolly happy with their lot, the aristocracy is kindly, everyone knows their place and there's no need for any of that nasty politics - for "politics," read anything vaguely left-wing or working-class.

Consider the fate of the Women Chainmakers' Festival.

Cradley Heath in the Black Country was the centre of chainmaking in England.
The work, often carried out in sheds behind the women's own homes, was hard and dangerous.
A woman had to hammer up to 5,000 links a week to earn the equivalent of 25p.
Robert Sherard, in his White Slaves Of England, saw women trying to make the best of things, talking and singing as they worked.
"At first, the sign of this sociability makes one overlook the misery which, however, is all too visible... in the foul rags the women wear, in their haggard faces and the faces of the frightened infants hanging to their mother's breasts, as these ply the hammer, or sprawling in the mire on the floor, amidst the showers of fiery sparks."
The son of a chainmaker later talked to a local historian about his own birth.
His mother had made chains from 6am to 6pm before crossing the yard to give birth, returning immediately afterwards to her anvil, where she worked until 10pm.
In 1909, legislation required an increase in wages in some of the most exploitative trades, including chainmaking.
Employers instead tried to trick workers, many of whom couldn't read, into signing forms opting out of the minimum rates.
Those who refused were told there was no work for them.
The National Federation of Women Workers called a strike, and the so-called "Cradley Heath lockout" began in August 1910.
Backed by Mary Macarthur, Labour MPs and ministers, donations to the strike fund poured in. Pathe news showed film in 600 theatres of the women marching and singing protest songs.
But not until October did the last of the employers cease their machinations and agree to be bound by the new rates of pay.
After the women's victory, there was still sufficient in the strike fund to build a Workers' Institute, a two-storey building known as the "Tute."
In 2006 thanks to a lottery grant of £1.5 million, this was moved brick by brick to the Black Country Living Museum.
The museum began to hold an annual Chainmakers' Festival, which became increasingly popular, featuring national speakers and entertainers, including recreations of the marches and speeches of the strike in period costume.
In 2009 the museum asserted the importance of the event.
"The festival ensures that this historic episode is celebrated by the local community and trade unionists from all over the country."
But by 2011 the festival was banned by the museum as "too political."
New director Andrew Lovett was behind the ban, supposedly based on complaints he had received.
The festival has now come back home to Cradley Heath.
Hands off our history.

Louise Raw is the author of Striking A Light: The Bryant & May Matchwomen (Continuum Press).  Louise Raw, a Unite member and the author of Striking A Light: The Bryant & May Matchwomen And Their Place In History (Continuum Books) spoke in the Left-field tent  

2014 event: Hundreds turn out for Chainmakers' Festival despite downpour on Friday 6th June Friday night at the Chainmakers @ Leftfield Marquee in Bearmore Park

Saturday 7th June 2014  tenth Midlands TUC Cradley Women's Chainmakers' festival  Bearmore Mound Playing Fields, Cradley Heath, B64 6DU


The Midlands TUC maintains this event as the largest celebration of womens' history in Britain.


The Friends of Chainmakers   contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

'The group is being set up to promote the story of the women chainmakers and to encourage more local people to become involved in activities and hopefully therefore to engage with the festival.'   
Statement from their constitution: 
To preserve and provide a focus for the industrial heritage of the Black Country and celebrate the role that women have played in that local history, traditions and culture. Written accounts, oral histories, records and memorabilia will be made visible for the benefit of the general public via festivals, meetings, seminars, workshops, exhibitions by any other means to achieve the objects.
The thinking behind this is that we need the Friends group to be a distinct group themselves separate from the festival / TUs for a number of reasons
-  to encourage community involvement / engagement
- to ensure year round engagement 
- to promote the history of the chainmakers
- to enable access to new funding streams
at the Midlands TUC meeting in October the following motion from Wolverhampton & Bilston TUC was passed:
Chainmakers Festival 2014

We congratulate Midlands TUC employees and those involved with the organisation of the 2013 Chainmakers’ Festival in Cradley Heath.
The increased turnout, particularly of local people , was testament to their good work and confirms the correct decision to bring the festival back to Cradely Heath, the home of chain making. To improve on this year’s efforts we suggest for 2014 for example:
(i) A local organising committee to assist the current work done. To involve local community groups, schools and Sandwell Council as well as trade unions and trade union councils.
(ii) Increased involvement with Sandwell Council in advance to utilise their publicity systems.
(iii) Co-ordination with national TUC to send out publicity along the lines of their Tolpuddle festival publicity for South West TUC, reminding affiliates and members that this is a flagship celebration of women’s magnificent contribution to trade union struggles. Publicity should be along the lines of the only women’s national festival.



The 2013 ninth FREE TUC Chainmakers’ festival in Bearmore Mound Playing Fields, Cradley Heath, B64 6DU had a much bigger turnout and was a very successful day.

chainmakers 2013


11am @ Chainmakers Monument, to right of Cradley Heath railway station in Mary Macarthur Gardens people gathered for a commemeration at Mary Macarthur's statue, followed by banner procession up Cradley High Street led by local children, to Bearmore Park for the Chainmakers festival which then continued until 5pm.


Trade union speakers included Lesley Mercer the President of the TUC and Gloria Mills & Eleanor Smith from UNISON

display from Cradley Heathens Speedway Team and archery
Wolverhampton TUC had a stall in the Leftfield tent along with union and campaigning stalls and a craft tent with 15 stalls.
It is the same venue as last year, in the heart of the Cradley Heath community where the Chainmakers worked and lived - and fought their successful ten week dispute to secure a minimum wage for their sector.

 Trade Union chainmakers' festival returning to Cradley Heath Halesowen News



The event this year coincided with the unveiling of a Chainmaker statue in the nearby Mary Macarthur Memorial Gardens. The statue unveiling took place at 11.30am with a banner procession from the Memorial Park to the festival site following on the centenary of the opening of the Workers Institute.

Local sculpter Luke Perry's monument in Mary Macarthur Gardens (opposite Lidl) to the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath, their famous strike of 1910 and Mary Macarthur who roused them.
Line-up in Bearmore Park: 

Midlands TUC Regional Secretary Rob Johnston said: “We are delighted to bring the Chainmakers back to Cradley Heath.

“This places our joint celebration of Mary Macarthur, who led the strike, back in the heart of the community where the women fought for their rights to a minimum wage.
“It was a great achievement and we are indebted to Sandwell Council for their support in helping us continue to celebrate this important event.
“We are looking to make this festival an integral part of Cradley Heath for the foreseeable future and look forward to a long and successful partnership with the council to make this happen.”

Sandwell Council Leader Councillor Darren Cooper said: “We are very pleased the TUC is again prepared to organise the festival in conjunction with the council.
“This is an event which celebrates our local history and marks one of the most important events to take place anywhere in the country – and it is here on our patch in Cradley Heath.”
The festival has been moved forward to June to coincide with the unveiling of a statue of a woman chainmaker at Mary Macarthur Park in Cradley Heath, organised by the council and the Friends of Mary Macarthur Gardens Group.


The Midlands TUC brought the Chainmakers' festival back to Cradley Heath - the heart of the chainmaking industry - to celebrate the landmark victory for better pay.  The 1910 chainmakers’ strike, led by trade unionist Mary Macarthur, won a battle to establish the right to a fair wage following a 10 week strike. 
The TUC-organised event backed by Sandwell CouncilSeptember 17th2011at Bearmore Mound Playing Fields, Cradley Heath, B64 6DU.  

The Midlands TUC aims to maintain this event as the largest celebration of womens' history in Britain.
The new venue, Bearmore Mound, in the heart of the Cradley Heath community where the Chainmakers worked and lived - and fought their successful ten week dispute to secure a minimum wage for their sector.
Regular participants, such as the Black Country Players, were back this year.

Festival organiser Alan Weaver said, “Bringing the Chainmakers’ festival back to the heart of the community where the women fought for their rights is a great achievement and we are indebted to Sandwell Council for their support in helping us do so. We are looking to make this festival an integral part of Cradley Heath for the foreseeable future and look forward to a long and successful partnership with the council to make this happen.”

Sandwell Council Leader Councillor Darren Cooper said: "Mary Macarthur is one of the giants of Sandwell's past.  Her role as leader of the Cradley Heath chainmakers' strike last century has rightly earned her a place in the history of the borough and trade unionism.
The TUC has asked us to help with this year's celebrations of her life and we are delighted to be able to bring them back home to Cradley Heath by making Bearmore Mound available. We very much hope this year's festival will continue the success of the past few years."

The festival celebrates the achievements of 800 or so women Chainmakers who fought to establish a minimum wage for their labour. The local employers sought to deny them their rights but were met with forceful opposition, led by Mary Macarthur, who founded the National Federation of Women Workers and later Parliament as a Labour candidate.
Last  year’s event, which marked the centenary of the strike and attracted 4,000 trade unionists from across the country.
The festival celebrating the achievement of the women had been held for the last six years at the Black Country Living museum, home to the Mary Macarthur Institute, following its move from Cradley Heath.  The Museum informed the Midlands TUC that they are no longer prepared to allow the festival to be staged, after taking trade uniion money for the last 6 years.  The museum's view was quoted as having pronounced the festival as 'too political'!. The festival celebrated the centenary of the women's strike which won a minimum wage has been held jointly with the Midlands TUC since 2005. The festival won the prestigious Black Country Tourism Award for Best Festival in 2007.  The museum complained about trade unionists last year raising the issues of "demonstrations about cuts in public spending and the privatisation of the post office."
sponsoring unions: UNISON, Unite, GMB, CWU, USDAW, PCS, NASUWT, NUT, FBU, POA
The women chainmakers dispute was a victorious local political campaign for a minimum wage.
The Museum has THEIR Workers' Institute, rebuilt in the museum, partly funded with trade union money.
Unions have brought thousands of local people into the museum, at each event, many for the first of many times, and spent much funding the events.
"too political?"   What is history if it is not political?  "History is past politics; and politics present history" John Seeley English historian 1834-95

video photography by Brian Sheridan; music: The Chainmakers Song by Stacey Blythe

Hear Eric Faulkner's (formerly Bay City Rollers) Cradley Chainmakers' song here



Midlands TUC and Black Country Living Museum's Chainmakers' Festival 2010...


Tony Benn presents TUC Silver badge of Merit at Chainmakers festival 2010 to John Grant for 21 years continued service as WolverhamptonBilston and District Trades Union Council Treasurer with speech by Cheryl Pidgeon Midlands TUC Secretary

 Saturday 18th September 2010   commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1910 strike.

The Museum's major labour history event recalls the fight of the Cradley Heath Women Chainmakers, who in 1910 went on strike for ten weeks and were successful in winning the first ever minimum wage. The TUC organised event, hosted by the Black Country Living Museum, will celebrate the importance of Trade Union History and women at work.

Leftfield debates in the Workers' Institute, children’s area, music on the stage, Trade Union banner procession, stage speeches - events this year went on until 8pm     

Speakers  included: Tony Benn,


Mary Turner (President GMB), Sylvia Heal (former Deputy speaker House of Commons) and Eleanor Smith (Vice President UNISON)


Chainmakers' victory 100th anniversary celebration and procession

Saturday October 23rd, 2010   Salvation Army Hall, Meredith Street, Cradley Heath, United Kingdom, B64 5EP

The Chainmakers' strike ended on 22nd October 1910. There was a day of celebration for the anniversary on 23rd October.

several hundred packed out the hall to see the day’s events
1pm Tony Barnsley, author of Breaking Their Chains, Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers’ Strike of 1910
                   Film clips of interviews with women who struck
                   Former MP Sylvia Heal on Mary Macarthur
2:30pm Performance by Making Links
3pm Start of procession to Mary Macarthur memorial gardens
3:30pm Memorial plaque unveiled by Sandwell Mayor – Pauline Hinton, plus Brass Band
4:30pm refreshments in Labour Club, Graingers Lane

organised/sponsored by GMBSandwell council


2009 festival, keynote Speaker: Christine Blower NUT General Secretary

Headline Act: Robb and the Irregulars 

Midlands TUC Regional Secretary Roger McKenzie said, 'Last year's festival proved to be a fantastic day out for trade unionists from all over the country. This year we aim to provide an even better day of entertainment as a fitting celebration of the historic achievements of the Cradley Heath Women Chainmakers who suffered a ten-week lockout in their struggle for a minimum wage.

Museum Director Ian Walden said, 'This festival is one of the highlights of the Museum's year, and gives us the opportunity to celebrate one of the most significant events in the history of the Black Country. Our newest building on site, The Workers Institute, was built from the surplus in the Women Chainmakers strike fund and gives a new focus for our interpretation of Black Country history and culture'

Click HERE to view 3 short films of the festival and Black Country museum taken by one of our supporters at 2009 festival.



The 2008 festival started at 10am and ran throughout the day with speeches commencing at 1pm, followed by the now traditional procession of trade union banners around the Museum site.  Speakers were: Mary Davis, TUC & Margaret Prosser, Deputy Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.  Chumbawamba, who recently celebrated twenty-five years of playing radical, political folk music, headlined.

WolverhamptonTUC again joined the procession with our much photographed banner. We distributed hundreds of postcards urging onlookers to join a trade union themselves.

Mr McKenzie continued, 'This is the premier trade union festival in the Midlands and we are proud to hold it in conjunction with our friends at the Black Country Living Museum.'

The festival is supported and funded by the TUC, the Midlands Trade Union movement, and legal firms involved with local trade unions.