Forging Ahead is my first book, and is the culmination of five years of research into the Black Country after World War Two. It started life as research for the Black Country Living Museum’s massive new development of the same name, and aims to tell the story of a time of huge change for the region.
The war left more of an economic than a physical legacy in the Black Country. There had been comparatively little bombing, and huge amounts of production, leaving its industrial output flying high. That meant that the Black Country was in the perfect position to benefit from the increase in manufacturing and export in the years after. It was a high point in many ways: not only was economic output booming, but wages, and living and working conditions too. Industry modernised; new infrastructure altered the landscape; the chronic housing shortage was finally fixed; new cultures emerged.
I think this book tells a new story about the Black Country, and about regional history in Britain after World War Two. The region’s narrative has often focused on the hardships of working-class life, and that doesn’t go away here, but for the first time a spark of something different is seen, a more egalitarian, progressive society. The historian James Vernon calls this the “brief life of social democracy,” and represents something of a break in an otherwise downbeat history of working-class regions. So, the trajectory of Forging Ahead is the shift from imposed austerity in the 1940s, to working-class affluence in the 1960s. Alongside this, the other key intervention is to write the history of the changing demographic nature of the Black Country working class, and to help include the history of people from the Caribbean, South Asia, Eastern Europe and Ireland within the Black Country story.
- A “great recasting of values”: Britain and the Black Country, 1945-1968
- A “national asset”: industry in the Black Country
- “Jobs for all”: working life in the Black Country
- “Loads of work and loads of jobs”: overcoming the labour shortage
- An “unlovely heritage”: the changing Black Country
- Housing in the Black Country
- “Life in the kitchen takes on a new cheerfulness”: domestic life in the Black Country
- Market towns and “local Gothams”: everyday urban culture in the Black Country
- Local patriotisms: public and civic life in the Black Country
- “Never had it so good”: the brief life of social democracy in the Black Country
There are also three appendices:
- Glossary and acronyms
- Gazetteer of Black Country industries
- Development of municipal authorities in the Black Country