The Black Country Living Museum is an open-air museum of rebuilt historic buildings from around the Black Country. It occupies a 26 acre urban heritage park and was first opened in 1976, on land partly reclaimed from a former railway goods yard, disused lime kilns and former coal pits and since then many more exhibits have been added to it. Most of the buildings are original but have been relocated from elsewhere. In all there are 42 separate displays which have either been re-erected or built to old plans.
As well as the buildings it is also home to some historic trams and trolleybusses, some of which are on display in the Tram Depot, but others are used to transport visitors around the site, running from just inside the entrance in a recreated factory to the canal-side village with thirty buildings situated by the canal basin.
From the car park you go through this rather grand modern glass entrance to the payment desks and on into the reconstructed Public Baths complex originally from Smethwick. Originally it housed two swimming pools, offices, slipper baths and the superintendents accommodation, today it houses the introductory exhibition to the Museum. The Hall of fame shows some of the famous people and names from the area and a multi screen video tells the story the Black Country and introduces you to their dialects. There is also a display of the area as it is today and a second exhibition hall which houses the museums collection of cars and motorcycles. On our visit we did this area last.
Once you leave this building you are outside and the first thing you may notice are the trams or trolleybuses, which will take you from here down to the school at the bottom, as well as the fact that you are up on a hill and from here it's down hill. If you manage to resist the temptation to take a ride on the trams at this point and leave it until you are tired and want to get back to the entrance and leave, make your way to the large tall building which houses Newcomens Steam Engine. Following this the next major item you come to is the Coalmine.
'Into the Thick' is a guided underground tour of a coal mine to show you how miners worked the coal in around 1850. You have to wear a hard hat and carry a torch. It is a drift mine with a sloping tunnel down which you walk into a maze of roadways and working areas, at certain points you come to a stop and get to view the visual displays they have and listen to the audio commentary that goes with this. The guided tour lasts about 35 minutes, just a word of warning when you get so far through the tour there is a demonstration of them blasting a coal seam, and this results in a very noisy large bang, so if you have small children make them aware so that they are not frightened. Worth a visit though.
Out of here walk over and see the Racecourse Colliery built as a typical small Black Country coal pit as it wound have been in about 1910. Continuing in a clockwise direction you get to the Toll House on your right. This was originally on a turnpike road when they were gated roads and at the levied a toll on those and their animals travelling through it.
Then move on to see inside a small cottage built out of second hand bricks in the 1890's and then a crooked cottage built around 1840, it's crooked because it was affected by subsidence as coal was dug from the mines beneath where it was originally located. Inside this cottage reflects a lifestyle of around 1910 when it was occupied by a colliery clerk, a relatively well off individual for the time.
From here continuing the industrial theme taking a look at the Oliver Shop, here the oliversmiths worked 10 hearths to forge a variety of small wrought iron items such as pip clamps, wall hoots and special bolts, known in the Black Country as 'oddwork'. The demand for oddwork declined after the second world war although 3 oliversmiths did still work in this building until 1979 when it finally closed. Next it's onto the 1920's small builders merchant yard which has a stone hovel and brick office, the shelves of the office is full with brass pip fittings, with sacks of cement, lime and plaster as well as cast iron pipes are stored in the hovel.
Now its walk down to the canal basin and over the bridge into the Canal Basin village. In here you will find houses, shops and public buildings which have been rebuilt to create a single early 20th century street, and are operated by people in period costume, to give the living in period effect, you may also find children playing in the streets. Some of the buildings are still used in their original function, such as the pub where you can get beverages, the sweet shop making and selling original sweets, a bakers shop selling cakes, and the 1930's 'chippy' dishing up the British favourite and is very popular at lunch time. Others are faithful replicas of their last use, with goods in the windows. Still others are only shells of the originals, such as the bath house.
The large building on the left as you cross the bridge is the Limekilns, built in 1842 and in use until about 1926 burning limestone excavated locally. Twenty-eight feet high chimneys topped the kilns but these are no longer there. Past some of the shops and on the left is a Methodist chapel built in 1837 in Darby Hand a small coal mining and nail making community. You can walk around in side and even have a sit down on the pews, it has two levels and was originally used as the local church and also as a Sunday school for the poorer children of the community.
Around the corner and you come to Carters Yard, home of the onsite heavy horses. They were used to haul narrow boats, drag heavy coal carts, pull trams, carriages, milk floats, delivery wagons and fire engines. The other buildings within the yard include stables, combined office and harness room, small feed store and a cart shed. On from here the building at the end is the Trap Shop a small purpose build factory built in 1913 to manufacture small animal traps which were exported all over the world. Interesting places, lots of machinery to look at an audio visual of what used to happen within this factory, it is laid out pretty much as it would have been.
In the canal basin area you will find other examples of all types of different trades including a glass cutter a work, the chainmakers house and shop, a brass foundry, a forge, nail shop, Ironworks and a rolling mill once used to make iron and later steel bars. And finally in this section before getting to the Canalside cafe you pass through Castle Fields Boat Dock of which the main buildings are an 1880's blacksmith forge, the nail and rivet store, a woodshed, paint store and stable. There is also a lifting bridge between the ironworks and Boat Dock.
Between the Ironmongers and Brook Street you will find, in what looks like a back garden, the Limelight Cinema. In here the auditorium, which originally seated 103 people, you can stop and watch a silent movie of a revolving programme including Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and Harold Lloyd among many others.
Whilst in the Canal Basin, from March to November, you can also take a narrow boat trip on the adjacent canal, through the Dudley Tunnel. These tours are operated by the Dudley Canal Trust.
Once you have completed the canal basin back across the bridge up the steep incline where at the top you will find St James School, originally from Dudley and could accommodate 300 children. It was originally built in 1842 and continued in use up until 1980. You may be able to take part in a school lesson whilst there, but you can definitely play games in the school playground. Behind the school is recreation of a traditional travelling fair with round stalls, swings, mirrors and coconut sheet as well as swingboats and helter-skelter and the centrepiece is The Ark, a 1930's high speed ride.
To finish off your trip rather and if you didn't get the tram down then get on the tram outside the school building and take a ride on the 1920's tram back up to the Tram depot just outside the main entrance building. Once you get off the train there is just one building left to look at the Cast Iron Houses. This is a pair of semi-detached council houses built in 1925. At the time due to a shortage of traditional building materials about 500 houses were built of cast iron, only these two pairs were built in Dudley as they were twice as expensive to build as the brick equivalent. One of the houses as been fitted out as it would have been at the time and the other houses an exhibition on the production and use of cast iron.
All in all a great day out for all the family, but also lots of history to soak up as you go around as well as many photographic opportunities. As well as all there is to see there are also a large number of events taking place during the year, so remember to check out the events section on their website to see what is happening when you expect to visit.
The entrance fee includes access to all the buildings onsite, but fairground rides and a ride on a narrow boat on the canal costs extra.
Allow at least 4 hours for your visit - but from experience this is a whole day attraction and well worth it.
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