By the late 19th century, trade unions were well established. In the late 1880s there were around 750,000 union members, and by 1890, after a period of rapid growth, the number of members had risen to around 1.5 million. The most powerful unions were the craft unions which looked after the interests of skilled craftsmen.

In the Black Country there were many small unions catering for the large number of diverse industries that were to be found in the area. They often had only a small membership and held meetings in a public house. The union secretary would often work for several unions and had an office in the front room of his house. The smaller unions included the Nut & Bolt Makers Association, The Anvil and Vice-Makers Association, the Fireiron Makers Association, and the Gunlock Filers Association.

Bull Piece. From an old postcard.

An almost forgotten Darlaston man became one of the early pioneers of the trades union movement and greatly enlarged and amalgamated some of the smaller unions. He was Richard Juggins, the son of a Darlaston coalminer, born on 16th July, 1843, and apprenticed to a local nut and bolt maker in 1850 when only 7 years old. In the 1881 census he is listed as living at 60 New Street with his wife Elizabeth and their 8 children.

In 1870 he assisted in the formation of the Nut & Bolt Association and became its part-time secretary. Soon afterwards he became unemployed and was made full-time secretary. His house then became union headquarters. Under his guidance the union rapidly grew to become the National Association of Nut & Bolt Makers with branches throughout the midlands, the north of England, and Wales.

In 1873 he instigated the amalgamation of several local unions, including the Nut & Bolt Association to form the Midland Counties Trades Federation, which soon developed into an organisation of significant size. Richard became Federation secretary at a salary of £1 a week.

The membership grew to around 10,000 but by 1894 it had fallen to 4,000 as was reported at the Annual General Meeting that year, held in Darlaston Town Hall. A total of 47 delegates attended the meeting during which Juggins was instructed to launch a recruiting drive. By the following year the membership had risen to 5,000.

An advert from 1922.

Juggins actively looked after the interests of the union members. In the mid 1880s there was a recession in the nut and bolt industry and many manufacturers tried to undercut the competition. This was achieved by reducing their production costs, and persuading their craftsmen to accept a lower rate of pay.

Juggins realised that this situation was disastrous for the union members, and bad for the industry as a whole. In January 1885 he met with the Association of Employers in the nut and bolt industry and made an agreement in which the employers would employ only members of the union, and Juggins agreed that union members would only work for members of the Association of Employers who did not undercut the competition.

Both sides contributed to a fighting fund of £1,000 to be used to support a strike at any firm that tried to undercut the competition. It was a strange agreement in that both the union and the employers were funding future strikes in the industry.

The agreement only lasted for a short while. After the original meeting, there was a large-scale recruiting drive throughout the industry, and mass meetings were held at Darlaston and Smethwick. One employer, James Wiley of Eagle Works, Darlaston, who only employed 25 men, refused to join in the agreement and cut his worker’s wages by 5%. The other employers followed his lead and the scheme collapsed.

Even though the scheme had failed, Juggins continued to strive for fair wages in the industry, and in 1889, on his suggestion, the South Staffordshire Nut and Bolt Wages Board was set up. It consisted if 6 representatives from the employers and the union, together with a chairman appointed by the employers. If the board couldn’t agree on wages, the Mayor of Birmingham acted as the single arbitrator. The wages board was a great success and became the standard model for similar schemes in other industries.

An advert from 1922.

Juggins continued to convince other local craftsmen to form their own union. In 1886 he held a meeting at Bloxwich with craftsmen in the bit forging and filing industry and persuaded them to form a union. In 1895 he persuaded the edge-tool makers of Wednesbury to form a union and join the Midland Counties Trades Federation. Juggins wanted every craft to have its own union, which would be affiliated to the Federation, so that unions could help each other in times of crisis.

The Midland Counties Trades Federation regularly passed resolutions against the employment of women and girls in the heavy industries of the Black Country. As a result the TUC drew up a Bill to prohibit the employment of women and girls in those industries, which inevitably was rejected by Parliament.

The Federation played an important part in the chain-makers’ strike in 1887 to 88. The strike was sustained thanks to the efforts of the Federation and Juggins himself, who travelled throughout the country, visiting industrial areas and persuading various unions to contribute to the chain-makers’ strike fund. He channelled the funds to the union headquarters at Cradley Heath.

Victoria Road. From an old postcard.

On several occasions Juggins gave evidence on industrial matters to Royal Commissions and a Select Committee of the House of Lords.

On November 17th 1888 the following letter appeared in the Manchester Sunday Chronicle:

60, New Street, Darlaston, Nov. 17.

My dear Sir,

On Tuesday last a flint gunlock filer, named Joseph Adams, in Darlaston, had worked all day without food, which was due to the following circumstance. It is customary for the men to take home each night the locks made during the day, and get the money for them so as to buy provisions for the next day. Thus when a workman has nothing to do for one day he has to work without food the next. Adams could average 1s. per day of 14 to 16 hours; but he was, unfortunately, without work on Monday, and had had to live through Sunday. After working all day on Tuesday without food as described he went home, and before a little refreshment could be provided he sat down and died.

I am, sincerely yours,

Richard Juggins.

The letter was seen by Mr. Charles Conybeare, M.P. for Camborne who drew it to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He asked whether any inquest was held in this case, and whether he will cause an inquiry to be made?

The Secretary of State gave the following reply:

I am informed by the Chief Constable of Staffordshire that this man died more than a year ago. He was attended by a doctor, who certified the cause of death to be anaemia. Consequently, no inquest was held. He had been ill for some time, and it was in consequence of his illness that he was unable to do a good day's work. There was always work for him to do when he was able to do it, and he could earn from 12s. to 14s. a week at his trade.

Richard Juggins had a great impact on the trade union movement and continued as Federation secretary until his death. He died in 1895 at the age of 51. He was a poor man, and his family could not afford to pay for a memorial stone to mark his grave at James Bridge Cemetery. As a result his friends and colleagues in local unions raised the money and provided the headstone.

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