Black Country ancestors
The best resources for Midlands kin
Although we have sampled the heritage of the wider West Midlands, as well as Staffordshire, Worcestershire and last year Birmingham, this is the first issue in which we have focused solely on the Black Country, which comprises Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.
This industrial hub is a complicated region in which to research, as Dudley’s Local Studies Librarian Diane Matthews explains. “Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton archives services all share a boundary with us and their collections complement our own,” she says. “Whilst Dudley was traditionally in Worcestershire, other areas now in the borough – such as Sedgley, Coseley, Brierley Hill and Kingswinford – would have been in the county of Stafford. So both the Staffordshire and Worcestershire record offices have material relating to the borough. There might also be material at Birmingham City Archives relating to Halesowen, and Hereford Archives house the Foley Collection, which may hold material relating to Stourbridge.”
The new purpose-built home for Dudley’s archives opened in January 2014 next to the Black Country Living Museum. Alongside two miles of archives, from parish material to records of local businesses, there’s a Local Studies Library boasting some 17,000 printed works, more than 22,000 photographs and 3,000 slides, as well as local newspapers, journals and periodicals, maps, posters, sound and film recordings. They also have printed MIs, trade directories, pedigrees, biographies and Rolls of Honour.
Diane adds: “We try to encourage users to investigate deeper into the social history of the region to find out about what their ancestors lives would have been like.”
One unique collection here is the Dudley Estate Archive comprising around 9,000 documents, 350 volumes and 2,000 maps and plans. It includes deeds, manorial court rolls, leases and rentals and spans eight centuries of history. “The Earls of Dudley owned land in Worcestershire and Staffordshire encompassing Dudley, Himley, Belbroughton, Broome, Kingswinford, Rowley Regis, Sedgley, Tipton, Wombourne, Great Witley and Kidderminster and the collection gives a unique insight into the changing landscape and industrial development of the Black Country,” says Diane.
The Centre also holds local government records back to 1791; records of solicitors Slater & Camm (and predecessors) back to the 13th century; material relating to drapers and furnishers FW Cook Ltd (c1880-1980); Dudley Herald glass negatives (1930s-1972); Dudley Grammar School records (1533-1974); and Oldswinford Hospital [School] records back to the 12th century.
The dominant industries in Dudley were coal and limestone mining, iron and steel, glassmaking, brickmaking, nail and chainmaking, button manufacturing and engineering. Surviving records include companies such as N Hingley & Sons, Walter Somers, Royal Brierley Crystal, Pensnett Colliery, buttonmakers James Grove and Sons, glassmakers Thomas Webb & Sons and many more. Indeed, collections are expanding all the time – in 2014 new accessions included the Baggeridge Brick Works Collection (1920-87) as well as the Amblecote Scouts Collection (1920-2011).
One of the more complete collections relates to the ironmakers Cannon Industries of Coseley, whose baths, lavatories and sinks became widely used in public buildings, schools, hotels, and private residences during the 19th century, before the company started producing gas cookers
from 1895. The collection contains minute books, letters, title deeds and associated papers relating to land and property, accounts/financial records, photographs, apprenticeship and personnel records, even cookery and recipe books for use with Cannon cookers.
Walsall Local History Centre looks after the likes of GRO indexes, census material, parish and nonconformist records, cemetery records, electoral registers, directories, an extensive photograph collection, quarter sessions from 1825, coroners records from 1910 and local newspapers from 1856 onwards. Plus, among some of the more underused sources, there are records of the Wigmore Schools, a local orphanage serving West
Who Do You Think You Are? Locks on the Stourbridge Canal near the Red House Glass Cone
at Wordsley, Dudley