Black Country day

Black Country day occurs annually on 14 July. The Black Country is a region of the West Midlands in England, west of Birmingham and commonly refers to all or part of the four boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. During the Industrial Revolution, this area became one of the most industrialised parts of Britain with coal mines, coking, iron foundries, glass factories, brickworks and steel mills producing a high level of air pollution and consequently it became referred to as the Black Country. The first trace of “The Black Country” as an expression dates from the 1840s. The name is believed to come from the soot from the heavy industries that covered the area, although the 30-foot-thick coal seam close to the surface is another possible origin.

Coal mining was carried out for several centuries in the Black Country, starting from medieval times, and metalworking was important in the Black Country area as early as the 16th century spurred on by the presence of iron ore and coal in a seam 30 feet (9 m) thick, the thickest seam in Great Britain, which outcropped in various places. Many people had an agricultural smallholding and supplemented their income by working as nailers or smiths, an example of a phenomenon known to economic historians as proto-industrialisation and by the 1620s “Within ten miles [16 km] of Dudley Castle there were 20,000 smiths of all sorts”.

In 1642 at the start of the Civil War, Charles I failed to capture the two arsenals of Portsmouth and Hull. So he had swords, pikes, guns, and shot manufactured in the Black Country including shot from Stourbridge, cannons from Dudley and sword blades and pike heads from Numerous small forges situated in the north of Worcestershire. However one of best sword makers of the day, Robert Porter, who manufactured swords in Digbeth, Birmingham, refused to supply swords to King Charles. Among their supporters The Royalists hadColonel Dud Dudley, who had invented a means of smelting iron by the use of coke, and who claimed he could turn out “all sorts of bar iron fit for making of muskets, carbines, and iron for great bolts”, both more cheaply, more speedily and more excellent than could be done in any other way. By 1785 The 14-mile (23 km) road between Wolverhampton and Birmingham was described as “one continuous town” and during the 19th century or early 20th century, many villages had their characteristic manufacture, but earlier occupations were less concentrated. Some of these concentrations are less ancient than sometimes supposed. For example, chain making in Cradley Heath seems only to have begun in about the 1820s, The anchors and chains for the ill-fated liner RMS Titanic were also manufactured in the Black Country in the area of Netherton. Three anchors and accompanying chains were manufactured; and the set weighed in at 100 tons. The centre anchor alone weighed 12 tons and was pulled through Netherton on its journey to the ship by 20 Shire horses.

Canals were of crucial importance in the development of Black Country industry. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, coal and limestone were worked only on a modest scale for local consumption, but during the Industrial Revolution by the opening of canals, such as the Birmingham Canal Navigations, Stourbridge Canal and the Dudley Canal (the Dudley Canal Line No 1 and the Dudley Tunnel) opened up the mineral wealth of the area to exploitation. Advances in the use of coke for the production in iron enabled iron production (hitherto limited by the supply of charcoal) to expand rapidly.

By Victorian times, the Black Country was one of the most heavily industrialised areas in Britain, and it became known for its pollution, particularly from iron and coal industries and their many associated smaller businesses. This led to the expansion of local railways and coal mine lines. The line running from Stourbridge to Walsall via Dudley Port and Wednesbury closed in the 1960s, but the Birmingham to Wolverhampton line via Tipton is still a major transport route.

Glass cones where glass was made and worked were also a common sight in Dudley and Stourbridge. In 1913, the Black Country was the location of arguably one of the most important strikes in British trade union history when the workers employed in the area’s steel tube trade came out for two months in a successful demand for a 23 shilling minimum weekly wage for unskilled workers, giving them pay parity with their counterparts in nearby Birmingham. This action commenced on 9 May in Wednesbury, at the Old Patent tube works of John Russell & Co. Ltd., and within weeks upwards of 40,000 workers across the Black Country had joined the dispute. Notable figures in the labour movement, including a key proponent of Syndicalism, Tom Mann, visited the area to support the workers and Jack Beard and Julia Varley of the Workers’ Union were active in organising the strike. During this confrontation with employers represented by the Midlands Employers’ Federation, a body founded by Dudley Docker, the Asquith Government’s armaments programme was jeopardised, especially its procurement of naval equipment and other industrial essentials such as steel tubing, nuts and bolts, destroyer parts, etc. This was of national significance at a time when Britain and Germany were engaged in the Anglo-German naval arms race that preceded the outbreak of the First World War. Following a ballot of the union membership, a settlement of the dispute was reached on 11 July after arbitration by government officials from the Board of Trade led by the Chief Industrial Commissioner Sir George Askwith, 1st Baron Askwith. One of the important consequences of the strike was the growth of organised labour across the Black Country, which was notable because until this point the area’s workforce had effectively eschewed trade unionism.

The area also gained widespread notoriety for its hellish appearance. Charles Dickens’s novel The Old Curiosity Shop, written in 1841, described how the area’s local factory chimneys “Poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air”. In 1862, Elihu Burritt, the American Consul in Birmingham, described the region as “black by day and red by night”, because of the smoke and grime generated by the intense manufacturing activity and the glow from furnaces at night. Early 20th century representations of the region Feature in the Mercian novels of Francis Brett Young, such as My Brother Jonathan (1928). Carol Thompson the curator “The Making of Mordor” at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in the last quarter of 2014 stated that J. R. R. Tolkien’s description of the grim region of Mordor “resonates strongly with contemporary accounts of the Black Country”, in The Lord of the Rings. in the Elvish Sindarin language, Mor-Dor means Dark (or Black) Land. The character of Bilbo Baggins may have been based on Tolkien’s observation of Mayor Ben Bilboe of Bilston in The Black Country, who was a Communist and Labour Party member from the Lunt in Bilston.

The 20th century saw a decline in coal mining in the Black Country, with the last colliery in the region – Baggeridge Colliery near Sedgley – closing on 2 March 1968, marking the end of an era after some 300 years of mass coal mining in the region, though a small number of open cast mines remained in use for a few years afterwards. Until the late twentieth century, the Black Country had no officially defined borders.Some traditionalists have tended to define it as “the area where the coal seam comes to the surface – so West Bromwich, Oldbury, Blackheath, Cradley Heath, Old Hill, Bilston, Dudley, Tipton, Wednesfield and parts of Halesowen, Wednesbury and Walsall but not Wolverhampton, Stourbridge and Smethwick or what used to be known as Warley”.Others have included areas which were associated with heavy industry.

Today the Black Country commonly Includes the majority or all of the four boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Official recognition of the Black Country came in 1987, when the Black Country Development Corporation was set up. In 1999 the Black Country Consortium was founded comprising the four local authorities of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton an area of 356 square kilometres.

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