Forging Ahead: New Book by Simon Briercliffe

Forging ahead

Forging Ahead: New Book Celebrating the Post-War Years of Prosperity in the Black Country

In the wake of World War Two, a unique social, economic, and industrial climate led to decades of prosperity in the Black Country, the likes of which the region had not seen before. A new book published by History West Midlands, explores the factors that contributed to this post-war boom and details some of the individual stories of challenge, resilience, and growth in the heart of the UK. Forging Ahead: Austerity to Prosperity in the Black Country 1945 – 1968 has been created in collaboration with Black Country Living Museum, and links to the Museum’s new development of the same name, which opens in 2022 and 2023.

“The Black Country was a centre of industrial excellence in post-war Britain, and this story of rapid growth and prosperity seems to have been overlooked in recent social history. Car manufacturing certainly played a huge part in the region’s fortune at the time, but there were other industries such as haulage, chemical manufacturing and rail which also placed the Black Country on the global map. This industrial peak continued through to the late 1960s and had huge benefits to workers and residents in the region. This growth was not without challenge though. Inequalities in class and gender persisted, and when immigrants from around the world came to meet the labour shortage, they met discrimination too.” explains author and BCLM researcher Simon Briercliffe.

This book explores the Black Country’s journey from a jubilant outbreak of peace, through unprecedented austerity, to an economic boom and a period of affluence in which Britain “had never had it so good.” The Black Country is a useful lens through which to view British society in this period. Its historical industrial strength and adaptability kept it going throughout the rigours and shortages of the 1940s, and it contributed significantly to the exports required to keep Britain afloat in the 1950s. It witnessed the re-writing of the social contract between the state and its citizens and helped to drive the economic boom as austerity gave way to prosperity by the 1960s – and experienced first-hand the fractures in society that arrived alongside this. Yet it was also unique as a region, filled with distinctive localities, industries and landscapes which set it apart from other industrial regions in Britain.

Today, after decades of industrial decline in Britain and particularly in the Black Country, it is common for political and popular rhetoric to look backwards: to the troubled 1970s, the hungry 1930s, to the age of “blitz spirit,” or to the post-war moment this book describes. The two decades or so following the Second World War are claimed by all sides: as a golden age of social democracy and the welfare state, but also as an unsurpassed show of economic strength built on Britain’s industrial and imperial capitalism. Understanding the Black Country helps understand Britain’s experiences in the post-war world.

About the author – Simon Briercliffe is an expert in Black Country social history and has worked as an advisor on the Forging Ahead development at Black Country Living Museum. Simon completed his Masters in Geography in Kings College and is now completing a PhD at The University of Birmingham in 19th Century History.  

Forging Ahead: Austerity to Prosperity in the Black Country 1945 – 1968 is published 7 July 2021 and available through History West Midlands.

(Article main image – Steelworkers at Round Oak, Brierley Hill, 1961. © of Peter Donnelly)

ISBN – 978-1-905036-84-4