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Coordinates: 52°32′N 2°2′W / 52.533°N 2.033°W / 52.533; -2.033

The Black Country is a loosely defined area of the English West Midlands conurbation, to the north and west of Birmingham, and to the south and east of Wolverhampton. By the late 19th century, this area had become one of the most intensely industrialised in the nation. The South Staffordshire coal mines, the coal coking operations, and the iron foundries and steel mills that used the local coal to fire their furnaces, produced a level of air pollution that had few equals anywhere in the world.

The Black Country is relatively recent as a concept and identity, and the expression cannot be traced back further than the 1840s.[1] It is popularly believed that the area got its name because of pollution from these heavy industries that covered the area in black soot. There is an anecdote (of dubious authenticity) about Queen Victoria ordering the blinds lowered on her carriage as the royal train passed through. However, historians suggest that it is more likely that the name existed even before the Industrial Revolution; outcroppings of black coal scarred the surface of the local heath, and the presence of coal so near the surface rendered the local soil very black.

The Black Country is also known for its distinctive dialect, which differs slightly in various parts of the region.

Despite its proximity to Birmingham, the vast majority of the Black Country's population refuse to claim membership of the city, and are fiercely proud of their area's identity as a separate region.

Contents

Geography

The bounds of the Black Country, however, are controversial, and the whole of Wolverhampton is included by some and not at all by others. A common definition of the Black Country encompasses most of the three Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and the City of Wolverhampton. The town of Dudley is sometimes referred to as being the Black Country's (unofficial) capital.[2]

An older, more precise, de facto definition uses geology and follows the outcroppings of the South Staffordshire "thick" coal seam known locally as the "thirty foot seam", as bounded by the eastern and western boundary faults and on the north by the Bentley fault which divides the South Staffordshire coalfield from the adjoining Cannock Chase coalfield. Near Halesowen and Stourbridge, the coal seams outcropped, providing a southern boundary. On this basis parts of Walsall, Wolverhampton and Stourbridge are not part of the Black Country but West Bromwich is, although here the thirty foot seam is at relative depth. These delineations are still of importance locally.

A useful guide for outsiders is to regard the M5 and M6 motorways as the eastern boundary but this, even using the 21st century definition is only approximately correct, as Smethwick is to the east of it and most of Walsall lies north east of the M6 motorway. The definition is simply wrong using the older geological definition.

The Black Country proper has coalesced into a single conurbation, but is unusual in that it has no single centre, having grown up from a number of historic market towns and industrial villages that have coalesced during the 20th century. It remains essentially polyfocal with many of the towns and villages remaining recognisable communities and in some cases resenting having been subsumed into a metropolitan borough whose centre is elsewhere.

The Black Country lies wholly within the West Midlands County, but was divided between the ancient counties of Staffordshire and Worcestershire. The ancient parish (and pre-1966 municipal borough) of Dudley was a detached part of Worcestershire within Staffordshire, whilst until 1845, much of the parish of Halesowen, including Oldbury and Warley Salop (but not Cradley or Warley Wigorn) was a detached part of Shropshire.

Since 1974, the Black Country has been administered by the four local authories of Dudley, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Walsall, but had previously consisted of several smaller boroughs and urban districts. In 1966, Dudley took in most of Sedgley and Brierley Hill, while Coseley was split between Dudley and Wolverhampton, which in turn took in Tettenhall, Wednesfield and Bilston. West Bromwich annexed most of Tipton and Wednesbury, while parts of Tipton and Dudley were annexed into the new borough of Warley which mainly consisted of Oldbury, Smethwick and Rowley Regis. Dudley expanded further in 1974 to incorporate Halesowen and Stourbridge, while West Bromwich and Warley merged at this time to form Sandwell.

Walsall, on the other hand, took in the neighbouring towns of Darlaston and Willenhall in 1966, and expanded further in 1974 when Aldridge-Brownhills (a district generally not regarded as part of the Black Country) was incorporated into it.

The Black Country comprises parts of the towns of Bilston, Blackheath, Brierley Hill, Brownhills, Coseley, Cradley, Cradley Heath, Darlaston, Dudley, Gornal, Great Bridge, Halesowen, Kingswinford, Lye, Netherton, Oldbury, Old Hill, Quarry Bank, Rowley Regis, Sedgley, Smethwick, Stourbridge, Tipton, Walsall, Warley, Wednesbury, Wednesfield, West Bromwich, Willenhall and Wordsley.

History

Industrialisation in the Black Country goes far back. It was already an area where metal working was important as far back as the 16th century, due to the presence of iron ore and of coal in a seam 30 feet (9 m) thick, the thickest seam in Great Britain, which outcropped in various places. Many people had an agricultural smallholding and supplemented their income by working as nailers or smiths, an example of a phenomenon known to economic historians as proto-industrialisation.

In 1642 at the start of the Civil War, Charles I failed to capture the two arsenals of Portsmouth and Hull, which although in cities loyal to Parliament were located in counties loyal to him. As he had failed to capture the arsenals, Charles did not possess any supply of swords, pikes, guns, or shot; all these the Black Country could and did provide. From Stourbridge came shot, from Dudley cannon. The numberless small forges which then existed on every brook in the north of Worcestershire turned out successive supplies of sword blades and pike heads. It was said that among the many causes of anger Charles had against Birmingham was that one of the best sword makers of the day, a man named Robert Porter, who lived and made his blades in Worcestershire, but sold them in Birmingham, refused at any price to supply swords for "that man of blood" (A Puritan nickname for King Charles), or any of his adherents. As an offset to this sword maker, the Royalists had among their adherents Colonel Dud Dudley, who had invented a means of smelting iron by the use of coke, and who claimed he could turn out "all sorts of bar iron fit for making of muskets, carbines, and iron for great bolts", both more cheaply, more speedily and more excellent than could be done in any other way. His method was employed on the King's behalf.[3][4]

By the 19th century or early 20th century, many villages had their characteristic manufacture, but earlier occupations were less concentrated. Some of these concentrations are less ancient than sometimes supposed. For example, chain making in Cradley Heath seems only to have begun in about the 1820s, and the Lye holloware industry is even more recent.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, coal and limestone were worked only on a modest scale for local consumption, but during the Industrial Revolution by the opening of canals, such as the Birmingham Canal Navigations, Stourbridge Canal and the Dudley Canal (the Dudley Canal Line No 1 and the Dudley Tunnel) opened up the mineral wealth of the area to exploitation. Advances in the use of coke for the production in iron enabled iron production (hitherto limited by the supply of charcoal) to expand rapidly.

By Victorian times, the Black Country was one of the most heavily industrialised areas in Britain, and it became known for its pollution, particularly from iron and coal industries and their many associated smaller businesses. This lead to the expansion of local railways and coal mine lines. The Line running from Stourbridge to Walsall via Dudley Port and Wednesbury closed in the 1960s, but the Birmingham to Wolverhampton via Tipton is still a major transport route.

The anchors and chains for the ill-fated liner RMS Titanic were manufactured in the Black Country in the area of Netherton. Three anchors and accompanying chains were manufactured; and the set weighed in at 100 tons. The centre anchor alone weighed 12 tons and was pulled through Netherton on its journey to the ship by 20 shire horses.

The area soon gained notoriety. Charles Dickens's novel The Old Curiosity Shop, written in 1841, described how the area's local factory chimneys "Poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air". In 1862, Elihu Burritt, the American Consul to Birmingham, described the region as "black by day and red by night", because of the smoke and grime generated by the intense manufacturing activity and the glow from furnaces at night.

It is said that J. R. R. Tolkien based the grim region of Mordor on the heavily industrialised Black Country area in his famed novel The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, in the Elvish Sindarin language, Mor-Dor means Dark (or Black) Land, and is sometimes even referred to within the novel as "The Black Country".

The Black Country today

The Black Country Tartan

The heavy industry which once dominated the Black Country has now largely gone. The 20th century saw a decline in coalmining and the industry finally came to an end in 1968 with the closure of Baggeridge coalpit near Sedgley. Clean air legislation has meant that the Black Country is no longer black. The area still maintains some manufacturing, but on a much smaller scale than historically.

Much but not all of the area now suffers from high unemployment and is amongst the most economically deprived communities in the UK; this is particularly true in parts of the boroughs of Sandwell and Dudley, and to a lesser extent Wolverhampton and Walsall. As with many urban areas in England, there is also a significant ethnic minority population in parts; resistance to mass immigration in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s led to the slogan "Keep the Black Country white!".

The Black Country suffered its biggest economic blows in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when unemployment soared largely due to the closure of historic large factories including the Round Oak Steel Works at Brierley Hill and the Patent Shaft steel plant at Wednesbury. Unemployment rose drastically across the country during this period as part of prime minister Margaret Thatcher's battle against inflation as well as the modernisation process of Britain's industrial climate, but these areas were designated as Enterprise Zones and within a few years had been redeveloped. Round Oak and the surrounding farmland was developed as the Merry Hill Shopping Centre and Waterfront commercial and leisure complex, while the Patent Shaft site was developed as an industrial estate.

The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley recreates life in the Black Country in the early 20th century, and is a popular tourist attraction.

The Black Country now has its own tartan, designed by Philip Tibbetts from Halesowen[5][6]. The Black Country Tartan black, red, white and yellow, denoting coal, red sunsets, the iron industry and Mercia's flag. Mr Tibbetts said the red was representative of an old saying which went, "the Black Country is black by day and red by night". In 2008 he designed a Black Country coat of arms and flag.

"Black Country Woman" is the fourteenth song on English rock band Led Zeppelin's 1975 album Physical Graffiti.

Black Country dialect

The traditional Black Country dialect preserves many archaic traits of Early Modern English and even Middle English[7], and can be very confusing for outsiders. Thee, Thy and Thou are still in use, as is the case in parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire. "'Ow B'ist", meaning "How are you?" is a common greeting, with the typical answering being "'Bay too bah", meaning "I am not too bad". "I haven't seen her" becomes "I ay sid 'er". Black Country dialect often uses "ar" where other parts of England use "yes" (this is common as far away as Yorkshire. Similarly, the local version of "you" is pronounced /ˈjaʊ/ "yow", rhyming with "now". The local pronunciation "goo" (elsewhere "go") or "gooin'" is similar to that elsewhere in the Midlands. It is quite common for broad Black Country speakers to say agooin where others say going. (Please note that not all of the phrases used here to illustrate Black Country dialect can be heard throughout the entire Black Country area asost refer to the Dudley area alone.)

Inhabitants are proud to be known as Black Country "folk" and resist hints at any relationship to people living in Birmingham, calling Birmingham "Brum-a-jum" (Birmingham's colloquial name is Brummagem, a corruption of its older name of Bromwicham[8][citation needed] – and hence West Bromwich) or Birminam (missing the g and h out and saying it the way it's spelt). Residents of Birmingham (Brummies) meanwhile often refer to their Black Country neighbours as "Yam Yams", a reference to the use of "Yow am" ( or yow'm) instead of "You are", and not because they say I yam instead of I am, in fact the phrase om is often used instead of I am in the area. Dudley residents often refer to the people of Birmingham as 'Dummy Brummies'. Also, the town of Walsall can be pronounced either War-sall or Wor-sull, with a strong Walsall accent considered to be typical "yam-yam."

The strong Black Country dialect is less commonly heard today than in the past. However, a stronger variation of the dialect (than the one frequently used) appears to be heard quite often in conversations between older Black Country folk.

A 1997 roadsign written in Black Country dialect.

A road sign containing local dialect was placed at the A461/A459/A4037 junction in 1997 before the construction of a traffic island on the site. The sign read, in translation, "If you're daft enough to come down here on your way home, your tea will be spoilt."[9][10] This island was completed in 1998 and was the first phase of the Dudley Southern By-Pass which was opened on 15 October 1999.

The word endings with 'en' are still noticeable in conversation as in 'gooen' for going, callen for calling. The vowel 'a' is pronounced as 'o' as in 'sond' for sand, 'hond' for hand, 'opple' for apple, 'sponner' for spanner, and 'mon' for man. Other pronunciations are 'winder' for window, 'fer' for far, and 'loff' for laugh – .[11] Local dialect was (and probably still is to a lesser degree) quite distinctive between the different towns and villages of the Black Country. Although most outsiders to the Black Country cannot tell this difference, Black Country folk can quite fiercely defend the difference between the accents.

A few examples of Black Country words are "babby" for baby, "alf baerked" for stupid, "argy-bargy" for fight and "bostin" to mean "very good".

Media

The Black Country is home to two radio stations Beacon Radio and Gold while the city of Wolverhampton has its own local station called 107.7 The Wolf. Both Beacon and Radio WABC (now called Gold) have broadcast since 1976 from transmitter sites from Turner's Hill in neighbouring Rowley Regis, with the studios being located in Wolverhampton.

The Express and Star is one of the region's two daily newspapers, publishing eleven local editions from its Wolverhampton headquarters (for example the Dudley edition will have a different front page from the Wolverhampton or Stafford editions). Incidentally the Express and Star, traditionally a Black Country paper has expanded to the point where they sell copies from vendors in Birmingham city centre. The Black Country Mail - a local edition of the Birmingham Mail - is the region's other daily newspaper. Its regional base is in Walsall town centre.

Recently the 'Black Country Alphabet' and the Black Country Tee-Shirts company have helped to demonstrate the accent and dialect further across the country.

Established in 2007 the regions community forum Black Country Gob is also flying the flag for the region by providing an online location where people worldwide are getting involved in both researching their Black country roots and contributing to the many sections currently within the forum. Such topics as traditional black country food and recipes, black country local dialect, black country stories as well as a photogallery of black country photographs from present day and as far back as 19th century images of the region. All this is tied up with a busy hub of activity and general chat and support from many local organisations creating an ideal platform for black country promotion.

In September 2009 a group of Black Country film-makers showcased a variety of video poems about the area and its cultural identity. The films were exhibited at Wolverhampton's Light House Media Centre. Local film and digital media agency Screen West Midlands referred to the event as “Personal, Instinctual & Organic Video Poetry of everyday life.”[12].The event was a way of embracing the Black Country's distinctive cultural characteristics in the medium of film.

References

  1. ^ Jones, Peter M. (2009). "Birmingham and the West Midlands". Industrial Enlightenment: Science, technology and culture in Birmingham and the West Midlands, 1760-1820. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 22. ISBN 0719077702. "The notion of the Black Country, that is to say, a crude rectangle of territory bounded by Wolverhampton and Walsall to the north and Smethwick, Halesowen and Stourbridge to the south, is also an anachronism, since the expression cannot be traced back beyond the 1840s" 
  2. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/blackcountry/uncovered/what_is.shtml
  3. ^ John William Willis-Bund. The Civil War In Worcestershire, 1642-1646: And the Scotch Invasion Of 1615, Birmingham: The Midland Educational Company, ltd., 1905, pp. 4,5,88
  4. ^ Joan Zuckerman, Geoffrey Eley. The Birmingham heritage, Taylor & Francis, 1979. ISBN 0856648752, 9780856648755. p. 34
  5. ^ Black Country gets its own tartan BBC NEWS, January 12, 2009
  6. ^ Reference: WR3278 Scottish Tartan World Register
  7. ^ Staff and Agencies Wolverhampton researches Black Country dialect Guardian Unlimited, January 27, 2003
  8. ^ The Church Warden's Book of St John's Parish Church, Halesowen, includes an early reference to an amount paid "to the organ builder of Bromwicham".
  9. ^ Scotland (2003-01-27). "The Black Country". Submitresponse.co.uk. http://www.submitresponse.co.uk/archives/the_black_country.php. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  10. ^ "A collection of weird news stories from around the world". Meldrum.co.uk. http://www.meldrum.co.uk/mhp/charivari_9705.html. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  11. ^ "Black Country Dialect". http://www.sedgleymanor.com/dictionaries/dialect.html. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  12. ^ http://www.screenwm.co.uk/events/detail/187/black_country_cinemas_personal_instinctual_and_organic_video_poetry_of_everyday_life/

Black Country is the home town of heavy rock band's Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant as well as drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham.

Further reading

  • Raybould, T.J. (1973). The Economic Emergence of the Black Country: A Study of the Dudley Estate. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-5995-9.
  • Rowlands, M. B. (1975). Masters and Men in the West Midlands metalware trades before the industrial revolution. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Gale, W. K. V. (1966). The Black Country Iron Industry: a technical history London: The Iron and Steel Institute.
  • Higgs, L. (2004) A Description of Grammatical Features and Their Variation in the Black Country Dialect Schwabe Verlag Basel.
  • Led Zeppelin (1975). "Black Country Woman," Physical Graffiti.

External links


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

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Etymology

From black + country - from the smoke and heavy industry of the area, well known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

Proper noun

Singular
Black Country

Plural
-

Black Country

  1. Area in the West Midlands of England, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.







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