George Dunn: (1887-1975) was born in the Black Country village of Quarry Bank, then in Staffordshire, some eight miles west of Birmingham, and spent most of his long life there. Both his grandfather, Benjamin, and his father, Sampson, worked in the iron trade, as did George himself, unitl he retired at the age of 72 after 59 years, mainly as a chainmaker.
He was brought up in Sheffield Street, in whose hundred houses not a single adult at that time could read or write. If they passed the Labour Examination, children were allowed to start working half-time at the age of eleven. George continued full-time at school until he was thirteen, his parents having been impressed by his progress in reading and writing. Long before he left school, though, he contributed to the family budget by working for half of his two-hour school lunch break “a-blowin’” - that is, pumping the bellows in one of the backyard chainshops which abounded in the village. His wage was a penny a week, and he also earned a few coppers in the evenings by acting as a barber’s lather boy.
George’s first full-time job was as a blower at a wage of 3s.6d. for a 59-hour week - less than a penny an hour, since the working day ran from 6 am to 6 pm. In 1904 he moved to the newly established chainmaking factory of Noah Bloomer and Sons. His wage rose to 10s. a week. By 1913 this had become 18s. but he judged this too small to marry on, and gave notice. The firm raised his wage to £1 a week, and he stayed for a further 46 years, the last ten as the superintendent of the proof house. Spells of hop-picking in Worcestershire and Herefordshire, hard though they were, provided welcome relief as well as supplementary income.
Again and again, he mentions singing; in the fields, at home, in the pubs - hymns, operatic arias, music hall items, and above all, the traditional songs learned from his father (who was also a champion whistler). Much of the learning was done literally at his father’s knee.
Part of the booklet notes, written by Roy Palmer, to the Musical Traditions Records CDs George Dunn: Chainmaker(MTCD317-8)
--RodStradling 17:37, 26 March 2007 (BST)