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The 1851 Census of England and Wales shows my ancestors living in Forge Lane, Halesowen, Worcestershire. Note that not only are all the adult males on the page working as gun barrel forgers, but also every household has at least one female listed as a "nail-maker".

image of the census page here

Many local districts in the Black Country now have websites describing these activities in quite colourful terms. My hypothesis is that even the uncertain perils of life in colonial Queensland were regarded as preferable to remaining in Forge Lane.

I have found relevant background to conditions before 1850 in the Second Report of Lord Ashley's Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children's Employment (1842).

Can someone suggest an authoritative source on how the industry developed through to 1880?

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Thank you for asking this question (see my comments on – ColeValleyGirl Nov 2 '12 at 13:41
I've made a minor correction -- Halesowen was partly in Worcestershire, not Worcester (which is the county town). It was also partly in Shropshire. – ColeValleyGirl Nov 2 '12 at 13:44
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Making nails by hand was a widespread cottage industry in the Black Country and north Worcestershire. By 1830 machine manufactured cut nails were being produced in Birmingham, so by the 1840’s nail makers were suffering hardship.

Willets, A., Black Country Nail Making Trade. The Ancient manor of Sedgley. Available at:

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