Hello and hi. The Black Country is an area of the West Midlands in England-west of Birmingham and includes Dudley, Walsall and Sandwell. In the Industrial Revolution, it became one the most industrialised parts of Britain with coal mines, coking, (coke is a fuel with few impurities and high in carbon content-usually made from coal) iron foundries and steel mills which subsequently produced a high level of air pollution.
The first trace of The Black Country as an expression dates from the 1840’s and it is believed that the name comes from the soot from heavy industries that covered the area. What were my people doing in the 1840’s back in the US? Plenty. In 1845, the US annexed TX-which had won independence from Centralist Republic of Mexico in the Texas Revolution of 1836. But Mexico still considered TX part of its territory, declaring war on the US and starting the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Anyway, Back to Black…cue Amy Winehouse….
Anyway, The Black Country has no defined borders-but some traditionalists define it as “the area where the coal seam comes to the surface.” Today it commonly refers to the four boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton-although it is said that no two Black Country men or women will agree on where it starts or ends.
Right? That above map of The Black Country didn’t help me either-I still have no idea where it is-and I am guessing you don’t either. But I did try.
The heavy industry which once dominated the Black Country is now largely gone. The 20th century saw a decline in coal mining and the industry sadly came to an end in 1968 with the closure of Baggeridge Colliery near Sedgley. Further, clean air legislation has meant that the Black Country is no longer black. However, the area still maintains some manufacturing, albeit on a much smaller scale than previously/historically. Chainmaking is still a viable industry in the Cradley Heath area and where the majority of the chain for the Ministry of Defence and the Admirality fleet is made in modern factories. Massive relieve. Because without chainmaking we would have to rely on basket weaving and that would be a bit of a worry. I kid.
Most (not all) of the area now suffers from high unemployment and parts of it are amongst the most economically deprived communities in the UK. This is particularly true in parts of the boroughs of Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Pictured below is Baggeridge Colliery…taken last week. Not really.
The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley recreates life in the Black Country in the early 20th century and is a pretty popular tourist attraction. I do realise that we all have different versions of fun and that maybe this museum may not ‘fun’ for you but knowledge is power, people. Check out the link for more info. https://www.bclm.co.uk/
Dialect and accent
The traditional Black Country dialect is known as “Black Counry Spake” and can be very confusing for outsiders like you and me. For example, Thee, Thy and Thou are still in use, as is the case in parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Wait. What? Err…clears throat…The Old Testament is calling and they want their 3 words back. Sheesh.
“Ow B’ist” “Ow b’st gooin” simply means How are you? and How are you going? A typical response would be “Bostin ah kid” Bostin means “bursting” and implies being filled with good and “ah kid” is a term of endearment or you could respond with “Bay too bah” which simply means: ” I be not too bad/I am not too bad”. Still confused? Me too. Black Country dialect often uses “ar” where other parts of England use “yes”. Similarly, the local version of “you” rhymes with “now”. Try saying it now, I dare you.
In addition, the local pronunciation includes “goo” (elsewhere “go”) or “gewin'” is similar to that elsewhere in the Midlands. It is quite common for broad Black Country speakers to say “‘agooin'” where others say “going.” A woman is a “wench”, a man is a “mon”, a nurse is a “nuss” and home is “wom”. An apple is an “opple”. Just so crazy. I mean, I speak Mandarin Chinese and I can tell you this-it is much easier than the Black Country dialect. Truth.
The Black Country is notable for its small breweries and brewpubs which, unlike most in Britain, continued brewing their own beer alongside larger breweries which opened in the Industrial Revolution. Small breweries and brewpubs in the Black Country include Bathams in Brierley Hill, Holdens in Woodsetton and Sedgley and the Old Swan Inn in Netherton. They produce light and dark mild ales, as well as malt-accented bitters as well as seasonal strong ales.
There is more to be said for the Black Country but you should visit and have a look-see for yourself. Enjoy!