I Still Got It!

05/14/2022: Today marks one week of being in England! As it is Saturday, our group went out to Black Country for the morning. Black Country is like the Pittsburgh of England in terms of history. It is a very industrial area known for coal mining and chain-making. This is actually where Black Country gets its name from A) the coal B) the pollution. We ventured out to the Black Country Living Museum. It was quite an interesting experience, very similar to Colonial Williamsburg. Essentially, there is a preserved town from the late 1800’s/early 1900s. We were able to learn so much by attending different museum sections. 

First of all, it was such a lovely day. The weather was perfect for walking around and exploring. We initially went to the coal mining section of the museum. Here we learned the ins and outs of how coal mines operated in the Black Country. Coal miners were able to earn around 1 pound a week, however, their jobs were dangerous and quite demanding. Up to 12 men would go down in a mine cart at once. They fit in the cart by linking arms and sitting on each other’s shoulders. Men would be down in the dark for 8-12 hours a day; when they would emerge from the mine they would be covered in soot from the coal.

Miners would also bring horses down to the mine by tying up their legs and lowering them down via a rope system. A horse would stay down in the mines for two weeks at a time. In 1842 Queen Victoria declared that women were no longer allowed to work in the mines due to a lack of modesty. Because the mines would be so hot, women couldn’t wear as many layers as they would above ground. This immodesty caused women to pose as men in order to go back to the mines and earn a living wage. Black Country is still full of coal. The last mine closed in the 1960s as a matter of safety; however, I may have brought back a few pieces of coal as souvenirs! (Maybe they can be made into diamonds).

Next, we explored St James Infant School. This would be comparable to the town’s primary school. We learned that it cost 2 pennies a week for a child to attend school, which was a lot of money for a mining family. At school children would learn reading writing and arithmetic. In order to study the formation of letters, children would use a pothook and hanger (traditionally used for cooking). The curvature of the medal was perfect for learning how to write the letters of the alphabet.

Being able to write was viewed as a highly valuable skill, however, there were some special practices utilized in the classroom. For instance, children feared making an error when writing on parchment, so they wrote on slate tablets instead. Parchment cost more money, which often, miners did not have. A child’s notebook would sometimes become their CV proving their skills once they graduated, so it crucial that it look neat. It was also mandated that children were only allowed to write with their right hands. This prevented smudging of ink, but it also it went along with the belief that the left hand was sinister because the devil would sit on the left shoulder – what an interesting superstition! Another unique aspect of education was that one child in a household would go to school, and the other children would work and support the family. Therefore, the educated child had the responsibility to come home and teach their siblings every day.

Later in the afternoon, we learned about different Black Country trades. The most memorable trade was the iron. Black Country is a very iron-rich area, so the industry back in the 1800s was absolutely booming. Ironwork was a trade that was learned by observing, not through a formal apprenticeship. Children (often young boys) would observe their fathers making iron goods, such as nails on a daily basis. It was actually an indicator of mental capacity if a young boy could not make an iron nail by the age of 5. Ironsmiths worked extremely hard, yet they were always close to being in the poor house . This is because ironsmiths had to buy their iron, then sell it back to make any profit. They would be cheated out of a fair wage and paid in beer tokens instead of actual currency. Ironsmiths would each make thousands of nails a day, and a single forge could produce upwards of 2 million nails a day.

During our time exploring, we of course had to stop for some lunch. About 3 different professors at BCU told us that the fish & chips in Black Country were the best in the England, so we had to give them a try. Lunch was delicious! I am constantly surprised at all the unique soda flavors they have in the UK. Today I tried a dandelion lemonade! Walking around we found some vintage toys, and a jump rope –which was my absolute favorite part of the day. And let me just say, I still got it!— We also had the opportunity to view a silent film in an old cinema that had been transported brick by brick to Black Country. The film’s comedy was definitely slapstick humor; to our surprise, it was not entirely a silent film. It was produced made right when audio technology was being adapted for film. Although the film was not the best quality, it was nonetheless, hilarious.

With all of the industry in Black Country, there had to be a way for transporting goods to Birmingham and London. Providentially, there is a lovely river that flows through the area that mitigates this issue. There were/ and still are tons of boats that travel up and down the British channel. It would be sensible to adopt a lifestyle, living and working on a transport barge. For people who worked for a transport company, this was the best economic option in the 1800s. A barge steerer was permitted to have their wife and two children on board. The children proved helpful because they would help with the boat work. Oftentimes steerers would have large families, so their grandmother and 6 children, plus their wife would accompany them on the barge (which obviously is against policy). When the authorities would stop the boat to assess its load, all the children would hop off onto the river bank and hide so their parents wouldn’t get in trouble.

After Black Country, we returned to Birmingham and had some free time. I got to go on a run, which is something that I have really been missing on this trip. It seems less fitting in British culture to work out outside, instead, the Brits must all attend indoor gyms. It was a beautiful day outside with temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius and 75 Fahrenheit. To be honest it was kind of odd that hardly anybody was out enjoying the nice weather. My friends and I took advantage of the pleasant evening and explored the Jewelry Quarter. All the shops in the UK close around 5pm, so we really did not do any shopping. Instead, a small group of us had dinner at the Button Factory, which was such an enjoyable experience. The building we sat in was home to one of England’s first button manufacturers, and the food was amazing!

The jump-roping queen HAHAHA
Maybe my coal will make a diamond?!
This is after we tried the fish & chips (10/10 rating)!
A really unique flower that I saw today:)
Pitt in the Mines!

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