Today, our group headed to Black Country, an area in the West Midland region of the United Kingdom. We explored the Black Country Living Museum, and, wow, what an amazing experience. While walking around the exhibits, I noticed how similar everything was to the set up in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. I learned a lot about the evolving economy of the UK, especially the development of the coal mining industry. While I found just about everything about the museum fascinating, I have a few favorites I’d like to share.
The Black Country received its name during the middle of the 19th century, due to the prevalent dark smoke that would arise from the town. According to most, the thousands of ironworking establishments within the town during this period caused this heavy smoke. Other said the name comes from the 30-foot-wide coal seam within the town. Another interesting fact I learned while at the museum was how residents of the area lived. One of the exhibits created on this featured a 1900’s style cottage that belonged to Joseph Bradley, his wife Seneh, and their two children. Surrounding the cottage is the family’s livestock which included chicken and pigs, as well as other products such as various vegetables and fruit. Within her home she also ran a small shop, due to the fact that her friends would borrow her products and not return the favor. Learning this caused me to really consider just how resourceful the residents of the black country must have been. I also took into account how hard life was during these times, as well as the importance of agriculture to the people of the region.
Another important fact about Black Country that I learned during my time at the museum concerned the Cradley Health Workers’ Institute. This facility was once the social center for working class groups and local unions. The buildings were used for many different purposes including social parties and various education classes. This building honors Mary Macarthur, a woman who became a leading trade unionist and led a strike to confront inequality within the chainmaking industry. One feature that separates the institute from the buildings that surround the area is its unique architecture of Arts and Crafts style involving “traditional craftsmanship.” Remarkably, the Workers’ Institute building was once located in the town of Cradley Heath and was relocated, brick by brick, to the Black Country Living Museum.
We walked through the town which replicates the early to mid-1900’s period. On the streets, there were many places to shop and lots of entertainment for families and friends. The area was oncer a hot spot for new fashion trends to thrive and helped introduce rock ‘n roll scene. One more historical note, the National Healthcare Service was introduced to the residents of the town around this time as the Black Country maintained its progressive reputation that started with the Industrial Revolution.
After spending the day in Black Country, our instructor gave us some free time to do what we’d like. I spent the rest of the day shopping at some local vintage shops and later enjoyed the various fashion stores around our hotel in Birmingham. Finally, we finished the night at a Japanese sushi restaurant. I have been craving seafood for a while in England, so the enormous sushi platter for dinner satisfied those cravings well.
The opportunity to learn about the rich history of cultures a cultural history different from mine has been really exciting. I have grown an even deeper respect for other cultures while in the U.K. and look forward to learning even more in the coming weeks.
Well, that’s all for today, cheers!