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sapp travels
8th Oct 2013 - Italy 2013
Black Country Museum

The Black Country Living Museum is an open-air museum of rebuilt historic buildings in Dudley in the West Midlands of England. It covers approximately 26 acres of area and realistically you could spend an entire day here. We were on a shortened version, and were aiming to do it in half a day. It came recommended from Uncle Tony as being a must-do and we had been given the run-down on the ‘must-see/do’s’ while there. So -  we hit the ground running.

The museum is on former industrial land partly reclaimed from a previous railway goods yard, so there are disused lime kilns and old coal pits. The museum has preserved some buildings from around the Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall and the City of Wolverhampton; mainly in a specially built village. Most buildings were relocated from their original sites.

For Perth people who have visited Pioneer Village in its heyday , the Black Country Museum is rather like that, but on steroids – big time – and with more history, obviously.

Our first stop was a a building with a working replica of a Newcomen steam engine. The engine was used for pumping water from coal mines on Lord Dudley’s estates. This engine on display is a full scale working replica of the 1712 engine and took ten years of research and construction!

As we walked on, reading the map and drafting a semi-survival plan for the day, we came across what appeared to be a little house, on entering we discovered a woman from the “olden days” inside stoking a fire. She explained that we were in the Woodsetton toll house, which was thought to be built in 1845 and its function was to collect tolls on the Sedgley to Tividale turnpike road. The interior had been renovated using old photos for reference and even has a vegetable garden out the back.

Moving on, we came across Hobbs and Sons. Uh-oh! Tony had stressed with great enthusiasm that this is where we would experience the BEST fish and chips ever! Ever ever! I reminded Paul of what Tony had said, and we decided that when in the Black Country Museum……. So, in we went, there was hardly anyone there, two guys sitting outside eating fish and chips and us. Was this a good sign? I read on a small sign at the door that the fish and chips were cooked in beef dripping, pushing the thought to a dark place in my mind, I ordered 2 fish and chips. Oh my, what big serves they were! We looked at our meal in hand, looked at each other and proceeded to taste our wares. Oh sweet Jesus, what is this evil goodness? Cripes they were indeed rather sensational. I dragged myself away from the evil goodness and binned about a third of it. And we carried on. When we walked back past about 30 minutes later the queue to buy fish and chips was out the door!

We wandered over to the village, the village shops include Gregory's General Store, Emile Doo's chemist shop, a sweet shop and cake shop. There was even a bike shop, but this was closed, for good. There were some old photos and certificates still in the shop front window, which were fun to read. We continued on to the Bottle and Glass Inn, we only looked once inside as we had consumed more than enough at Hobb’s so the Inn stop was purely for viewing.

We headed down to the canal, and it would have been fantastic to go on a barge trip, but today wasn’t the day for it. We stopped at the sweet shop and bought some pear drops and humbugs and carried on.

Throughout the museum, there are employees dressed appropriate to the era. They all have jobs, be it, selling in shops, serving beer, doing kiln and blacksmith things, stoking a fire, telling stories, it all adds to the authenticity of the place and is a great location for school excursions, and consequently there were plenty of school children.

As part of these excursions, schools can arrange to have the children attend an early century lesson at St James School. We were able to sit in an adjacent room and watch and listen through the glass. The teacher explained why the children back then were not “allowed” to be left-handed and ran them through some times tables and also taught them how to write correctly.

Over to Brooke St, to look at some old houses, in one little house, Pitt’s Cott, we were told that the house was self-built by the Pitt family using second hand bricks, making it rather uneven and giving it a home-made look. Apparently at one stage the family was so large that it housed 8 people, all living in one bedroom, one kitchen and an added on laundry!

Down the street we visited the Oliver Shop which was the major nut and bolt manufacturer in the 1930’s. There were no workers on today, so we peered through the windows and read some of the information and carried on to The  Workers' Institute. Originally built in Cradley Heath, this is quite a landmark to one of the most significant achievements of the history of British labour. Upstairs we found a memorial to Mary Macarthur, one of Britains greatest union leaders.

In 1906 Mary formed The National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW). The Federation campaigned to expose the evils of the sweated trades and played a major part in persuading the Liberal government to pass the 1909 Trade Boards Act which was an attempt to fix minimum wages in the most exploitative trades. We left Mary, and headed off to the coal mine.

At the coal mine we assessed the queue and also the time of day, and also the strategic matter of safety hat on head with a big bun hairdo going on (not Paul), with all three combined we opted to give it a miss and headed on to the museum’s vehicle display. The garage wasn’t open, so we had to settle for looking through the windows at some really amazing old cars including a 1903 Sunbeam and a 1912 Star.

Looking at the map, we had covered just about everything, with the exception of some underground and water excursions. Heading out through the exit, we had a good look at the gift shop, resisted the temptation to buy anything and made our way to the car park.

Back in the car, we opted to head back to the Bullring, I had done some processing of yesterday and there was a skirt that I ‘needed’.

A couple of hours later, sitting in a bar on the edge of the Bullring, we sipped on some drinks while we surveyed the shopping bags at our feet, including another pair of shoes! We had both managed to shop well and this was going to create a little bit of a challenge come luggage time.

Back into the traffic to Sutton Coldfield, where we found a late night Barber (on a Tuesday, winning!) and while Paul had his hair cut, I went and perused the bottle shop. We made it back to Chris and Paul’s. Chris had cooked us dinner and the three of us sat down for dinner and another night of late night gas-bagging, while Paul B headed off to work.

Next: My Friend Bec
Previous: Touchdown in England

Diary Photos

Black Country Museum

Newcomen steam engine

Brook st

Hobbs & Son's, before the queue

"Those" fish and chips

Village street

Bridge over the canal


Barges on the Canal

Hobbs queue

Bottle & Glass Inn


Domestic Work is Varied and Pleasant

The Workers Institute

Pitts Cott

Sunbeam car

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