Going into today’s trip to the Black Country Living Museum, I honestly had no clue what it was going to be other than it being historical and having great fish and chips. It ended up being quite engaging and gave me a Disneyland vibe with all of the character acting and theming.
Our trip began with a look at the mines off in the distance. The costumed man over there gave us a detailed overview of what life was like working in the mines. He told us boys as young as 10 could be sent down into the pitch black with no light. Men were lowered down in a sort of pot that could squeeze in about 12 people. Accidents often happened in the mines. Now there is a metal cable lowering them down, but then it was just a rope. If it broke, everyone inside would plummet to their deaths. If it swung while being lowered, people sitting with limbs outside of it could have them broken. Cave-ins also occurred frequently that trapped people in the mines.
Women also worked in the mines and were affectionately referred to as “wenches”. This was until 1842, when Queen Victoria banned it due to possible “indecency” since they often shed layers due to the intense heat. This effectively cut their salaries in half since they couldn’t work underground and do the heavy labor they used to. This lead to women dressing up as men so that they could work for equal wages. This was against the law not only because of Queen Victoria’s statement, but dressing as a man at all was illegal.
A fact I was not aware of that shocked me was that they lowered horses underground too. They would essentially hogtie them and blindfold them before lowering them down. The work rotation of the horses was that they would work in the mines for 2 years, work above ground for 2 years, then spend the rest of their lives in a pasture. The time spent in the mines was deeply traumatic for the horses, but it’s no different then the way horses have been used in war and other dangerous environments where they had no clue what they were getting into.
As we continued on we came across a school and got to quickly come in to see a lesson. After going over some times tables we learned that everyone paid 2 pennies to attend school. This obviously restricted access to education for impoverished children. Unsurprisingly, being left-handed was strictly forbidden. As a left handed person, I’m really happy I was born in the time I was. I’m actually happy I was born in the time period I was for a multitude of reasons.
After exploring the main town a bit we came across the forge where a demonstrator was making nails. He explained the life of a person who made nails for us. He would have worked for a sapper who owned his home and sold him the iron he used to make nails. The sappers were often crooked and weigh the iron with broken scales that measured the iron so that the nail-maker would receive less then they paid for. When the bought back the nails, they would bring back another set of scales that said that the amount of nails made was not nearly equivalent to what was given. This cut down the wages of nail makers significantly. The wages often wasn’t real currency, but instead tokens to be used at the businesses the sappers owned. This lifestyle could barely feed a nail-maker and their family but they could not complain since the sapper owned their home and could evict them.
This in comparison to the life of a chain-maker who made significantly more since they were more skilled, was a poor way to live. Chain makers were treated much better since they were in short supply. Women also worked in this field but made smaller types of chain than men did. Women were paid almost half the salary of men, which lead to them going on a successful weeks long strike that messed up the supply chain (pun not intended) and raised their wages to an average living. The craziest thing to me when seeing these demonstrations was that NO ONE wore gloves. I can’t imagine the number of burns people have gotten while working.
I felt a personal connection to what we learned today since my Grandfather was a coal miner. This would’ve been around the 60s or 70s, but I wonder how similar his experience may have been, and hope to talk to him about his experiences.