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The Workers' Institute

The Workers’ Institute, originally from Cradley Heath, stands as a landmark to one of the most significant yet hidden achievements of British labour history.  The Workers' Institute was awarded £1.1million Heritage Lottery Fund  to relocate the building  brick by brick to BCLM ensuring its future.

In 1910 the women chainmakers were amongst the most poorly paid workers in Britain and they toiled in appalling conditions. The women went on strike to fight for the minimum hourly rate (2 ½ d) that they had been promised by law but which their bosses were refusing to pay them. 

The women were led by Mary Macarthur of the National Federation of Women Workers (N.F.W.W.).  Mary Macarthur and the N.F.W.W. helped the women chainmakers gain massive public support, both at home and abroad. Over £4000 was contributed to the strike fund by the public.  The Institute was originally built from money that was left over from the strike fund.  

The Workers’ Institute opened on 10 June 1912. It was designed by a local architect, Albert Thomas Butler.  By 1935 it was a busy building at the heart of the community.   Many recreational activities took place in the Institute’s Auditorium such as billiards and socials. The Committee Room, which is upstairs, was hired by organisations who wanted to hold meetings. 

There are six main rooms / areas in the Workers’ Institute that can be accessed by visitors:

  • Waiting Room
  • General Office
  • News Room*
  • Auditorium
  • Mary Macarthur Room
  • Committee Room

 * News Room has been specially created by the Museum.  Modern interpretation boards with computer screens tell Mary Macarthur’s life story including standing as the first Labour Party candidate for Stourbridge in 1918. 

 The interior of the Workers' Institute is currently set in 1935 and the ground floor houses the union offices along with the auditorium where trade union meetings would have taken place in the 1930s.

The 300-seater auditorium hosts costumed performances, living history theatre, education and entertainment activities.

Check out our collection of videos below about the Women Chainmakers of Cradley Heath

1910 Cradley Heath,  Women Chain Makers Strike


A pioneer of the women's movement


Women chain makers


Women Chain Makers at BCLM


Commemorating Mary Macarthur

On the eve of International Women's Day 2017, a English Heritage blue plaque was  unveiled for Mary Macarthur, an inspirational leader who championed the cause of the women chainmakers and devoted her life to improving conditions for working women everywhere in the early 20th Century.

 Mary had envisioned the Cradley Heath Workers’ Institute building as a lasting tribute to the women chainmakers and in 2009 through the support of Heritage Lottery Fund, BCLM were able to relocate the building brick by brick ensuring its future.

The blue plaques scheme, taken on by English Heritage in 1986, has been running since 1866 to commemorate the notable people who lived and worked in buildings across the country. 

Information Sheets

To help you make the most of your visit you can download an exhibit information sheet.  These are especially useful for customers who may have hearing impediments. 

Download here: Cradley Heath Workers’ Institute (PDF 876kB)

Teachers’ Resources

The Workers’ Institute is one of the most recent buildings to be reconstructed on the Museum site. As with other exhibits at the Museum, interpretation is provided by guides and demonstrators on the day of your visit. However, the story of the Institute spreads far beyond Cradley Heath, where it stood originally. The impact of the successful women chainmakers’ strike of 1910, which led to the Institute being built, had an impact that was felt throughout Britain. Additional resources can be downloaded from this page, and are intended to support an in depth study of the subject.

They're not just for Teachers - You might find them interesting too!  Check them out.

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