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Living Museums: A journey back in time to the grimy, gritty life in the Black Country between the wars

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  High Street at the Black Country Living Museum (Photo Fuji X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2
High Street at the Black Country Living Museum (Photo Fuji X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2
  You could do all your shopping and eating without leaving the village. Photo Ricoh GR
You could do all your shopping and eating without leaving the village. Photo Ricoh GR

Living museums have become increasingly popular, nowhere more so than in the UK where “attractions” are seemingly around every bend in the road. I’ve enjoyed a number of these celebrations of, mostly, early 20th century life including Beamish in Northumberland and the sadly now defunct Wigan Pier museum. This last weekend I ticked another rather enticing open-air museum off my wishlist, this time the Black Country Living Museum at Dudley in the heart of the Black Country. The area was at the forefront of the industrial revolution and gained its name from the pollution and generally dreary landscape that resulted from the mining and other works.

  Photo Ricoh GR
Photo Ricoh GR

This turned out to be one of my more successful finds. It covers a vast area of industrial landscape and includes a working village with light industry, a canal, buses, trams and trolley buses. The endearing part of these living museums is the way in which the characters, mostly local volunteers, adopt their chosen persona and live and work as their grandparents or great-grandparents did.

  Narrow boat captain, photo Fuji X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2, and, below, narrow boat captain
Narrow boat captain, photo Fuji X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2, and, below, narrow boat captain’s apprentice

Shops were tended by knowledgeable tailors, motorcycle salesmen, fish and chip friers, tobacconists and greengrocers. You name it, someone was selling it. And every little cottage was occupied by an elderly lady who could chat for hours about her life between the wars: Outside toilets, no electricity and very basic cooking facilities. Most of them were cooking soup, frying sausages and baking potatoes for their own lunch in their own little back kitchens.

  Iron canal bridge linking the two parts of the village. Walk in any shop or house and there is a volunteer in period dress anxious to do business or explain life with an outside loo (Photo Ricoh)
Iron canal bridge linking the two parts of the village. Walk in any shop or house and there is a volunteer in period dress anxious to do business or explain life with an outside loo (Photo Ricoh)
  Living shops stuck in a timewarp: Photo Ricoh GR
Living shops stuck in a timewarp: Photo Ricoh GR

There is an educational aspect to these living museums, of course. All of them, not least the Black Country version, have a school and a classroom in which gullible visitors are treated like 1920s kids and forced to recite their multiplication tables. It’s all good fun. For older visitors, however, there is a true sense of nostalgia, particularly when the whole effect is as meticulously created as it is on the Black Country site.

I would rate this as a must visit if you are in the Midlands this year.

Find the Black Country Living Museum here.

Photographic note: On this occasion I was carrying a Fuji X-T1 attached to the outstanding 56mm f/1.2 prime, a lens with an effective focal distance of 85mm. In my pocket was another APS-C camera, the very much underestimated Ricoh GR with its fixed f/2.8 28mm lens.

  A regular vintage bus service to the village, supplemented at weekends by trams and trolley buses. Photo Ricoh GR
A regular vintage bus service to the village, supplemented at weekends by trams and trolley buses. Photo Ricoh GR
  Cottage dwellers cooking their lunch over the fire--note the two forlorn spuds dangling from the patent clockwork roasting spit (Ricoh GR)
Cottage dwellers cooking their lunch over the fire–note the two forlorn spuds dangling from the patent clockwork roasting spit (Ricoh GR)
  Behind the kitchen/parlous of this cottage (see above picture of the fireplace) is the couple
Behind the kitchen/parlous of this cottage (see above picture of the fireplace) is the couple’s bedroom for when all the sausages are fried and beans strung (Ricoh GR)
  Out in the back garden work goes on while the lady of the house bakes the potatoes and grills the sausages. (Ricoh GR)
Out in the back garden work goes on while the lady of the house bakes the potatoes and grills the sausages. (Ricoh GR)
  Want a 1933 Sunbeam motorbike for 68 guineas (£71.40)? Here
Want a 1933 Sunbeam motorbike for 68 guineas (£71.40)? Here’s the man to sell it to you. But these days you’d need more like £20,000 in your pocket (Fuji X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2)
  Or a gentleman
Or a gentleman’s suit for £3. 3s 0d (£3.15)? There’s a friendly tailor in the High Street (Photo Fuji X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2)
  An expensive purchase: This radio at £13. 13s. 0d (£13.65) would have been well beyond the means of all but the richest inhabitants of the village in the 1930s. Below, a crop from this Ricoh GR shot explaining the wondrous delights of the Ekco, available on easy payments of £1. 5s (£1.25) a over twelve months. Copywriters in the 1930s were just as ingenious as they are now. I never knew I wanted a detachable fret. However, since there were only two programmes, the Light and the Home, that fancy station scale was possibly overkill unless you wanted to tune in to foreign wavelengths
An expensive purchase: This radio at £13. 13s. 0d (£13.65) would have been well beyond the means of all but the richest inhabitants of the village in the 1930s. Below, a crop from this Ricoh GR shot explaining the wondrous delights of the Ekco, available on easy payments of £1. 5s (£1.25) a over twelve months. Copywriters in the 1930s were just as ingenious as they are now. I never knew I wanted a detachable fret. However, since there were only two programmes, the Light and the Home, that fancy station scale was possibly overkill unless you wanted to tune in to foreign wavelengths

  The museum covers a huge area of industrial landscape and it is easy to forget that all this is recreated as a tourist attraction. Better than Disney World any day (Fuji X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2)
The museum covers a huge area of industrial landscape and it is easy to forget that all this is recreated as a tourist attraction. Better than Disney World any day (Fuji X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2)