The Black Country Museum; An independent review
This is an independent review of the Black Country Museum, based in Dudley, West Midlands. I have lived in the black country all my life and although always interested in the history of the area, I have only recently experienced all the facets of the Black Country Museum. This review will provide details of the highlights of the museum and hopefully inspire you to visit the black country in the near future!
The Black Country
The 'Black Country' lies within the West Midlands, encompassing the boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and the city of Wolverhampton. Contrary to popular belief, Birmingham is not in the Black Country; infact by most 'black country folk' it is regarded as almost a different country, a slight rivalry between the two has existed for hundreds of years although some similarities in accent do exist! If walking the street with an older generation Black Country 'folk' expect to hear the common greeting 'Aer bin ya?'( meaning: are you alright?). Black Country dialect can be very confusing for outsiders, but luckily the people are historically friendly.
Black Country Language
- BBC - Black Country Features - Black Country dialect
This is the BBC Black Country Where I Live site, information on the Black Country dialect
Black Country; the name!
How did an area in the West Midlands get such an usual name? As the painting below suggests, the name comes from it's roots in Industry. The area had always had a large role in Industry with coal and iron ore seams being some of the thickest in the country. By the Industrial Revolution, the Black Country was an Industrial force. The building of the West Midlands canal system enabled the Black Country to export goods all over the country. By Victorian times the Black Country was one of the most heavily Industrialised areas in the country. The iron and coal industries particularly produced huge amounts of pollution, coating the area in thick black smoke; thus naming the area. The Black Country was also chosen to make the chains and anchor for the ill fated Titanic. The original journey taken by the Titanic anchor; through the streets of Netherton, towed by 20 shire horses, was recreated for a tv history programme just this year. Most people in the area would have had a family member working in the Netherton foundary at some point in their history.
The Black Country Museum provides an opportunity for the visitor or local to immerse themselves into Black Country life during the Victorian period. On entering the museum there is an excellent exhibition and film that begins your tour, it is interesting and informative; a good start! On leaving the foyer you step back in time. Due to the impressive size of the site, from here you can jump on a traditional trolley bus or tram. The attention to detail starts immediately as the tram driver greets you in authentic attire and in one or another 'sing song' Black Country hello.
The Black Country Museum High Street is the heart of the site, providing a variety of Victorian Black Country experiences. Play traditional street games on the cobbled streets, enter a small terraced cottage and watch a Victorian woman prepare 'tay' in front of the coal fire, or stop for a rest and a pint of ale or bitter in the Bottle and Glass Pub.
The High Street also hosts many other excellent shops that are open to explore and learn from. Each shop has its own 'keeper' that provides details of the original shop, the stock and various fascinating tales. Highlights include the pharamcy, where you can watch traditional pill making and the sweet shop; colourful jars lining the shelves.
The Black County Museum; Victorian Attractions
Outside of the High Street the large site offers many other attractions. At the top of the high street is one of the most famous and therefore, most popular. The Black Country Museum fish and chip shop is a reason to visit in itself. Serving traditional battered chips (orange in colour) they are the best in the area. Do not leave without having a taste!
To work off some of the chips, head to the Victorian fun fair. Here you can enjoy penny slot games, cocunut shys, shooting games, a rickety helter skelta and two people swings. Also a highight, the cake walk!
To gain an insight into what the young people of the Black Country did by day and visit the School house. Here you can take part in traditional lessons, writing on slate and practising your spelling or time tables. Be careful not to get anything wrong, as the teachers have high expectations of their pupils!
A recent addition to the site is the reproduction of the Cradley Heath Workers' Institute. Here you can learn about the fascinating career of Mary Macarthur; one of the countries greatest trade unionists and walk the rooms where important trade union meetings would have taken place.
The Black Country Museum underground experience
One of the most popular attractions at the museum is the Mine. As Mining was such a huge part of Black Country life, the mine plays a leading role. Tours of the mine run all day and is suitable for all but very small children. Don a yellow helmet and torch and head into the depths of the underground with your well practised and Black Country fluent guide. Experience the darkness and cold, the explosions and the fear that miners faced every day.
The Black Country Museum; Special Events
As mentioned at the start of the article, it is only recently that I have enjoyed all the facets the Black Country Museum has to offer. By this, I mean all the events and special occasions evenings to attend. Visiting the museum on Bonfire Night is truly atmospheric. Watch the flames flicker in the canal waters and wander through the narrow streets filled with smoke. An excellent bonfire alternative for all the family.
Likewise, Halloween and Christmas offer an alternative to your traditional visits. Hear stories of ghosts and ghouls spoken by the professional guides, or 'hunt' for Jack the Ripper amongst the dark gas light streets. For Christmas at the Black Country Museum take the children to see Father Christmas, take a day time ride on a traditonal barge or sit by a warm coal fire inside the cosy cottages.