The weather could not have been any better for our outdoor adventures today! We have been so lucky to only have one rainy day since we landed in England, and today the temperature hit 21 degrees Celsius (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit).
After a little bit of a late wake up this morning, we all piled into a van in order to travel about 30 minutes to the Black Country Living Museum. This was my first time ever visiting a museum of this type, and it was so interesting to see how immersive the entire experience could be. All of the actors wore clothing fitting for the time period and had so much information about the different parts of the museum that they were stationed next to, including hosting different showcases in frequent intervals to demonstrate what life was like in the time period. Even while walking around, a couple in a horse drawn carriage had ridden past us on the walkway, as well as a man on an old fashioned bike who rang his bell and shouted good morning each time he passed (4 in total, to be exact haha).
The first stop of the trip was the mine. The actor working there explained that twelve men used to fit on one bucket being held by a rope, which was lowered all the way down on the mine. The bucket wasn’t large, so four men would link arms, then four more link arms with them and have a leg hanging off, and the final four would sit on top of them. Once the men were down in the mine, they would work for twelve hours at a time. The model we looked at had a steel cable, but the actor told us that once 4 brothers were being lowered on the bucket when the rope snapped. One of the really sad things of the time was that the mining companies owned many of the houses, and if the man of the family who was working died, their widows would be evicted off of the property.
We also learned about the role of horses in the mine. I’ll spare you the sight of what it looked like when horses were lowered, but just know that horses were quite tightly tied into a compact ball and lowered into the mine. Down there, they could pull about 5 carts of coal in the dark along the tracks. At first, they used to send horses down for two weeks at a time, but then they’d have to put layers of blindfolds on them when they came back up to the surface and slowly take them off to reacclimate horses to the light. By the time they had adjusted again, horses had to go back down. Instead, miners learned to take horses underground for 2 years, then work for 2 years above ground before being put out to pasture.
Along the walk into the city, we stopped at the toll house. Originally, it was a building where people passing through on the turnpike would have to pay to travel, but it was eventually turned into a home. The woman who lived there was Ann Hodkiss, a widow with 9 kids! Although there was no water or electricity, the house was quite cozy, with two bedrooms and a living room.
Next we got to visit the Saint James Infants School, where there was a teacher inside doing a live demonstration inside. The cost to attend school was two pennies, which was about the amount that it cost to buy a loaf of bread. For this reason, education was not easily accessible to all of the people of the town. Students were not allowed to use their left hand to write, as that means sinister in Latin. If they were caught using it, they would have to sit on their hand during lessons, and if they continued, their hand would be tied behind their back. In big words on the blackboard was “Silence is golden”. This was because one building would be split into multiple sections for different age groups, and it would be too difficult to learn if each student was talking. Fun fact: we learned that the times table went to 12 because there were 12 pennies in a shilling!
I also got the chance to buy pear drops from the Confectioners! I was surprised that they were hard candies, but they were so good! Around the corner we had the chance to watch a 20 minute film in the cinema.
The coolest part of the trip was the chainmaker. In Black Country, there were about 50,000 nailmakers but only 3,000 chainmakers. This was because the job took skill and required apprenticeship to learn. In the early 1900s, about 90% of the chains in England were from Black Country. Their work was so notable that the Neverton company were hired to make the anchors for the Titanic (which were so heavy that it required 20 horses to carry). Apparently they did a really good job, because the Titanic still hasn’t moved to this day (haha)!
One of the interesting things that we learned while getting to watch the chains being made was that there were lady chainmakers who made the thinner types of chains. They were being paid less than men, so a Scottish woman helped lead a 10 week strike. After that, their pay increased to 50 pence. This also helped start the movement for a national minimum wage in England.
Overall, today was such a fun experience, and I can’t wait to go explore Birmingham with the rest of my free time today!