This is quite a noticeable and sizeable sculpture in the middle of Bilston’s main street and was designed by Rose Garrard, beng unveiled in May 1998. Garrard notes:
“It is located close to the site of a ‘fold’, a cluster of small hovels where families lived and the women repetitively forged tiny items such as nails, chain links and pulleys, selling them to merchants to survive. These items have been fused into the clothing of this metamorphic figure, whose head is the small anvil and her forearms the tongs used for holding the hot metal. Her feet are flat irons, while the back of her skirt is composed of stacked cooking pots. Local women were later employed in nearby factories making cast iron cooking pots and flat irons as well as in large laundries where they put the irons to use. The figure is stooped over to support her burden of coal, the constant position of a ‘pit-bank wench’ paid to work bowed down all day to reclaim any usable lumps of coal from the slag heaps at the pit head.”
I suspect that this is one of the earlier sculptures which was designed to remind people of the contribution made by women to industry and over twenty years on it still has something of an impact visually.
The artist wasn’t paid for this installation even by the time of its unveiling by Clare Short, the then Secretary of State for International Development. It took Short’s involvement for Rose Garrard to finally get her money from the local council who commissioned it.
It’s hard to imagine these levels of poverty today, but these are the “pit bank wenches”.