Today our travels took us to the Black Country living museum in Dudley, West Midlands, England. The museum is an open-air museum boasting over 26 acres of land. There is multiple historical buildings, old mineshafts, people dressed to the period, and even an old-fashioned fish & chips shop. The museum tells the history of the local area, and some of the general region, through the Industrial Revolution towards the early 20th century.
The first stop in our exploration of the museum was at the site of an old mineshaft. The mineshaft was over 120 feet deep and would have connected to a series of coal mining tunnels underground. We learned that 12 men would fit into a bucket hoisted by a rope to travel the shaft. We were also informed about the fact that horses would have been common in many areas of the mining process. Some had to be hog-tied and lowered into the tunnels where stables would have held horses for quite some time. Birmingham was a central hub for the start of the Industrial Revolution, hosting great names like James Watt. Seeing the mineshaft was a very cool experience due to the fact that my grandparents and many other ancestors were coal miners in Shafton, PA. In many ways, Birmingham and Pittsburgh share some characteristics as major industrial cities.
One of the next major stops that we hit was the old schoolhouse. St. James school was in an Anglican church and would have had multiple classes going on in the same space of the church. Students would have paid to enter the school each day and punishments included being hit on the hand with a cane. Students generally stayed in school until age 12 when they were expected to be getting a job or going on to college to become a chemist or other prestigious position.
We then explored many of the shops and houses of the town. Many of the buildings had actually been transferred brick-by-brick from one another location to the museum. There were many old shops and stores that sold items with ingredients that we would never imagine using today. Some of the most interesting things in the town were the Methodist Church, which was built in 1837 and moved to the museum in 1978, and the canal boats that people would have lived in full-time. We were also able to meet many of the museum staff dressed in traditional clothes and learn from them about many of the daily lives of the people.
The most interesting demonstration that we got to watch was a chain-making foundry demonstration. The reenactor that was in charge of this demonstration actually heated a piece of iron and made a chain link with it. He revealed that the foundry in that location would have made one of the anchors for the Titanic and some of the chains. He did also comment that they must have been made very well as the Titanic hasn’t moved for quite some time.
The Museum also had a lot of information about the women’s suffrage movement. Many of the women who worked in the mines or as chain-makers were very influential in the political movements as their strikes actually led to shortages of chains and other materials. Women played a very important role in these industries in a variety of positions.