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Chains (1939)


Main image of Chains (1939)
16mm, black and white, 13 mins
Production CompanyBirmingham Commercial Films

The making of wrought iron chains by craftsmen at the Netherton works of N. Hingley and Sons Ltd.

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The introductory caption explains the content precisely: 'The Making of Wrought Iron Chain at the Netherton Works of N. Hingley & Sons Ltd.' Chains documents the skills of the master craftsmen at work in Dudley; the film was selected in 1960 for inclusion in the National Film Archive as "an example of a process of manual wrought ironwork which may soon become extinct." A copy was screened at the inaugural programme of 'The Friends of the National Film Archive' in September 1961 and by all accounts was well received. The man responsible for the commissioning of the film - Mr Jump, master chain maker at Hingley and Sons - recounts that he was very surprised at the interest shown from local organisations in booking the film, ranging from local schools to prisons.

In an excellent example of a 16mm promotional film made for a small manufacturing company, the images convey the labour-intensive work demanded of the specialist craftsmen. Although silent, the scenes create a sense of the cacophony during the forging and shaping of the chains and fittings. Quality control was essential in maintaining the firm's reputation, as demonstrated in the testing of the ductile nature of the chain - when put under extreme pressure the chain becomes rigid before breaking point is reached. Chains are also tested in 15 fathom lengths as well as being subject to intensive examination link-by-link.

Noah Hingley and Sons no longer exists, a casualty of the decline in specialist industrial manufacturing. However their reputation remains, for it was this company that made chains and anchors for numerous great ships of the day, including the three Olympic-class liners SS Olympic, SS Titanic and SS Britannic. This legacy was documented in the Channel 4 series Titanic: The Mission (2010), in which a replica Titanic anchor, cast by Sheffield Forgemasters, was returned to Netherton as a permanent memorial. This short film is also a memorial to the skills of the Black Country craftsmen who played such an important role alongside their many colleagues in British shipyards.

Jan Faull

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Tales from the Shipyard'.

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Video Clips
1. Making the chain (3:34)
2. Forging the hook (3:28)
3. Stress testing (2:31)
Complete film (13:18)
Tales from the Shipyard