I recently visited The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley in the centre of the Black Country. The museum occupies 105,000 square metres (26 acres) of former industrial land partly reclaimed from a former railway goods yard, disused lime kilns and former coal pits. It was opened in 1978, since when many more exhibits have been added. The museum preserves some important buildings from around the Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall and the City of Wolverhampton; including a specially built village with Most buildings being relocated from their original sites where demonstrators portray life from the 1850s to the 1950s. The museum is close to the site where Thomas Dudley first mastered the technique of smelting iron with coal instead of wood charcoal and making iron enough for industrial use. Having a claim to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the Black Country is famous for its wide range of steel-based products from nails to the anchor and anchor chain for the Titanic.The site’s coal mining heritage is shown by an underground drift and colliery surface buildings. The museum also has a working replica of a Newcomen atmospheric engine. Thomas Newcomen’s invention was first successfully put to use in Tipton in 1712.
There are also many Electric trams and trolleybuses which transport visitors from the entrance to the village where thirty domestic and industrial buildings have been relocated close to the canal basin including the Cast Iron Houses and a 1930s fairground. A narrowboat operated by Dudley Canal Trust makes trips on the Dudley Canal and into the Dudley Tunnel. By the main entrance in the old Rolfe Street Baths are displays of local artefacts demonstrating the many products which were made by Black Country industry, including cast iron hollow ware, animal traps, vehicles, chain, anchors, enamels, weighing scales, laundry irons, nails, locks and fire clay products as well as more fragile items such as glassware, reflecting the centuries-old industry that produced lead crystal glass and the Joseph Chance glass works between Oldbury and Smethwick. The museum site also has two preserved mine shafts, one at the Racecourse Colliery and Brook Shaft.
In 1712, Thomas Newcomen built the world’s first successful steam engine which was used for pumping water from coal mines on Lord Dudley’s estates. In 1986, after ten years of research, the museum completed the construction of a full-scale working replica of the engine. The ‘fire engine’ is housed in a brick building from which a wooden beam projects through one wall. Rods hang from the outer end of the beam and operate pumps at the bottom of the mine shaft which raise the water to the surface. The engine has a boiler, a cylinder and piston and operating valves. A coal fire heats water in the boiler which is little more than a covered pan and the steam generated passes through a valve into the brass cylinder above it. The cylinder is more than two metres long and 52 centimetres in diameter. The steam in the cylinder is condensed by injecting cold water and the vacuum beneath the piston pulls the inner end of the beam down causing the pump to move.
There are also preserved Lime Kilns as Lime working and processing was carried out on the site from medieval times. Evidence of quarries and underground remains, the canal, and preserved lime kilns are parts of a scheduled ancient monument which has features from the medieval, Industrial Revolution and 20th century. The lime kilns, were built by the Earl of Dudley to process limestone quarried from Wren’s Nest workings. The earliest of the three surviving kilns dates from the late 18th century.
The trap shop was built in 1913 in Rookery Street, Wednesfield and offered to the museum in 1982. The exhibit, set around 1930, contains the office, trap shop and the machine shop. The nail shop is a replica of a back-yard workshop, built in the 1880s from 17 Chapel Street, Halesowen which houses equipment from the Halesowen workshop operated by Sidney Tether in the 1940s.The brass foundry was built in 1869 in Shaw Street, Walsall and closed after the Second World War but re-opened in 1964 by James Powell and used until his death in 1973. There is also a rolling mill which was originally installed at the Birchley Works in Oldbury in 1923 ceased to operate in 1976 and it was moved to Lord Ward’s Canal Arm. There is a chain maker’s shop which represents one of the many workshops that made small and medium size chain during the 1800s when the chain industry was mostly associated with Cradley, Cradley Heath, Old Hill, Quarry Bank and Netherton. There is also an Oliver hammer on display, this was a treadle-operated hammer that forged bolts by forcing red hot lengths of iron into a die. The machine shop contained several Oliver hammers used to forge special parts to order and was founded by Onan Lowe and taken over by T. W. Lench Ltd. there is also a early 20th Century village comprising houses, shops, workshops and public buildings which were dismantled and rebuilt brick by brick which is staffed by people in period costume. The village shops include Gregory’s General Stor, Emile Doo’s chemist shop, a sweet shop and cake shop with a bakery at the back. There is a hardware and ironmongers shop from Pipers Row in Wolverhampton and a pawnbroker’s shop.
The Brook Street back to back houses, built in the 1850s, were relocated from Woodsetton and were the homes of colliers, farm workers and ironworkers. The anchor maker’s house came from Lawrence Lane in Old Hill. Public buildings include Providence Chapel from Darby End/Hand near Netherton and the Bottle and Glass Inn. The village postbox meanwhile once stood on the corner of Baker Street and Blandford Street, London in 1865. It was and designed by architect J W Penfold and made by Cochrane, Grove and Company. The 1900 Carter’s Yard comes from Ogley Hay Road Burntwood, Cannock. The Old Birmingham Road links St James’s School with the Cradley Heath Workers’ Institute. St James’s School originally opened in Eve Hill, Dudley in 1842 for pupils aged 5–11. Hobbs & Sons fish and chip shop and H Morrall’s gentlemen’s outfitters both come from Hall Street, Dudley and date from the late-18th century. Four buildings were rescued from Birmingham Street, Oldbury and date to about 1860, including Humphrey Brothers,builders’ merchants, from 1932, who sold fireplaces, sanitaryware and building supplies including paint. The motorcycle shop is based on the business of A. Hartill & Sons. which was located in Mount Pleasant, Bilston. The window displays of locally made six motor bikes from 1929–34. Next door is Alfred Preedy & Sons tobacconist shop, established in Dudley in 1868 and James Gripton’s radio shop.The Cradley Heath Workers’ Institute was built with surplus funds raised in 1910 during the strike for a minimum wage by women chain makers. The Arts and Crafts style building was designed by architect, Albert Thomas Butler, and opened on 10 June 1912. It became a centre for educational meetings, social gatherings and trade union activities in Cradley Heath. The building contains reconstructed offices, a news room with a digital interpretation of the background to the strike and a large hall which is used for a wide range of activities including theatre performances and concerts. There is a also 1930s fairground located behind the school which represents a travelling fairground from the early 1900’s. The collection of historic rides includes a helter skelter and the Ark, which is one of the few ‘fourlift’ Arks in the country. Lord Ward’s Canal Arm recreates a typical dock that would have been found on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN). Adjacent to the museum is the Dudley Tunnel where Visitors can take a 45 minute skipper-guided trip into the tunnel through the historic limestone mines and caverns on a boat operated by the Dudley Canal Trust.
The museum also has many road transport exhibits which were used and made in the Black Country including the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company tram No. 34, Dudley, Stourbridge and District Electric Traction Company tram No. 5, a Guy single-decker Bus, a 1920 Dudley, Stourbridge and District Electric Traction Company No. 5 Tividale single-decker tram, the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company No. 19 works car, TheWolverhampton Tramways Company Horse Tram No. 23 open-topper built in 1892, the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company No. 34 Tividale single-decker built in 1919. The Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways open topper No. 49 built in 1909, The Dudley, Stourbridge and District Electric Traction Company No. 75 Tividale single-decker which was built in 1919, The Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways No. 102 Tividale single-decker built in 1920, the Birmingham Central Tramways Company Ltd cable car No. 104 open-topper built in 1886 and the Lisbon No. 361 single-decker built in 1907. Buses at the museum include the West Bromwich Corporation Daimler CVG6 GEA 174 built in 1948, the Midland Red BMMO D9 6342 HA built in 1963, the Guy Motors KTT 689 built in 1948, the West Bromwich Corporation Dennis E-Type EA 4181 built in 1929 and the Reo Speedwagon with C14D bodywork MR 3879 built in 1924. Operational Trolleybuses at the museum include the Walsall Corporation trolleybus 862, The Wolverhampton Corporation Guy Transport 78, the Wolverhampton Corporation Sunbeam Transport 433, the Bradford Corporation Transport 735 – A Karrier W built in 1946 and the Walsall Corporation Transport 862, a Sunbeam F4A with a Willowbrook Body. Wolverhampton was home to some early manufacturers of motor cars, such as Sunbeam, Clyno, AJS and Star and The Museum collection includes a 1903 Sunbeam, a 1912 Star and a 1931 AJS as well as examples of later vehicles such as the Kieft, Frisky and Westfield Topaz. There are also approximately 40 motor cycles in the Museum’s collection, including Sunbeams, AJS, Wearwell and Rocksons. Unusual vehicles in the fleet include a 1924 Guy-Morris fire engine, a Model T Ford van used by Willenhall firm Brevitt’s and a Bean flat bed truck.