Author Robert Harborough Sherard visited Cradley Heath to collect evidence for one of a series of articles, later published as a book ‘The White Slaves of England (1898)’, on the sweated trades of the land. He was taken by James Smith, secretary of the Chainmakers’ Union, to a place called Anvil Yard. Sherard wrote:
Two of the girls working in the shed were suckling babes and could work but slowly. Those who could work at their best being unencumbered, could make a hundredweight of chain in two and a half days. Their owner walked serene and grey-haired among them, checking conversation, and being, at times, abusive. She was but one of a numerous class of human leeches fast to a gangrened sore.
Of Anvil Yard, with its open sewers and filth and shame, one would rather not write, nor of the haggard tatterdermalions* who there groaned and jumped. In fact, I hardly saw them. The name ‘Anvil Yard’ had set me thinking of some lines of Goethe, in which he deplores the condition of the people – ‘zwischen dem Amboss und Hammer’ – between the anvil and the hammer.
And as these lines went through my head, whilst before my spiritual eyes there passed the pale procession of the White Slaves of England, I could see nothing but sorrow and hunger and grime, rags, foul food, open sores and movements incessant, instinctive yet laborious – an anvil and a hammer ever descending – all vague, and in a mist as yet untinged with red, a spectacle so hideous that I gladly shut it out, wondering for my part, what in these things is right.
* tatterdermalion – a poor and ragged person