Black Country

From Academic Kids

The Black Country is an area of conurbation to the north and west of Birmingham, and to the south and east of Wolverhampton in the English West Midlands, around the South Staffordshire coalfield.

Contents

Scope

Places which comprise the Black Country include parts of the city of Wolverhampton, and the towns of:

The bounds of the Black Country are controversial, and the city of Wolverhampton is included by some. Despite the 1974 local government boundary, the northern border with Cannock Chase is also rather blurred. Birmingham is most definitely not in the Black Country.

Apart from the area covered by Wolverhampton City Council, the metropolitan borough councils of Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall administer most of the communities in the Black Country. The Black Country has a combined population of around one million.

History

Prior to the 18th century the Black Country area was a collection of small villages and market towns. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the mid 18th century, dicoveries of large deposits of coal and limestone, meant that the area rapidly developed mining and manufacturing industries, and the population of the Black Country grew 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 many associated smaller businesses.

The area soon gained notoriety, Charles Dickens's novel The Old Curiosity Shop written in 1841, described the area, and how 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.

The area is popularly said to have got its name because of pollution from these heavy industries, which covered the area in black soot and led to the name of The Black Country. There is a famous but dubious anecdote about Queen Victoria ordering the lowering of the blinds on her carriage, as the royal train passed through the area.

However, historians have suggested that it is more likely that the name was given earlier; arising from above-ground outcroppings of black coal seams, that scarred the early heathland.

The Black Country today

The heavy industry which once dominated the Black Country has now largely gone. Mining ceased in the area in the late 1960s, and 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 are amongst the most economically deprived communities in the UK; this is particularly true in Sandwell, and to a lesser extent Wolverhampton. As with many urban areas in England, there is also a significant ethnic minority population in parts; resistance to mass immigration in the 1960s and 1970s led to the racist slogan "Keep the Black Country white!" and the area was a heartland of support for the M.P. Enoch Powell.

The "Black Country Living Museum" (see below), in Dudley, re-creates life in the Black Country in the early 20th century, and is a popular tourist attraction.

Black Country dialect

The traditional Black Country dialect is very old, and can be very confusing for outsiders. The language is said to be a throw back to Middle English and still contains words such as Thee, Thy and Thou. "'Ow B'ist", meaning "How beist thou?" is a common greeting, with the typical answering being "'Bay too bah", meaning "I bayn't be too bad". "I haven't seen her" becomes "I ay sid 'er". Somebody from the Black Country will often substitute the word "ar" instead of "yes".

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). Residents of Birmingham (Brummies) meanwhile often refer to their Black Country neighbours as "Yam Yams", a reference to the use of "Yow am" instead of "You are".

Black Country folks take pride in being simple, hardworking people. The thick Black Country dialect however, is less commonly heard today than in the past.

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