England has a number of Industrial Museums dedicated to showcasing the entrepreneurial spirit and creative engineering of the Industrial Revolution, especially the period 1750 to 1900. One of these is less than 75 miles from our home.
The Black Country Living Museum is a brilliant example of the preservation of working artefacts from that era, located at Dudley, near Birmingham. I visited recently for a “study day” on Iron & Steelmaking in the area which included four lectures, a guided tour of the outdoors museum, an introduction to the archives section, and an insight into one of the “collections” rooms where many household items manufactured in the area are stored. The entire day cost only £18 and this included lunch, tea/coffee and car parking for the day!
This was another of my Industrial Rides days in which I visit places that have significance to the lives of my ancestors in England and add immensely to what I have called Imaginative Ancestry.
I will write more about the study day separately but I want to highlight just how much our industrial museums can add to our understanding as well as providing a lot of fun. As we looked through the windows of our conference room we all became fascinated by the many “things” going on outside before we got our late morning tour:
Is anyone watching Peaky Blinders, the crime drama series on UK TV set just after WW1 and featuring the Shelby family and based in ….. Dudley ….. lots of filming carried out here at the museum? Various folks dressed in the TV series costumes walking around and naturally attracting a lot of attention.
Or how about the Steampunk genre of books and movies based on a different world universe in which there is no electricity and everything is driven by steam! This was another theme of the day with lots of folks wandering around dressed in Steampunk outfits, opportunities to dress up too, and steam traction engines all over the place!
Our tour of the outdoors museum was worth the day’s full fee on its own! A replica Newcomen Steam Engine used in the 1700s to remove water from mines, a tour underground of a mine shaft, a steam driven hammer bashing heated cubes of wrought iron, workers cottages, chain making, Victorian shops, ….. And mostly staffed by enthusiastic volunteers, extremely knowledgeable, who are patient and engaging with all comers! Hopefully a few photos will encourage you to visit Black Country Living Museum or to find something similar wherever you live. They’re great fun as well as giving that all important context to your ancestors lives.