My sister knows how to amuse me, and on a recent trip to visit my family in the West Midlands, she took me to the Black Country Living Museum for an afternoon of real Midlands fun. The Black Country is defined as the area where the coal seam that comes to the surface in towns like West Bromwich, Oldbury, Blackheath, Dudley, etc. Back in the industrial revolution in the mid-nineteenth century, thick smoke from thousands of foundries and forges muddied the air, and it became known everywhere as The Black Country.
If you are an English learner, this is probably not the place to perfect your language skills. The locals here have a very thick accent, which even I find it difficult to understand. The Black Country dialect is said to have some features of Early Middle English and causes some hilarity among people with other accents.
Although it may sound as though I am describing a kind of hell on earth, the Black Country is closely associated with the arts and literature, and it is a long time since those dirty industries stopped operating. There is some beautiful countryside, and there is plenty to entertain visitors.
Anyway, the museum was a lovely surprise and a reminder of the conditions that people were living in just a hundred years ago. This open-air museum is like a village from the past, with buildings that have been rebuilt and equipped with genuine objects. Visitors can explore the village with its curious shops and tradesmen’s workshops. One of the highlights is the schoolhouse, with a very strict schoolmaster who will quickly put you in your place. No giggling or you’ll get your hand smacked with a ruler.
In my opinion the best part was the canal boat trip. Canals are associated with the Netherlands, but they were essential to Black Country industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries, carrying cargoes to and from the local ironworks. It is an interesting experience to travel through the canal tunnels that run under the limestone hills in the area. The horses that drew the boats could not get into the tunnels, and so people had the hard job of ‘legging’ them through. These days, there are electric boats to take you through the tunnels so you won’t rip your tights!
The locals have a great sense of humour, so you are sure to laugh while you learn at this Museum. The staff in costume are ready to have a joke. It is also a marvellous opportunity to see an interesting part of England that is not on the usual tourist routes.
We finished the day having a hilarious photograph taken dressed in costumes of the time. We were given instructions not to smile… in those days you had to pull a very serious face. We look so funny!
I am the one with the flat straw hat standing at the back, my sister is sitting at the front, my brother-in-law looks very dapper with his flat cap, and his daughter is the schoolchild.
For more information see www.bclm.co.uk
Juliet Anne Allaway
-Photography by Juliet Anne Allaway-