Bob’s Bits

Bob Burton lives in the Black Country, a name given in the mid 1800’s to the industrial region located in the midlands of England. As the industrial revolution gained full momentum the area was considered the ‘workshop of the world’. The name is derived from the smoke of many thousands of ironworking foundries and forges. There would also have been local cottage industries manufacturing nails in the area. Bob gives us a reminder of our industrial past.

BOB SAYS: “My nephew and brother-in-law have recently moved into ‘Nailers’ Cottages’ and I have helped both of them with a bit of gardening. I have also supplied them with metalwork such as horseshoes, buckles, flagons and bottles for external decoration.”

“When I found an old nail whilst detecting it got me thinking just a little differently about nails and the life of the local nailer. The hand-made nail shown above has a square shank and dates to before 1800. I understand that nails with rectangular shanks are Victorian.”

This nail shop can be seen at the Black Country Living Museum and is reproduced with permission. Originally there were four nailers, two to each hearth, but as trade declined two of the nailers were removed, and an anvil was put in so that general smithing could be done.

Making Nails

Nail making was well established in and around the Black Country by the middle ages, and at its peak in about 1820 there were over 50,000 nailers at work. And here’s a piece of interesting information – the nailers worked for middlemen known as FOGGERS.

The Fogger was a type of middleman brought about by the great surplus of labour in the 19th century. He preyed upon the poverty of the nailers supplying them with iron on credit, much as the nail master did, but buying the nails back at well below list prices.

He was usually the owner of a public house or Tommy Shop. When a nailer’s supply of iron was stopped by the regular nail master for any reason such as fraud or bad work, the nailer was forced to go to the Fogger or starve.

He would then be paid by check which had to be spent in the Fogger’s shop or public house on goods which were usually inferior or adulterated. The Fogger generally kept three sets of scales to cheat the nailers even further. One set giving short weight to weigh the iron rod, one to weigh the nails when bought in and a set which was correct for the benefit of the inspector.

The majority of Foggers began as clerks or warehousemen, and knowing where orders came from they would solicit for orders and then recruit workmen by promising to pay the current price. This they did for a week or two then they began reducing the price but by then the nailer was hooked. At the beginning of the 19th century Foggers were blamed for keeping the price of nails down but as the century progressed more and more masters worked hand and glove with them.

The information (edited) has been taken from ‘The Black Country Nail Trade’ by Arthur Willets.


4 thoughts on “Bob’s Bits

  1. And these days, when we are detecting, we get peeved when we find an old rusty nail!!

    We do not think of the history behind the actual art of nail making..

    A most interesting post John.. many thanks


    Liked by 1 person

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