The Museum's story

How it all began

The idea to create an open-air, living museum that told the story of the Black Country all started in the late 1960s, a period of rapid change for the region that saw the closure of the last working coal mine. Manufacturing dwindled and many canals lay deserted, railways began to close and the Black Country as many knew changed irrevocably.

In 1967, an exhibition about the Black Country was held in Dudley. It underlined the threat to the region’s heritage and attracted considerable support. The Black Country Society formed, and it was from there that the idea to create the Black Country Living Museum grew.

It wasn’t long before a site on Tipton Road was secured and a programme of land reclamation was started by the West Midlands County Council. Shortly after, the Museum separated from the council and by 1978 it was possible to hold a preview season to show how the Museum might develop.

In 1980 the tramway system was installed to transport visitors the half mile or so to the canal arm. By 1985 visitor numbers had grown to 250,000 a year and in 1990, the year the underground mining display opened, 305,000 people visited the Museum. Attendance drastically fell due to the economic recession in the early 1990s and have since shown a year on year increase.

Since then, the Museum has continued to grow and develop. In 2010, the Museum launched a £10 million development, creating a 1930s high street.

In 2019, the Museum successfully received the final go ahead for its biggest capital development project to date, Forging Ahead, bringing the Museum’s story into the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

The development has been opening in stages since 2022, with a brand new Visitor Centre and several replica or recreated buildings in the heart of the Museum, including Wolverhampton’s Elephant & Castle Pub, a Marsh & Baxter butcher and Stanton’s Music Shop.

Did you know?

  • The Museum formed with just six members of staff. We now employ over 280 people.
  • We have built and relocated over 60 buildings.
  • There are over 80,000 items in our collection.
  • We welcomed our 10 millionth visitor in February 2020.

Building the Museum in the 1980s