This article originally appeared in Belbroughton Parish Magazine in February 2013.
Belbroughton History Society has recently undertaken the restoration of the Bradley Hammer on the Village Green, thanks to Ed Fiorani, and it seems timely to recall the story of how it came to be placed there: a constant reminder of the village’s industrial heritage.
This hammer was the smallest of a series of planishing hammers used in the process of scythe manufacture in Isaac Nash’s edge tool manufacturing company. Made by the firm of C. C. Bradley of Syracuse U.S.A. they were imported by Isaac Nash in 1897 to improve efficiency in his expanding local industry.
When the works closed in 1968 the machinery was dispersed, much sold for scrap, but the small planishing hammer was bought by Harry Skinner, proprietor of Drayton Forge, where it was taken and where it remained until 1995. Then David Cooper, who had taken over the forge some years previously, decided that it rightfully belonged in Belbroughton, and generously donated it to the History Society. The project was taken on with enthusiasm by members and friends of the Society. The cumbersome task of removal and transportation from Drayton to Belbroughton was undertaken by Robert and Edward Hathaway of Bell End Farm. First port of call was Field House Farm, where it was restored by Paul Margetts, before being taken to its final destination on the village green. The site had been decided upon after consultation with the Parish Council and with their full cooperation.
Plans were made to reveal the hammer on the 8th of May, the 50th anniversary of the end of the 1939-1945 War. Wilfrid Saunders, the last of Nash’s managers, agreed to officiate and “say a few words.” Contact was made with anyone known to have had connection with the industry, and invited to join in the celebration. On the day red, white and blue bunting was extended along the High Street, the hammer was draped in blue felt, with an ingenious device for unveiling it at the appropriate time. An unexpectedly large crowd turned up in festive mood, many of them former employees of Nash’s, or relatives and descendants. Music was relayed across the Green – impromptu dancing started up, and Belbroughton Club opened its doors for refreshment.
Wilf then unveiled the hammer with the following words:
When I was first asked if I would unveil this small Bradley hammer – which was used for planishing scythes – my thoughts went back to the days when we had a dozen of them in action, the largest used for forging scythes, and when they were all in use you can imagine the noise they made. However the village people at that time were all very pleased to hear the clatter of the hammers, because it meant that the men were at work and earning their living.
The shopkeepers were also delighted, because that meant business for which they were grateful. You would often hear strangers, who came to live in the village, complain about the noise, but we always said that the noise was there long before they arrived, so they could either live with it or leave it, which some of them did.
I have written about the scythe works in my time and I hope it will be of interest to future generations. But now I would like to tell you about the closing of the factory. In November 1967 I was called to the company’s head office to be told by the Managing Director of the Spear and Jackson Group that the factory was to close and I was given four months to do just that. This was a sad moment, having to return and inform everyone at the factory – all my friends – that they were to be made redundant. The reason being that rationalisation had taken over and all the machinery was to be sold for scrap, as it would be of no use to other firms. Seeing everything being smashed up was most distressing after so many years in constant production. And so came the end of the edge tool manufacturing industry in Belbroughton, which history tells us went back 400 years.
On the 1st of April 1968 the key was turned for the last time on an industry which had employed villagers for so many years. One could say that Old Father Time had completed his task when the scythe making had finished and all that is left is history and memories.
I will now unveil the hammer as a lasting memorial to the Belbroughton scythe works.
Wilf is no longer with us, but his words remain as a reminder of the feelings of a community deprived of a major source of livelihood.
We are fortunate to have the day’s proceedings recorded on film by Bill Allington, of Belbroughton wood yard.
A commemorative plaque was fixed on a mill wheel and stands in front of the hammer.