| This essay first appeared in The Blackcountryman, Winter, 1997/8, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 35-37.|
Cradley Links wishes to record our grateful thanks to Geoffrey E. Hodgetts for his generous permission to reproduce this article.
A LOSS TO CRADLEY
DEATH OF MR. BENJAMIN HODGETTS The above was the first paragraph of the obituary written in The County Express following the death of my grandfather on 31st July 1926.
It is with great regret that we record the death of Mr. Benjamin Hodgetts of Dane Tree House, Colley Lane, Cradley, which occurred last Saturday morning at the age of 75 years. By his passing there has been severed one of the most interesting links with the past life of the parish, which loses at the same time one of its most devoted and worthy sons. Mr. Hodgetts was one of the most notable chainmakers that the district has produced. He worked laboriously all his life, and the products of his labours have crossed and re-crossed the uttermost parts of the ocean.
He was born on the 14th September 1850. He was married to Elizabeth Fendall at Dudley Parish Church by the Vicar of Dudley, the Rev. F. F. Morgan on the 15th April 1872. They went to live at No. 4 "Long Row" off High Town. They had nine children, five boys and four girls - Joseph was the eldest and he was born there in 1873. Benjamin had 35 grandchildren of which I am the youngest but one.
Grandfather bought Nos. 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 High Street, Cradley. The name High Street had to go when Halesowen Council decided that there should only be one High Street in the Borough. The postal address was changed from "Cradley, Staffs" to Halesowen, Worcs. 2 High Street had been a grocer's shop but grandfather built a slaughter house and turned the shop into a butcher's. Joseph worked there until 1899.
Grandfather was a member of Cradley Parish Council from its inception and acted as overseer for the Parish of Cradley for 17 years. During this period when he acted as chairman of the Parish Council, gold watches were presented to the men of Cradley who won distinction in the Great War and the honour of making those presentations fell to him - an honour of which he was very proud. He took a great interest in the affairs of the parish and did much for its advancement. The allotments movement received his wholehearted support and he was deputed to purchase land at Homer Hill for recreation, this being a great acquisition to Cradley. It is thought that he lent the money to the council for this purpose. At one time there was a barrier between the burial grounds of the Church of England and the Non-conformists; it was largely due to the efforts of grandfather and the Rev. R. A. Norris (Vicar of Cradley) that the barrier was removed and a gateway substituted.
| ||Benjamin Hodgetts holding the presentation just before handing it to HRH The Prince of Wales (Edward VIII).|| |
When the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) made a tour of the Black Country it fell to grandfather to make a unique presentation - a miniature chain and anchor to His Royal Highness. The choice of grandfather to make the presentation was in recognition of the fact that he was in the employ of Netherton Ironworks (Messrs N. Hingley and Sons Ltd) for 63 years. He started making chain in Cradley at the works founded by Noah Hingley, one of the most noted pioneers of the chain industry. Grandfather started as a boy and when Noah Hingley transferred the works to Netherton he took grandfather with him and he worked there from 1862 until illness overtook him.
| ||Ben Hodgetts' large cable Titanic chain gang; (left to right): Ben Woodhouse, George Bridgwater, Albert Hodgetts, Theopholus Dunn, Ben Hodgetts|| |
| ||A second photograph of the Titanic chain gang. Can anyone identify the person third from the left?|| |
His father also worked on big chain for the same firm. These were the days when there were no factory acts and chainmakers worked very long hours and had to carry on working until 5 p.m. on Saturdays. He improved his position at Netherton and after being third foreman on the end chain he took over a fire on small chain. In 1876 he was put on side welding and worked at this until his illness. He was engaged on cables for two ill-fated liners - the Titanic and the Lusitania which was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland during the First World War. It was a 3¾ inch cable which was supplied for the Titanic and was tested to stand a strain of 350 tons. Three sons Alfred, Benjamin Jnr and Albert (my father) and six grandsons followed as chainmakers. My father is third from the left on the well publicised photograph making the cable for R.M.S. Titanic.
Grandfather was a founder member of the Chainmakers' and Strikers' Association from its inception and was one of the members to meet Mr. Thomas Sitch when he first came to this district. For many years he was a member of the Executive of the Association and in January 1924 he was made the recipient of an illuminated address from the members, which bore the following text:
"The members of the Chainmakers' and Strikers' Association feel desirous of recognising the very valuable and faithful service you have rendered to them as a member of the Executive Council, and also as a trustee, during the past 33 years. They feel they cannot more fittingly recognise this service than by asking your acceptance of this illuminated address, completed with their hearty wishes for long life and prosperity, and may the grand example you have set before your fellow workmen be the means of inspiring them to carry on the great work of raising and making more wholesome the standard of life" The address was signed by Mr. A. Westwood J.P. (President) Mr. Joseph Bloomer (Vice-president) and Mr. C. H. Sitch, M.P. To show him "his sterling worth" Sir George Hingley presented him with a massive timepiece “in recognition of faithful and valuable services (1914)”.
There was no prouder man in Cradley when he shook hands with the Prince of Wales on 13th June 1923 and when Mr. J. T. Bill of Netherton wrote the song “As long as the smoke goes upward” immortalising his work.
In politics he was a Liberal. He was a member of the Cradley Liberal Association for many years and was an intimate friend of the Right Hon. J. W. Wilson, M.P.
Working as a chainmaker and a butcher each weekday did not prevent him from having a full day on Sundays. He was closely associated with High Town Ragged School which was built with the assistance of Sir George Hingley and Thomas Crowther. He was a Sunday School Teacher there for 50 years. My father followed in his footsteps and was also a teacher and secretary there for many years. I can remember attending there for three services every Sunday.
Benjamin and Elizabeth celebrated their Golden Wedding on 10th July 1922 and had a huge family gathering at Colley Lane. Elizabeth died on the 30th July 1925 and Benjamin died on the 31st July 1926. The funeral service was at High Town Ragged School and the service was conducted by the vicar of Cradley, Rev. W. S. Cooper and Mr. John Bowen. The two sons who were not chainmakers carried on with the butchering business, Joseph in High Street and Ernest in Furlong Lane. The latter has recently closed. My father and mother carried on with the welfare side of the Chainmakers' and Strikers' Association at the offices situated in Lomey Town, Cradley Heath. This finally ceased when sick benefits were brought into the National Scheme by Lord Beveridge. My cousin Mr. A. E. Head (Bert) was secretary for the association at Unity Villa, Cradley Heath for many years and another cousin Benjamin Hodgetts (the third) was senior law clerk when Attwoods took over the offices at the Institute (better known as the "Stute"). Another cousin Miriam Fendall was one of the last women to make small chain in a chain shop at the bottom of her garden in Ladysmith Road. This is what the Social Historians call “The Domestic System”.