Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Black Country Living Museum at Dudley

A street at the museum 
Our Shropshire stay has been incredibly educational with three days of museums and historical visits! We started with a day at the Black Country Living Museum situated in Dudley. Initially conceived as an idea in the 1960s, the twenty-six acre site started out containing forty-two mine shafts, a few derelict kilns and not much else. Over the past forty years all but two of those mine shafts have been closed off, a canal spur has been fully dug out and dozens of historically important buildings have been moved from their original locations to form a mostly Edwardian era town. It's an impressive achievement and an unfinished one at that. Plans for further streets illustrating Black Country life through each of some half dozen decades are just awaiting sufficient funds to be realised.

Our visit didn't actually start out particularly well. A long slow-moving entrance queue was very frustrating, especially when we finally got to the front and realised most of the delay seemed to be caused by staff having to input everyone's name and address details for their obligatory annual ticket, whether that ticket was required or not! If possible I would recommend booking your tickets online in advance as you can then skip the queue. I would also suggest, if there is a one part of the site you are especially interested in, that you phone ahead to check whether it will be open on your visit day. We had plenty to see on our Wednesday visit, but I did notice some demonstrations not happening and the trams weren't running.

Once inside, we took our time exploring the many buildings that were open for us to view. Most of the rooms have been decorated and furnished to represent the Elizabethan era and there are both urban and more rural homes, poor worker's cottages, back-to-backs, and more affluent dwellings that had housed foundry clerks or managers and their families. Some homes were attended by costumed Characters and it was fascinating to chat with them about the original inhabitants, where the buildings had been moved from and the history of the museum itself. We learned that while the jumbled in together positioning of homes and small factories was as it would have been - imagine living just feet away from a foundry! - the amount of greenery, noise level and clean air is somewhat misleading! In fact if the museum replicated the pollution levels these people lived with every day, I don't think it would be allowed visitors!

We liked being able to wander into traditionally laid out shops which are stocked with historically accurate wares and, in a few cases, with modern-day produce for sale. The fish and chip shop was doing a roaring lunch trade! We stopped for a ginger beer in the pub and a bakewell tart each at the bakery (although these were disappointingly dry. The sweet shop seemed perpetually inundated perhaps because Wednesday is School Trip Day at the museum. There are also canal boats to peer inside, a working fairground and a garage of vintage vehicles. We baulked at the idea of going down a mineshaft!

All in all the Black Country Living Museum made for a good day out. We spent a good four or five hours there and came away with a strong impression of what life could have been like in the Black Country's industrial towns. The museum gives value for money and it would be interesting to visit again in a few years when even more streets and exhibits have been added. They're hoping to get a library!

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