It’s been a busy old pandemic year – far from having lots of spare blogging time I’ve been working full-pelt towards getting this PhD finished, plus my day job researching Black Country history at the Black Country Living Museum. Most recently, this has been covering the whole of the region’s timeline – if you’ve met any new characters on site recently, or taken part in our scenarios, activities and mini-exhibitions, that’s the kind of thing I do! Have a look at our new research blog for some ideas of the kinds of thing we research. I’m also still involved in the amazing Forging Ahead capital project, which is literally being built in bricks and mortar as I type.
This project kicked off around 2015 and I was brought in to make sure the historical town and industrial area we’re building really represent the Black Country post-World War Two, and to provide the research that puts the whole thing in its place. I’m very pleased to say that that research is now going to be published by History West Midlands.
Forging Ahead: Austerity to Prosperity in the Black Country 1945-1968 tells the story of the Black Country that emerged from the war: a dynamic, thriving industrial region that contributed substantially to Britain’s recovery and ensuing boom. At its heart it’s a history of the Black Country’s people in this era, and particularly its working class who – finally – emerged from the shadows of exploitation, unemployment and poverty which dominated work and society up to this point. This was a period in which the working class gained a degree of power which saw wages rise, and working and home conditions bettered. It’s also a period when the working class diversified – the super-diverse Black Country of today was formed in this era, and I want to make it very clear that this was a positive thing without which the region could not have met its potential to thrive.
There are chapters on how the Black Country fitted into this time of great change across the country; on industry covering production, working lives and the diversification of the workforce; on homes, both big housing questions and everyday domestic life; and on how the new era played out in realms like shopping and local political life, which are so crucial to how we understand the world around us. There are also over a hundred hand-picked images including many not published before from the BCLM collection and elsewhere. HWM have done an amazing job making it beautiful. I’m hoping Forging Ahead provides a useful lens not just on our region, but on how important the local remained in our recent history.
You can order the book from HWM now, or buy it from BCLM, Amazon or other bookshops. Please do! And keep your eyes peeled for launches and talks when restrictions finally allow.