Saturday, 22 June 2013

Descriptions of the Black Country

The Industrial Landscape of the Black Country
Blast furnaces at Cradley
In his 1936 novel, The Far Forest, Francis Brett Young who was born in Halesowen, describes the Black Country of the 19th century:

"A sunless, treeless waste, within a crescent of mournful hills from whose summits a canopy of eternal smoke was suspended above a slagged desert, its dead surface only variegated by conglomerations of brick surrounding the forges and pit-heads and brick-yards and furnaces in which the smoke was brewed; by mounds on which the mineral and metallic waste of these had been tipped, as on gigantic middens; by drowned clay-pits and sullen canals whose surface appropriately reflected an apocalyptic sky."

On the pursuits of local people, Francis Brett Young says:

"Rat Killing Legers" took place every week in the pubs. Each pub had its private rat-pit, into which as many as thirty rats could be thrown at a time. "Rats for pounds" was the rule: a terrier of nine pounds was expected to kill three rats in a minute; and the smallest dog that could kill the most rats was the winner. Sometimes the dogs fought. Sometimes the owners of the dogs fought each other. They die as they live with a terrific and violent suddenness. Their lives are full-bloodied and lawless. The law of the land - Factory Acts included - rarely runs. Half a century ago the inhabitants stoned strangers at sight. Even now they may fling them black looks that are hard as stones.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

More Victorian advertising

Punishments of olden times

Victorian Advertising

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

How Abraham Darby fueled the industrial revolution in the Midlands

Iron Bridge, Shropshire. The parts of this dramatic bridge were cast at the nearby foundry
of the Darbys at Coalbrookdale and erected in 1777.

A most significant change began in the iron industry in 1709 when Abraham Darby succeeded in using coke instead of charcoal as the fuel in his blast furnace at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire. This particular furnace has survived, although much modified, and has been carefully preserved after having been lost for several generations under a mound of industrial waste.

The trouble with using coal fuels previously had been that they contaminated the iron in the furnace with undesirable impurities. Darby was fortunate in discovering locally coal with excellent coking properties which, together with the increased blast which he put in his furnaces, overcame this problem and allowed the industry to begin the movement from the backwoods to the coalfields. The movement was a slow one in its initial stages, partly because of the remoteness of Coalbrookdale and the conservatism of other iron founders about following the initiative of Darby and his family, and partly because of the continuing dependence upon water power until the steam engine had developed sufficiently to provide a reliable alternative.

These restrictions were gradually overcome in the eighteenth century, so that in the following century there was a concentration of blast furnaces on the coalfields to make the 'Black Country' landscape of the Midlands and its counterparts in South Yorkshire and elsewhere.

Industrial Archaeology in Britain / R.A. Buchanan / Pelican 1972, page 98