Museum seeking life stories and experiences of Black Country…

As part of its ambitious Forging Ahead development, Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) is creating a new industrial area, which will tell the story of the Black Country from the 1940s to the 1960s. The industrial space will feature several well-known Black Country industries, including a translocation of part of the J H Lavender & Co. aluminium foundry from Hall Green, West Bromwich.

The foundry will form an important part of the brand new industrial quarter at BCLM, enabling visitors to see live demonstrations of aluminium casting and metal founding.  Jobs at the foundry were varied. Those who worked directly with the products would have been responsible for casting, design work, finishing work, grinding, and polishing. There were more general roles too.  Those workers classified as “unskilled labour” were no less vital to the process, carrying out all kinds of tasks from transporting parts between workspaces to cleaning. 

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the Black Country needed workers to drive its latest industrial revolution. Faced with a desperate labour shortage after the war, businesses like J H Lavender recruited from all over the world to enable their foundries, forges, and factories to operate at full capacity. Like many foundries in the region, Lavender’s employed workers from India, Pakistan, the Caribbean and elsewhere, providing employment and a home for a generation of Commonwealth citizens. Many intended to move to the UK on a temporary basis, but a significant number decided to stay and to call the Black Country home.

The translocated Lavender’s building provides BCLM with an opportunity to explore and share the stories of the everyday lives of mid-century foundry workers from across the region. Museum historians are particularly keen to collect memories of workers who came from overseas during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Museum is seeking stories from individuals (or their descendants) who moved to the region to work for Black Country metal foundries. People’s memories will inform new exhibitions and provide new stories that the Museum’s Historic Characters will use to engage visitors.  The Museum would love to hear about:

  • Work stories – what did you do at the factory, and how were you treated by managers and trade unions?
  • Home stories – as single men moving to the country, how did you get by on your own? What was your housing like, did you learn to cook? As families, how did you adapt to life here in the Black Country?
  • What was the local welcome like for you? Did you face tension or oppression?
  • What was socialising like for you? What kind of community spaces were important to you and your peers?

Simon Briercliffe, a BCLM researcher who has been heavily involved with the Forging Ahead project, said “we want to tell the whole story of everyday lives in the Black Country in the 1940s-1960s – our worlds of work, home, culture, and society. That includes those of us who moved here during this period, who helped turn the Black Country into the exciting, diverse and fascinating region that we know today.”

If you would like to share your story with us, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch by emailing [email protected] or calling 0121 557 9643.

About Black Country Living Museum

Established in 1978, Black Country Living Museum is one of the UK’s leading open-air museums.  Designated by Arts Council England for the quality and national significance of its collections, it attracted 358,871 in 2019. Visitors can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the past as they uncover the rich industrial heritage of the region. They’ll explore 26 acres of shops, houses and industrial areas and in doing so get a unique insight into the contribution and impact the Black Country had on the world. Historic Characters bring to life the stories of some of the most hard-working, ingenious and influential people you could imagine, making this an experience few others can match.

About BCLM: Forging Ahead

Forging Ahead is Black Country Living Museum’s largest capital development since opening in 1978. It will transform the landscape of the Museum and create a world class visitor attraction at the heart of the Black Country. The development includes a brand new visitor welcome centre, learning spaces, a new industrial quarter, and historic town. The project will take the Museum’s story into the 1940s, 50s and 60s – one of the most dynamic periods in recent history, which saw the economy, society, and popular culture transform. It presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to save Black Country heritage, inspire people with stories that would otherwise be at risk of being lost, and transform our local community.

Phase one will see the construction of 22 historic buildings and structures on the Museum site. Detailed research will enable the Museum to recreate buildings and their stories from around the Black Country, creating a stage on which to share the incredible history of the 1940s-60s.  The new development will expand the Museum by about a third, uplifting the capacity to welcome around 500,000 visitors a year by 2026. 

Image credit: copyright Nick Hedges