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The Black Country, the industrial heart of England, boasts plenty of historical heritage, but from where did its name originate? Read on as we delve into the history of the Black Country and the areas within its boundaries.
The West Midlands is world-renowned as a leading industrial region, with anything from steel and coal to brick and iron produced in its many factories, forges and foundries.
The Black Country is believed to have taken its name from the black soot that would emanate from its aforementioned factories, while other people claim that the 30-foot-thick coal seam was also the reasoning behind the name.
While the term is believed to have been used since the mid-19th century, it wasn’t until 1987 that the local government officially began to call the region the Black Country in a marketing move to bring official recognition to the area, agree on its boundaries and push tourism.
Despite local government stepping in to define the Black Country’s official boundaries, it’s still a topic of hot debate to many traditionalists.
Today, the Black Country is widely known as covering the metropolitan boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton – though traditionalists will be quick to tell you that Wolverhampton isn’t in the Black Country.
This is because Black Country boundaries are traditionally said to consist of areas where the coal seam comes to the surface. This includes the towns of Bilston, Coseley, West Bromwich, Dudley, Tipton, Wednesbury and Walsall, but not areas like Wolverhampton, Stourbridge and Smethwick as they weren’t thought to have coal mines. Despite all that, RR Angerstein’s Illustrated Travel Diary (1753–55) shows coal mines in Wolverhampton, so the debate lives on.
However, the Black Country Society is firm in their definition of the Black Country, simply stating that its borders lie on the area of the 30-foot coal seam. They include areas like Smethwick but exclude Wolverhampton and Stourbridge geologically while appreciating them culturally.
At least there’s an agreement on one thing – their strong Black Country identity!
Unveiled in 2009, the Black Country tartan, designed by Philip Tibbetts of Halesowen, was the first to start a trend in its regional identification, and shortly after, its official flag followed.
The flag, which represents Elihu Burritt’s description of the Black Country as ‘black by day and red by night’, was unveiled on 14 July 2012. It was later agreed that 14 July should be Black Country Day, a celebration of the region’s industrial heritage and coincidentally the anniversary of the invention of the Newcomen steam engine.
The official Black Country anthem, by local band The Empty Can, was released in 2014 – take a listen to ‘I Vow To Thee, Black Country’ below.
While the industrial side of the Black Country is mostly in the past, the Black Country Living Museum allows history enthusiasts to see what West Midlands life was really like in the 19th century.
Visitors to the reconstructed open-air village can take part in a number of activities, including a silent cinema, underground mine exploration, traditional metal-making demonstrations or even hop on one of the historic Black Country trams.
The Black Country Living Museum was even used as a set for the popular BBC drama Peaky Blinders.