Black Coun­try Museum

Old Bike Australasia - - NEWS - Story and pho­tos Stephen Heath.

Wolver­hamp­ton, in the English West Mid­lands, was un­kindly de­scribed by the fu­ture Queen Vic­to­ria as “a large and dirty town”, but dur­ing the pe­riod of her reign, grew to be a wealthy one, thanks in no small part to the man­u­fac­ture of cars and mo­tor­cy­cles. The wheeled his­tory of the city be­gan nat­u­rally enough with bi­cy­cles, with over 200 man­u­fac­tur­ers at one stage. Two of these, Sun­beam and Rudge, went on to greater things, at least in the eyes of us mo­tor­cy­clists. But from 1909 to 1931, Wolver­hamp­ton was also the man­u­fac­tur­ing base of A.J.Stevens & Sons (A.J.S.), which turned out some of Bri­tain’s finest ma­chines prior to be­ing swal­lowed up by Match­less dur­ing the De­pres­sion. To­day, the Jaguar Land Rover En­gine Assem­bly Plant is the most recog­nis­able as­pect of the city’s his­tory in the mo­tor man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor, but the past is re­mem­bered in a care­fully pre­served area con­tain­ing the Black Coun­try Museum. Lo­cated in Dud­ley, 16km west of Birm­ing­ham, this is an ope­nair, liv­ing museum that be­gan in the mid-1960s on a derelict piece of land rid­dled with mine shafts that was grad­u­ally re­claimed. Ex­ist­ing houses, shops, work­shops and pub­lic build­ings have been dis­man- tled brick-by-brick and re­built to cre­ate an early 20th cen­tury vil­lage, a tramway sys­tem in­stalled in stages, and the in­tri­cate canal sys­tem re­stored prior to the museum’s open­ing to the pub­lic in 1978. Since then, over 7 mil­lion vis­i­tors have ex­pe­ri­enced the museum, which is con­stantly ex­pand­ing. There are nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of the mo­tor ve­hi­cles that made Wolver­hamp­ton fa­mous; buses, trucks, trams, trol­ley­buses, cars, and of course, mo­tor­cy­cles. Cur­rently, the two wheel­ers num­ber around 40, all of which orig­i­nated in the Black Coun­try. AJS and Sun­beam dom­i­nate, but there are also lesser-known makes. A walk down the vil­lage’s main street is a trip back in time, with quaint shops, cot­tages and in­dus­trial build­ings, just as they were dur­ing the boom times. As long as you don’t suf­fer from claus­tro­pho­bia, you can even take a tour through one of the orig­i­nal mine shafts. The Black Coun­try Museum is def­i­nitely a must-visit if you find your­self in the area.

Re­stored section of the canals. An­other de­liv­ery of pork pies. More of Wolver­hamp­ton’s finest.

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