Chainmakers

Young people used the industrial and architectural heritage of the West Midlands as inspiration for a touring exhibition and new dance performances

Students from four Black Country schools researched the historic buildings and former industries of their local neighbourhoods, through site visits and archival materials, to use to develop new dance performances as a contribution to the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Co-ordinated by MADE and Dudley Performing Arts,Chainmakers: Black Country Storieswas funded by a CABE O.space grant.  The Black Country landscape is dotted with 18th and 19th Century industrial buildings, as a result of its mining and manufactuing heritage. Indiviudal towns specialised in the manufacture of glass, leather goods, locks, nuts and bolts - and chains. Indeed, the anchor and chains for The Titanic were made here and there are still two working chain-making factories in the area. 

Pupils from Cradeley CE Primary School went on a photographic visit to Mushroom Green Chainmaking Shop in the company of Shelia Chamberlain-Hyett, drama specialist at Dudely Performing Arts. Here they saw Luke Perry hard at work at the forge -Luke is curator for The Solid Swivel Company, a working factory which still makes chains and other equipment for ships, railways and electricity infrastructure. The children experienced the claustrophobic living quaters of a chainmaking family and compared the stucture of the forge chimneys with those of the kitchen. Back in the classroom, they used maps and census data, and found out that different schools had different leaving ages - families preferring to send their children to the schools with the lower leaving age, so they could start work at 13! They improvised short plays, wrote diaries from the 1900s, and put together an exhibition of their photos and artwork.

Their research has been translated by three other schools working with dance professionals Stacey Lunn, Jodie Richards and Hannah Davies, with additional input from local historians Harry Bloomer and Robert Lloyd Sweet. Using drama and dance, each school took a different aspect with all three dance pieces coming together for a joint performance. Year 7-9 students from Thorns Community College created a piece about the architecture of a chainmaking workshop and its machinery. Working in duets, they created the forge chimney, the tiny space of a chainmaker's cottage, and the mechanical movements of the foot-operated Tommy hammer.

Year 8 from Windsor High School concentrated on making links and joining them to create chains. They develop solo performances, progressing to duets and then teams of four as the links joined into ever-lengthening chains. Colley Lane Primary School's Year 6 focused on the life of local chainmaker Benjamin Hodgets. Mr Hodgets worked for 63 years for local manufacturer Hingley and Sons, alongside his father, two brothers and six sons. He was one of the chainmakers who worked on The Titanic anchor chain.

Chainmakers: Black Country Storiesis contributing to People Dancing, part of the West Midlands contributions to the Cultural Olympiad. The children's research is being used to inform a new series of community dance performances entitledMaking Links: Black Country Storieswhich are taking place at heritage sites across the Black Country in the run up to London 2012. The next performances are on 2nd July 2011 at Dudley Concert Hall and 23rd July 2011 at Mushroom Green Chainmaking workshop.