Black Country Living Museum

Dudley, United Kingdom | C.1975

Photo Credit: Nicholas Huggins

In the West Midlands of England runs a 9-meter coal seam that transformed industry in Britain and throughout the world. First used publicly in the 1840s, the name “Black Country” refers to a collection of towns where pollution turned the dirt black, and smog from heavy industry turned the sky grey.

Having a claim to be “the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution”, the Black Country is famous for its wide range of midsteel-based products from nails to the anchor and anchor chain for the Titanic. The museum is close to the site where Dud Dudley first mastered the technique of smelting iron with coal instead of wood charcoal and making iron enough for industrial use

Though workers swarmed to these towns for jobs during the Industrial Revolution, the amount of pollution in the area led to one of the lowest life expectancies in history. In 1841 the average age expectancy in Dudley parish was less than 17 years.

The area saw multiple controversies over human rights and sanitation. Yet this controversy has led to successful protests and policy changes. For instance, in 1910, women chain-makers organized a strike against low wages and exploitative working conditions that helped form the founding principles of national minimum wage.

When the last coal mines closed in the 1960s, community members formed the Black Country Society with the goal of establishing an open-air museum as a living monument to the people and traditions of the industrial era with emphasis around the years of 1850 to 1950.

Today, the museum consists of over 50 historic buildings on 105,000 square meters of land in the “Black Country Village” Costumed staff members talk about life during the industrial revolution, vintage trolleys drive the streets, metalworking skills are demonstrated, and you can even tour a coal mine.

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