Scythemaking in Belbroughton
Today, Belbroughton seems a quiet English village, but less than 100 years ago, you would have found a hive of industry, for Belbroughton scythe-making was in its heyday.
Scythes were made here for over 400 years, until the works finally closed in 1968. The Waldron family dominated the trade in the early 19th century, but in 1873 they were bought out by Isaac Nash. He gradually bought or rented all the mills along the Belne Brook and by the time of the 1881 census employed 105 men and 6 boys.
The Belne Brook is the first key to the industry's success. This little stream, which has come just a few miles down from the Clent Hills, provided the power for as many as 25 mills. The second is the expert quality of the scythes, resulting in them being sent as far afield as New Zealand. Instead of being made of a single piece of steel which was liable to snap, a core of hard steel, which kept its cutting edge, was sandwiched between two strips of softer iron to provide support.
So who would you have met as you walked down the village street? If you were up early, you might have met Walter Coley, forgeman, with his butty (assistant to you and me), off to get their fire going and to measure out the iron they would need for the day. Or perhaps you'd have met Eddie Moore, plater, on his way to Middle Mill where he would move the newly forged metal backwards and forwards beneath the weighty hammer until a blade shape was produced. Or maybe one of the 20 grinders, their faces wrapped up in scarves as some protection against the harmful dust that would fill the air from the grindstones. And is that a young Wilf Saunders who eventually rose to be Works Manager?
If you stayed to the evening, you could have enjoyed a pint at the Queen's where Walter Coley was also licensee, or even been lucky enough to hear the band led by Walter Pickford, expert hook finisher.
See how many traces of the industry you can spot today. Stand on the bridge by the Queen's, and you will see the remains of Lower Belbroughton Mill which was demolished in 1928. Look at the sign as you come into the village from Clent, reproduced over the Workmen's Club. There's a Bradley hammer on the village green. And have you looked carefully at our stone walls and steps?
If you want to know more, come along and visit our display in the church.
Belbroughton History Society