Black Country Muse

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Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Now if there's one thing that changed the lives of the Black Country Working Man, it was the coming of the Railway. This greatly eased the burden of travel, for many miles could now be undertaken in a few hours where before, it would have taken several days to cover the same distance. Then came the Excursion Trains. For a few pennies, the working man could take his brood on a day out into the delightful surroundings of the Countryside. They could, at least for a few hours, shake off the grime and smoke of the town, and dream of what they would do if they were rich. Other possibilties soon opened up as well, for in 1851, there came The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, and thousands crammed onto the Trains to take a look. For many, this would have the first sight of London, but overall, the sight of a gigantic Glass house would have been the highlight. For some, the Train journey itself would have been the thing. No matter that it meant sitting in an uncomfortable seat for hours, they were now experiencing " speed ", behind a hissing spitting clanking rattling steam monster. Yes, and it can still gives you a thrill today. It opened up many other pleasures as well. Many thousands traveled to Bare Knuckle fights, so many went to one at Worcester Racecourse, that the newly erected stand collapsed, with an estimated 20,000 people crammed on it. The Railway also enabled thousands, to attend that other form of entertainment, Public hangings. Not just to Stafford, but to Worcester, Shrewsbury, Leicester, and Warwick. there was even an excursion to watch the hanging of the Mannings in London. Other, but less violent excursion events would follow, after 1868, when the practice ceased. At the many local fairs, the working man could spend his leisure time, and a few pennies, watching bawdry dramas, Acrobats, peep shows, Punch and Judy, and even join in a sing-song if he hadn't spent to much in the beer tent. It was to combat this habit of drinking, that the Churches began to organise their own events. Choral Societies sprang up, which tempted some of the working classes to join, and that great institution, The Brass Band arrived. Competitions soon became the norm, and it was the Railways that allowed the Bands to compete with each other. It also transported many thousands of Pigeons, for the Black Country man to race and bet on. All this travelling was good training for what next burst on the scene, The Football League. There had of course been teams long before this, and fans had been following their favourites over short distances for years. The League meant even longer distances, and the Railway didn't let them down. The fans though, sometimes let the Companies down, for if you think that Football hooligans are something modern, forget it, they aren't. The home side could expect, that every Pub in their Town would be damaged both before, and after the game. And they were, on a very regular basis. Racecourses became a battle ground at times, as rival gangs sort control, and of course, there were never enough Policeman to handle it all. The population viewed it all as Leisure, but then they would, they went off home afterwards.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 18, 2013 at 5:36 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

It was from about the same time, that Newspapers began to appear in ever increasing numbers. Sometimes they were simply just the one sheet, but what they did, was start to report on events outside the region as well. A sensational crime would quickly gather interest around the Country. I did mention the Mannings in the other post, a crime which grabbed the publics imagination. Maria Manning, ( Maiden name De Roux ) a native of Switzerland, and her husband, Frederick George Manning, were hanged at Horsemonger Gaol, London, in 1849. She had shot the victim, and he had finished the job by battering him with a crowbar. There was a sexual element, scandal, and flight from Justice attached to the crime, which fired the population to watch. An estimated crowd of over 50,000 attended on their " big day ", most of whom had arrived, thanks to the help of the Railway Companies. There were some, who suspected that they had contributed greatly, to the printing of 2,500.000 leaflets. Looking back in time, you could condemn the mobs that turned out for such events, but there was, after all, very little in the way of cheap entertainment for the masses. Else where on the website, I have also noted, that evry time there was a Mine disaster, the pit banks would lined with hundreds, and sometimes thousands of people. Not all of them were from the area, and sad to relate, a great many had come just to have a look, much as they still do today, whenever a tragic event occurs. The start then of the " disaster tourists " . Not far from Manchester, in 1874, there was a Mine accident at Dunkinfield, in which 54 miners were killed, some being trapped in the pit. A crowd, variously estimated as between 80 to 100,000, gathered around the pit, and about the same number attended the funerals. This sad event was marred by men from both Manchester and Oldham, who, over some slight disagreement, indulged in a massive punch up. According to some, " it was a very good days sport ". For others though, it was to be the Music Halls for their leisure time, an added bonus of course was that they served some very cheap beer as well. If you want to know what your ancesters did on a Saturday night in the 1860s and 70s, look no further than the Nine Music Halls that were located in nearby Birmingham.  Nor were they the sort of places that you would take your family either, for they were full of " single gentlemen ", all on the search for " single women", most of them shop girls or " Ladies of a certain trade ". It was woe betide any lone Policeman, who tried to prevent the working class from enjoying their leisure pursuits, even while a full scale riot was in progress. The cause of all this was the drink, and many Towns tried to educate, and provide other pleasures, that could be enjoyed as a family. Public Parks began to be opened, with floral displays, large grassed areas, boating lakes, and for the more refined, Bandstands. There were a few snags along the way. Anyone found wondering through the pristine local Park, dressed in rags or working clothes, would be politely asked to seek the nearest exit. Public Libraries and reading rooms became more fashionable, as the benefits of education began to sink in, although there were many, whose voices were raised against the idea of it. Including, it has to said, many among the working classes themselves. The advent of the Railway Excursions, opened peoples minds to the areas beyond their own, and towards the end of the century, for those that could afford it, the day at the Seaside had taken root. A healthy dose of sea air, a stick of rock, a bag of fish and chips, all made for a pleasant Sunday outing at the time, my, but how things have changed.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 20, 2013 at 12:09 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

For this next piece, I extend my thanks to Bob Adams, owner of the Rowley Village Website, ( see my Links page ) for spotting an item of interest. More so, because it drew the attention of non other than the famous Charles Dickens, who penned a rather moral article.


In 1858, Queen Victoria opened one of a number of " Peoples Parks ", this one being in Aston, near Birmingham. Boundries were different then, and if you are wondering why I have included it in the Black Country, read on.




From the Weekly Dispatch, Aston Park, August, 1863.

This was the sad scene of an occurrence on Monday evening. A woman, calling herself Madame Geneive, the " Female Blondin ", fell from a rope thirty feet above the greensward, and was killed on the spot, death being instantaneous. The poor creature had been engaged to go through her perilous performance on the occasion of a fete held in the park, in aid of the funds of the Order of Foresters, and there were many thousands of persons present. She made her appearance a little before seven o'clock, having advertised as the " the only real and legitimate performer of Blondin's great feats, walking the rope shackled in chains, feet in baskets, blindfolded, enveloped in a sack, etc,etc. " The rope on which the performance was to take place is said to have been so worn, and decayed, that one of the officials at the ( Aston) Hall described it last Saturday, as " a rope on which he would not allow a dog  to go. "  This frail cord, about thirty yards in length, was suspended between two trees at the altitude described, and fastened round the trunk of each tree. One extremity of the rope was carried over a trestle, on which was a resting place for the performer; midway between this and the tree to which the other end of the rope was attached another trestle was placed. Both ends of the rope, ( which seemed to be about an inch and a half in diameter) were secured by others fixed to stakes driven firmly into the ground. This work was all done under the superintendence of the womans husband. All the preliminaries having been arranged, the performer ascended the landing- place amid the cheers of the crowd. She was attended by her husband, who gave her the balancing pole and chalked her boots. The band struck up a lively air, and as it did so, Madame Geneive stepped cautiously and apparently with some degree of hesitation, on the rope. She walked about half it's length, knelt, and stood upon one leg, then returned to her resting place. At this point, her husband stepped forward and attached a couple of of steel chains to his wife's ankles and wrists.Again the poor creature moved forward, evidently in no spirit of confidence, but she walked slowly along the the entire length of the rope, raeching the opposite resting place in safety. An attendant approached and removed the chains, and at the same time placing a bag over her head, with an additional blindfold. In this condition the woman again moved on the rope; she held the balancing pole in her hands, and cautiously put her feet to feel the way: she had trodden but three faltering steps, when the rope collapsed, and the platform on which the attendant was standing fell back, and the poor woman was dashed to the ground. Her death was instantaneous. Surgical aid was at hand, but it was of no avail. Concussion of the brain or injury to the spine was, in all probability, the cause of death.


Now you might think, that it was a fairly straight forward accident, and there was nothing in the report that could remotely interest Charles Dickens. You would of course be wrong, as the next part will demonstrate.


The deceased was far advanced in Pregnancy, and is said to have had some presentiment that the rope was not safe. It had been recently spliced, and gave way at that very part. At the moment of this shocking occurence, among actual spectators of it were many thousands of persons from Birmingham and the Black Country, and so little effect did it produce, that the fate was continued; the Forester's Committee, who had the conduct of the proceedings, having at a meeting after the accident determined " to go with the programme, omitting the dangerous parts. It is hoped that the park has now been used for the last time for such debasing and brutalising performances as that of Monday evening. " Madame Geneive " was merely a professional name, the unfortunate victim of this sad occurrence being the daughter of an itinerent showman known in Birmingham as " Funny Joe ", and had at one time been attached to the travelling theatre of Messers Bennet and Patch. The father was partly dependent for subsistance on the contributions of this daughter. Another shocking fact in connection with this sad catastrophe, is that the frightful death of this poor victim could hardly be said to have even temporarily interrupted the festivities and gaiety of the occasion. " Kiss in the ring ", and other games were engaged in with great glee within a few feet of the spot where the accident happened; and at 10 o'clock in the evening, " the grand display of fireworks " brought the day's proceedings to a brilliant close.


That certainly got Dicken's dander up, he was fast on the draw on this one, and this piece appeared shortly aftrwards.


Is it only in the matter of clothes that fashion descends here in London-- and consequently in England--and thence shabbiness arises? Let us think a little, and be just. The ' Black Country '  round about Birmingham, is a very black country; but is it quite as black as it has lately been painted? An appalling accident happened at the Peoples Park near Birmingham, this last July, when it was crowded with people from the Black Country--an appaling accident consequent on a shamefully dangerous exhibition. Did the shamefully dangerous exhibition originate in the moral blackness of the Black Country, and in the Black Peoples peculier love of the excitement attendant on great personal hazard, which they look on at, but in which they did not participate? Light is much wanted in the Black Country. O, we are all agreed on that. But, we must not quite forget the crowds of gentlefolks who set the shamefully dangerous fashion either. We must not quite forget the enterprising Directors of an Institution vaunting mighty educational pretences, who the low sensation as strong as they possibly could make it, by hanging the Blondin rope as high as they could hang it. All this must not be eclisped in the Blackness of the Black Country. The reserved seats high up by the rope, the cleared space below it, so that no one should be smashed but the performer, the pretence of slipping and falling off, the baskets for the feet and the sack for the head, the photographs everywhere, and the virtuous indignation nowhere--all this must not be wholly swallowed up in the blackness of the jet-black country.


A lesson for all he believed, especially for the thrill seekers, who were more used I suspect to watching criminals swing on the end of a rope, rather than walking on one.


Charles Dickens, August 16th, 1863.


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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

June 6, 2013 at 3:01 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Back in the Black Country meanwhile, that usual den of iniquity, Dudley, had at last aquired a place for the refind entertainment of the mass'es. The Opera House. It attracted huge crowds, and some very big names in the showbusiness world of the day graced it's stage. That great name in " escapology " appeared here, and to pull in the audience, he arranged for a large metal pole to suspended from a high window, and then had himself, all trussed up like a turkey, hoisted to the top of it. He was out of the restraints in seconds, to the roar of a crowd who gathered, thus ensuring a packed house later on. To follow on the success of the Opera House, the Dudley Empire next appeared on the scene. With an entrance fee as low as 2p, it was soon a popular place to go. Acts of all kinds could be seen here, " The Great Doctor Brodie " was a huge favourite, the man who, twice nightly, electrocuted his wife, by strapping her into a wooden chair, fitting all manner of wires to her, and then tapping her with a large sword, which produced showers of sparks that delighted the audience. Magicians and Illusionist's were watched with great care by the audiences, but most never worked out the old " Sawing a Woman in Half " trick. One week, a variation of this routine went slightly wrong. The artist attempted to saw in half, not a woman, but a horse. Sadly, he was let down by one of his assistants, who lifted the curtain too quickly, and exposed the horse being guided backwards out of the crate. He wasn't booked again. Then there were the other stage acts like the Strongmen. Bending metal bars, twisting horse shoes, lifting great weights, piano lifting, ( usually with a few men on it for good measure ) and hammering a nail through a plank of wood with just a fist, were all part of the entertainment. All in a mixture of singers and other novelty acts, that kept Dudley folk entertained on a Friday or Saturday night. There are very few about today, who could tell you about one of the great highlights in entertainment, before the great war, which appeared in Dudley. Buffalo Bill, and his Wild West Show. He put on an act at the old Empire, standing in the upper circle, shooting at little balls hanging on a big hat from one the shows female stars. No, despite what the audience thought, he wasn't using real bullets, it's show business, where not all is as it seems. His was quite good with a rope though, no trickery there. Just before he left these shores to find fame in America, Charlie Chaplin appeared in Dudley, in a show called " Casey's Court ", and if anyone can come up with a programme, I would be very grateful, for one of the site members ancesters was in the cast.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 26, 2013 at 4:05 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Now it just wouldn't do, to imply that everything in the Black Country was grim and nasty, for there were entertainments available. Take this one on offer from the Odd Fellows Hall, Great Bridge, just down the road from West Bromwich. It featured, twice a week, in September 1879, a group called  " The Amateur Minstrels ", who performed Songs, Sketches, and Dialogues.


The


Star of the show, so it seems, was a 5 year old, who could dance in Clogs. Among the many artists listed, are a few family names that some would recognise today. A Mr K Vaughan, Mr W Bott, and a Mr J Dainty. Plenty of music on hand, as well as a sketch called " Five Dollers and a new Coat ". I wonder what that was all about. Never mind though, the seats were cheap enough as the show lasted about 2 hours. Meanwhile, over in Walsall in 1897, Transfields American Circus, at it's Novelty Hippodrome in Park Street, was offering a varied selection of acts.



From Horse, Dogs, a man Monkey, Singers, Comedians, Trapeeze artists, and a troupe of Lady Cyclists, there must have been something there to please most folk who could afford 4 pence  for a Gallery view.  Again, I wonder who " Piccolo " was, for he was employed to provide " eccentricities " throughout the show. No doubt an early appearance of Bruce Forsyth. Plush tip up chairs for 2 bob, now there was a novelty indeed for the man more used to an upturned orange box.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 28, 2014 at 4:58 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404


The Ladies and the Bicycle.   


Entertainment for the Victorians, came in many shapes and sizes. The introduction by Starley, in Coventry, of his brand new Safety Bicycle, opened up a whole world of possibilities for the young ladies of the time.



This bicycle made obsolete, the older " Penny Farthing ", which of course, due to the decency standards demanded of Victorian Women, made it impossible for a woman to mount.



The further advancement in fashion, of the" outragious "  Bloomers ', only added to the increase in women cyclists on the roads. From then on it became a flood, and this new found freedom led to even more changes in the way the nations women dressed.



Gone were the ankle length skirts and heavy dresses, as more lightwieght clothing became all the rage. The golden age of cycling had begun, and with it, a more relaxed mix of the sexes, both out together, on the open road on a sunny weekend.



Independent personel transport had truly arrived, even if the state of the roads left a lot to be disired. Some would go so far as to say, that this was the start of a fledgling Womans Lib, it was certainly the start of whole new movement for womans fashion.



Not only the woman either, for you would never allow the children out without the appropiate attire. It had become a family affair, the Bicycle, with a seemingly never ending supply of different models and styles. Ten years before, it had been so different, when to venture out without the assitance of a man to pedal the bicycle would have been unthinkable.



Unless it was to pose for a photograph as in the last picture. Two tandoms and a single machine are pictured, the location being a country lane. Thats the freedom that came with a bicycle, Well, that and a decent puncture outfit.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 11, 2016 at 9:17 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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