A very Black Country

Having spent the weekend in my home town, Dudley, I thought I would write a little about it and share an interesting account of a 19th Century Londoner’s impression of the town. Walter White took a ‘ramble’ around the heart of England, the Midlands, starting with Shakespeare Country (Warwickshire), and finishing with Worcestershire. Chapter fourteen concerns his passage through Dudley, in which ugliness and strange impressions impinge upon his holiday ramble. White described his first impression, as he climbed to the top of the hill upon which Dudley Castle sits, in order to take in a view of the town:

Then the finely-wooded hill of Dudley appears, and we mount to the castle, and to the top of the keep, and there refresh our impression of the prospect. A strange prospect it is! Smoke prevails, rolling and drifting blackest over the clusters of furnaces, which make their rushing flames visible even in daylight. Only on the west and south-west is there clearness, and even there the smoky dominion is spreading (Walter White, All Round the Wrekin [London, 1860], p. 243)

True elucidation of the region’s label of ‘The Black Country’ if ever there was one. The Londoner made a descent into the town itself, and his curiousity about its strange populace was clear. As he described the people he observed, one can sense his interest in the way the hard working people rush about their daily business, but, simultaneously, his relief to only be passing through this bustling and rough crowd. His account has something of the exporer, making a intrepid but wary expedition into a strange land:

In a subsequent walk we came to Dudley on a market day, and while pressing our way through the crowded market place, had a good opportunity to note something of ‘the people’ and their ways. The rough element prevailed – miners, smiths, labourers, pushing heartily here and there, accompanied by wives and children, and throngs of women whose husbands had not yet left work, some eagerly buying, some moving away with heavily-laden baskets… The men of their part superadd plenty to drink, and find many a one ready to encourage the notion (p. 248)

Image

Painting by Edwin Butler-Bayliss (Copyright Wolverhampton Arts and Museums Service, www.blackcountryhistory.org)

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