Black Country Museum
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.