Excerpt From The Book Black Country
“This brisk morning, the grey West Midland sky seems solid as it awaits Birmingham’s foundries’ daily offering of black smoke. The region’s familiar layers of moisture thicken the air. Heat rises from chimney tops as furnaces stoke to capacity. Steam gambols above the endless smokestacks of the family-run factories that continue for more than four miles in all directions. Within minutes, the clear, dancing atmosphere above the stacks turns dismally dark, dimming the muted silver lid. The entire town grunts and groans as the metalworking industry awakes for another round.”
The daily offering of black smoke darkened the sky, earning the region the nickname, The Black Country.
Black Country Towns
The 18th-century was the birth of the iron-working industry in England. Specifically, the location of this infant beginning of England’s industrial revolution was the West-Midlands, mostly centered around the city of Birmingham. Included in this industrious area were the sister cities of Walsall, Wednesbury, Darlaston, West Bromwich, and Newton Village. These cities were the primary towns of the early stages of manufacturing in the region.
What was discovered in the 18th-century was that these towns with small rivers and narrow dirt roads were adjacent to one of the world’s richest deposits of coal. Quite overnight, the uninspiring views of these quiet towns turned into the constant activity of massive trains of forty or more pack horses dragging wood-wheeled pallets of coal from the pits at Wednesbury and Walsall. Their destination was the furnaces of these small villages and Birmingham.
Underground, the rich supply of coal was close to forty feet deep, running nearly the entire length of the eight-mile loop from Wednesbury to Walsall and Newton. The black mineral, close to the surface, was easily available to anyone who desired to dig. The abundant supply was another fact contributing to the region’s label, the Black Country.
Black Country Maps
In the book, Black Country, I chose to have several maps hand drawn to give detail of the region. These informal renderings serve to educate the reader who is unfamiliar with the West-Midlands of England. Below are several of these maps.