Queen Victoria Can’t Handle These Wenches

Today, we went to the Black Country Living Museum and it was incredible. It reminded me of a renaissance fair, but obviously not that time era and not the same type of activities. We started off at one of the mining shafts. We were greeted by one of the workers who then proceeded to inform us about the intense working conditions of the miners. The way the miners were lowered into the shaft was a very interesting story. They were to link arms, adjust themselves, and contort their bodies in order to send down twelve miners in one trip. It would take about five minutes in order to lower the individuals as the depth of the mine shaft was extensive. If they were lowered too quickly, they could be shaken off and even die. Families often worked together in the mines. We were told of an incident where a woman lost all four of her sons to an accident at the mines. 

Because labor laws were basically nonexistent, children as young as ten could be tasked with working in the mines. They would sit in the mines near doors and wait for miners to be moving through them. The miners would be carrying candles (candles that we surprisingly found out the rats would eat, so they couldn’t put them down). Once the miners were close enough, the boys would be able to see around them. They then would open the doors and let the miners pass, and then continue to sit in the dark. 

We also got a glimpse of how they got the horses down into the shaft. They bound their front and back legs inward and their head down to their chest and lowered their tail first into the shaft. The horses were also blindfolded. It was then the workers’ job to untie the horses in the pitch black of the shaft. This would spook the horses and also cause harm to the workers. One story we heard was a worker being kicked in the mouth, losing his front teeth. He went his entire life without them. 

People worked 12 hours in the mines, and in the winter sunlight is barely there. Miners would go into the mines and work in darkness and then come out of the mines and live in darkness. Their eyesight would progressively get worse due to the fact that they were dilated for such long periods of time. Sunlight would actually hurt the miners eyes within the summer months. 

We also got a short lesson on the sexism within the miner workplace. Women were originally allowed to work within the mines and made the same wage as men. However, Queen Victoria found out that both women and men were taking off their clothes due to the sheer heat that would accumulate within the mines. Because she felt women should not be indecent in the presence of men, they were banned from working in the shaft. Wenches (what they called working women, it actually not considered an insult) were then tasked with working on the coal bank. Their wages were cut by more than half. Women then resulted in dressing like men in order to make a well enough wage. This was illegal for a multitude of reasons. 

We got a glimpse into the schooling of the town, and it honestly reminded me of the schooling exhibits that we saw in our social foundation class of the early Jamestown schools! We also got a glimpse of the back to back houses and the boat houses of the workers. We got to the toll house that became the house of a woman who was an herbalist. 

We had the best Fish and Chips (shout out to everyone who recommended them)! They were so delicious and the malt vinegar also tasted great on the chips. The line for the food was long, but the service was incredibly fast.  I bought myself a bourbon cream pastry and it was delicious. I also bought pear drops and pineapple rocks. I read an interesting card that said the original candy colors were made to be bright and enticing. However, they often made patrons sick as they were made with arsenic, chrome, and mercury! The candies were rock hard which wasn’t what I was expecting. I asked all of my group mates and their candy was also hard candy. 

Our final and my personal favorite part of the trip was the cinema! The cinema was moved to the museums when it was found untouched in 1993. We got to watch a talking film. It included a lot of slapstick humor and I thought it was such a cute little short film. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to the Black Country Living Museum! Tonight we plan on going to the Jewelry Quarter, the Bullring, Digbeth, and wherever else the night takes us!

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