Nail Making -
"Wrought Nails" by Sir Frank Short (1857-1945)



Wrought Nails: Etching of Cradley nailors' cottages on the banks of the River Stour by Stourbridge-born artist Sir Frank Short.

This etching is 'Wrought Nails' by artist Sir Frank Short. I am indebted to the Curator of Dudley Art Gallery for letting me view and take photographs of this etching, which regrettably is not on permanent public display.

"Wrought Nails" depicts some of Cradley's nail shops on the banks of the River Stour in the vicinity of Cradley Forge, or "Hell Hole".In a bleak landscape, cottages and sheds stand high to left on the hill with a clothes-line running down the slope. The river is below and in the distance are low hills and a forge chimney.

Stourbridge-born Frank Short was an engineer, craftsman, artist, engraver, lithographer and master etcher. (Stourbridge is some 3 miles away from Cradley.) His 'Wrought Nails' has the following inscription across the lower left corner:-


"By the sweat of their brow they exist,
Simple and sturdy hearts; men and women that make a nation,
Where is your reward?
Great God! That there be nail shops in hell for other folk to try."

This work, with its passionate and apt inscription, is a fine tribute to the lives of the nailors, amongst whom he was born and brought up.



Wrought Nails


The nail making industry was established in Cradley since at least the 1500s. Much of the iron was brought from the Forest of Dean by the Severn to Bewdley and from that river port by packhorse. The iron was forged into flat bars of different thicknesses and these were slit by hand and wedge into rods suitable for the size of nail required.

Most of the nailors worked from a hearth in their home which were generally squalid. Children worked at the hearth as soon as they could handle a hammer, some at the age of six or seven. Many nails were exported and were taken via Bewdley and Worcester to Bristol for shipment to North America. The twenty five mile long River Stour, that rises in the Clent Hills above Halesowen and flows through Cradley on its way to join the River Severn at Stourport, had perhaps more mills and forges than any comparable length of river in the British Isles during the eighteenth century.

In the 1841 and 1851 censuses nail making was by far the main industry in Cradley but already the hand-made trade was giving way to nails made by machine. Many nailors were turning their hearths and their skills to meeting the new industrial demand for iron chain, and the name Cradley became synonymous with chain making. However, hand nail making survived longer in Cradley than elsewhere because of the local specialism in horse nails, the quality of which machine-made nails could not match for many years.

Short Family History


Sir Frank Short: an etching and drypoint on paper by Malcolm Osborne (1931).

Francis (Frank) Job Short was born on 19 June 1857, at Wollaston, Stourbridge, the only son of Job Till Short, a furnace bricklayer, and his wife, Emma Millward.

Job Till was the son of Job and Jane Short, also a bricklayer and furnace builder but later an inspector of steam boilers. This Job was the son of another Job Short, again a bricklayer, who married Jane Lester in St Martins, Birmingham on 1 Aug 1803.

The first Job Short was born in Sedgley in about 1780, the second was born in Wednesbury in about 1807, and the third, Frank's father, was born in Stourbridge in 1832, where the family had settled in Wollaston.

Upon leaving school at the age of thirteen Frank trained as a civil engineer, and was an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1883 until he resigned in 1904. He attended evening classes in the Stourbridge School of Art and then, after a period of engineering work in London, abandoned this profession and entered the National Art Training School (later the Royal College of Art), South Kensington.

In 1889 Frank Short married Esther Rosamond Barker (died 1925). They had one son, who died on active service in 1916, and one daughter, Dorothea. He retired in 1924 and died at Ditchling, Sussex, 22 April 1945.

Master Etcher


While still a student at South Kensington in 1885 Short won approval from John Ruskin for some of his mezzotints after Turner's 'Liber Studiorum'. He made many mezzotints after the paintings of Turner and other notable painters. However, it is his original compositions in the medium, often featuring watery foregrounds (river, canal and sea) that count among the true masterpieces of English printmaking.

From 1891 until his retirement in 1924 Frank Short taught engraving at the Royal College of Art, becoming professor of engraving. He was master of the Art-Workers' Guild in 1901 and was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (RI) in 1917.

Sydney Morning Herald 4th July 1930: report on Exhibition of Frank Short etchings, held at the W. Rubery Bennett Gallery, King Street, Sydney.

However, his main work lay in etching and engraving. In 1885 he had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (renamed the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers in 1991), and he became second president in 1910, retiring in 1938. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy (RA) in 1906, and Academician (the first treasurer of the RA from 1919 to 1932.

Frank Short had a major influence on his contemporaries and pupils at the Royal College of Art. He revived and developed the techniques of mezzotint and aquatint and inspired a generation of technical excellence in British print-making between the first and second world wars.

Short's influence and reputation extended far beyond these shores. He won gold medals for engraving at the Paris Salon in 1889 and 1900. And on Friday 4th July 1930 The Sydney Morning Herald reported favourably on an exhibition of his works at the W. Rubery Bennett Gallery in King Street, Sydney: "one perceives again the master hand of this artist in the exquisite blending of harmonies, the velvety textures of shadows, the superb play of light."

A Wintry Blast on the Stourbridge Canal: another local etching by Stourbridge-born artist Sir Frank Short.

Short made mezzotint a new and living art, employing its qualities of tone and mass for his original landscapes. Using his engineering skills he made his own tools and invented new ones. He produced some 209 etchings and drypoints.

In his etched work he directly interpreted nature by means of straightforward, frequently outdoor, work upon the plate, as may be seen for example in his two local landscapes: 'Wrought Nails' (1886) of Cradley and 'A Wintry Blast on the Stourbridge Canal' (1890), which shows an area between Foster & Rastrick's Ironworks and Wollaston Forge.


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