Big guns in the Black Coun­try on the eve of the armistice

Never be­fore seen im­age found 100 years later

Black Country Bugle - - FRONT PAGE - By JOHN WORKMAN

DUDLEY Mar­ket Place is a fa­mil­iar area known to all who visit the town and is at the cen­tre of the com­ings and go­ings of daily life.

To­day it is oc­cu­pied by per­ma­nent mar­ket stalls that ex­tend from the Mar­ket Place foun­tain to the statue of Dun­can Ed­wards. It has had sev­eral im­por­tant uses dur­ing its life­time, one of which is per­fectly demon­strated by this week’s front cover page pic­ture. We think the pho­to­graph, taken by early 20th cen­tury pho­tog­ra­pher Arthur Parkes, is a unique study of how the mar­ket place looked when the army brought a dis­play of ar­tillery hard­ware to the town just be­fore the end of the First World War. Be­cause the war had lasted far longer than any­one had ex­pected a Na­tional Cam­paign was in­sti­gated to raise money for the war ef­fort. Events like “Tank Week” and “Feed the Guns” cam­paigns were held. In sup­port of this lat­ter cam­paign heavy guns ar­rived in Dudley on Novem­ber 2, 1918, and placed in the mar­ket place. The visit must have been hugely pop­u­lar but may have been in Dudley for only a short pe­riod of time. Once again we have to thank Arthur’s grand­son David Sk­il­beck for the op­por­tu­nity of pub­lish­ing this amaz­ing pho­to­graph.

In­te­gral

The First World War had seen sev­eral de­vel­op­ments in ar­tillery war­fare with ar­tillery bar­rages used be­fore an in­fantry bat­tle. A bom­bard­ment that was well aimed could de­stroy en­emy trenches and knock out ar­tillery bat­ter­ies and com­mu­ni­ca­tion lines. Heavy ar­tillery played an in­te­gral part in the Al­lied vic­tory and the peo­ple of Dudley were be­ing al­lowed to in­spect these mon­ster guns at close quar­ters.

Dudley Mar­ket Place has changed char­ac­ter over the years. The orig­i­nal Coun­cil House used to stand where the fa­mous Vic­to­rian foun­tain is to­day, and di­rectly be­hind it two blocks of build­ings called Mid­dle Row ran down what is now mar­ket square. This meant there was a street on each side, on the left Queen Street and on the right High Street. Mid­dle Row was de­mol­ished in the 1840s, cre­at­ing the now fa­mil­iar mar­ket square. The Coun­cil House was de­mol­ished in 1860.

Dis­play

Dudley had been recog­nised as a mar­ket town as early as the 12th cen­tury and by the 19th cen­tury held a Cat­tle, Cheese and Stock Fair on the first Mon­day in March, a Lamb Fair on the first Mon­day in Au­gust and a Cheese and Onion Fair on the first Mon­day in Oc­to­ber. At all these fairs stock like horses, cat­tle, sheep and swine were sold. Nor­mal mar­ket days were held ev­ery Tues­day and Satur­day. After the cre­ation of the mar­ket place it be­came a gath­er­ing place on those pub­lic oc­ca­sions when some­thing sig­nif­i­cant was hap­pen­ing and just after the war the Royal Ar­tillery dis­play would have been one of the most sig­nif­i­cant to ever come to Dudley.

Even though the pho­togr­pah isn’t par­tic­u­larly clear the How­itzer in the fore­ground stands out and sev­eral more guns can be seen be­hind. The pub­lic toi­let build­ing is vis­i­ble as is St Ed­mund’s Church and of course the fa­mous Dudley cob­bles which were only re­moved in re­cent years.

The pho­to­graph at the top of the page was taken circa 1902 and the mar­ket place can be clearly seen de­void of any mar­ket fur­ni­ture, a vast ex­panse of cob­bles where the ar­tillery dis­play would have been ex­hib­ited.

On a walk through the mar­ket place to­day it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a clut­ter of guns fill­ing the space. But thanks to Arthur Parkes’ dili­gence and trusty cam­era we have the ev­i­dence to prove that it did hap­pen one hun­dred years ago.

A view of an empty Dudley mar­ket place circa 1902

Dudley Mar­ket Place, Oc­to­ber 30 2018

Close en­coun­ters with ar­tillery pieces, circa Novem­ber 2nd 1918

A How­itzer gun in ac­tion dur­ing WW1

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