Let's go to the Black Country Living Museum!
Yesterday we headed to Dudley to visit the Black Country Living Museum. First off, let me just say that this place is ‘bostin’ (Black Country speak for ‘really rather spiffing’).
I must confess I went in with some trepidation as I had in tow my 5yr old (Maggie) and 3 yr old (Lois), and wasn’t certain that an historical industrial open-air museum would hold their interest – as per, I was wrong - they absolutely adored this place; almost as much as me.
As we entered the museum the first thing you notice is the smell – It’s great, it smells of real fires and smoke - industrial.
As we set off it begins to drizzle – no worries, it adds to the atmosphere and there are plenty of places to discover indoors...
..the first of these, a small cosy ‘tilted cottage’ on the outskirts of the village, why? The chap inside has got a roaring fire on the go! He’s very welcoming and immediately engages with the kids...
Maggie's first question of many to man – ‘Where’s the TV?’
Here is Lois' reaction to the prospect of an outside toilet... this was going to be an entertaining and enlightening day!
The characters throughout the village really bring it to life and are great for the kids, I'm sure they believed these people actually lived here.
Besides the guy mentioned and pictured above, they were engrossed by the woman in the hardware shop, who let them ring her bell, the girl who taught them how to play traditional street games, the chirpy bar maid who poured their cordial and the old man who told them about bathing in his tin bath in front of the open fire. There are many more besides and kudos to them all.
Today was ‘Black Country Goes to War’ day, and the museum had some extra entertainment throughout the complex. Soldiers and nurses were walking around the streets, live theatre, poetry and music, outside the pharmacy a sergeant was instructing the kids in wartime drills, watching him march them around and over the canal bridge was great. Maggie loved listening to and joining in with ‘When Poppies Bloom Again’ a couple of ladies singing wartime songs in the Workers’ Institute cafe. I really did think I was on the set of ‘Atonement’ or ‘Hope & Glory’.
As soon as they spotted an old helter skelter on the horizon we had no option but to go to the funfair. Be sure to take some extra money into the museum as you have to purchase tokens to go on the rides. This area was wonderful, first up they rode an old 'Super Speedway' carousel, this was hilarious as it really seemed to be picking up speed with each revolution. At one point I thought I might need to instigate a Keanu Reeves ‘Speed’ style extraction – but no need, it was perfectly safe and they absolutely loved it and the Artful Dodger type kid running the carousel kept a careful eye that they were safe. Next up the swing boats and then a couple of shots on the coconut shy; then time to test my prowess on the shooting gallery. Not bad, missed the first, hit the next two and bagged them a prize; they chose a random stuffed tiger.
Next to the funfair is the St. James’ school, Maggie who is just entering her second year was especially interested in the set-up, no interactive board here! Throughout the day they also run school lessons, unfortunately one was in session as we entered, but you can watch them through the windows. The school ma’am looked intimidating! This is great fun for the kids and perhaps memory invoking for the older generation.
Unfortunately 'What the butler saw!' remains a mystery as I couldn't find 50p
Being a film graduate one of my favourite locations was the Limelight Cinema – today it was showing rare films from 1914-1915, it was like an even older Electric Cinema and wholly atmospheric. I thought to myself I would like to live here (for a day or two anyway!)
I was amazed at the size of the museum and the amount of things to see, the attention to detail was astounding, it was fully immersive, the clothes, hardware, sweet and cake shops, the backyards (I loved going off the beaten track looking in all the nooks and crannies) the wild flower gardens complete with pigs, the church, the WI, the canalside with boats, I can imagine the people who work here staying over after hours, drinking in the pub; I certainly would.
Looks like a RTA is imminent
Talking of which The Bottle and Glass Inn was our next stop – a real spit and sawdust place, well just sawdust thankfully.
As I was enjoying my pint of Peaky Blinder ale (parts of the 1st and 2nd series are filmed here) sat by a roaring fire and regressing into the good ol’ days the last orders bell rang, I checked my timepiece, I mean my watch - 3.45pm ('arrrghhh, the chippy is shutting in 15 mins!') - I necked my pint of PB and hot-footed it down the street to Hobbs’ Fish and Chip Shop, making it just in time, I was the last customer of the day. Hobbs’ fish and chips are renown throughout the land for being amongst the best, and they didn’t disappoint, although the kids ate most of them - they’re cooked in beef dripping, they didn’t know that, perhaps I should have told them!
'OK, one more'
Now to the real industrial part of the museum located along the canal - including the foundry, the chain making shop, the mill and the forge. Here we watched skilled workers making their wares, the smells, the soot, the grime it really was atmospheric. Around the corner you can board a canal boat and take a ride into the limestone caverns and have a try at ‘legging’ to move the boat through the tunnels; be aware that there is an additional charge for this, but it’s worth it.
The tram was out of action today (being serviced), but we hitched a ride on an old truck, bouncing around in the back and passing the soldiers and wartime nurses outside, we commented that it felt like we were in one of those film scenes where children are evacuated to the countryside clutching their suitcases to their chests. Our destination however was back to where we embarked as we had one final loop of the village, along the way I noticed some bits that we had missed - the underground mine (dang!), the park (curses!) You really do need a full day here to experience the complete offering.
'Ring my Bel-el-el, Ring my bell'
Last stop the shop, where the kids got some marbles; at present they have replaced the Innotab as the plaything of the moment.
This place really was surprising and I implore you to go. It’s a fascinating insight into this remarkable area - who'd have thought industry could be so exciting? And if you’ve got children – I promise they’ll love it!
In a couple of weeks on the 13th September is Black Country Night – I imagine this place would be especially atmospheric at night - I can’t wait to go back and neither can Maggie or Lois who said as much as we left.
Are you from the Black Country? Read our translated version here
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