SISI Wilkinson lecture looks at chain making history

28 Apr 2008

The Staffordshire Iron and Steel Institute held their Wilkinson Memorial Lecture evening in April 2008 at the Dudley Museum and Art gallery. The annual lecture, acknowledging the enterprise of John ‘Iron-Mad’ Wilkinson in the Midlands, started off in 1966 when the Institute celebrated its own first centenary. (Incidentally, this year is the Wilkinson Bicentenary.)

Ron Moss, a local historian, was the speaker on ‘Chain-making in the Black Country, Old and New’.  Ron has devoted a lot of his engineering working life, and all of his long retirement, to collecting records on chain-making activity in the area. Along the way he has saved a few old buildings of interest, and written a few books too.

Ron introduced some of the tools and materials used, and showed many useful and unique slides including one of the '10 yard seam’ of coal that the many ironworks exploited.  He went on to describe the Puddling Process to produce wrought iron, the early Steam hammer and the Rolling Mill operation for rod production. His heavy case of ‘props’ contained samples of chain, from half inch to 2” in diameter, and he used these to explain the hand manufacture using a ‘Tommy’ hammer, the ‘Uphand’ method and ‘sidewelding’ for larger sizes.  

Further slides showed the chains and anchor made by local firms for the Titanic, and photographic evidence of the considerable involvement of women in the industry. He finished with explanation of modern methods using huge automatic forming, forging and electric welding machines to produce chain for present-day cruise ships and safe lifting operations.   

The evening ended with a superb buffet and the opportunity for all present to visit the museum floors and particularly to see the industrial/geological ‘timeline’ exhibition where the Institute has a display.

In appreciation of the presentation, and to acknowledge the speaker’s long contribution to archiving local Iron and Steel history, the institute will award Ron their Wilkinson Gold Medal. Originally, Wilkinson speakers also received 50 guineas but since that’s no longer legal tender the practice has been dropped (!).