Our collections span a long period of time and many mark landmark events in the history of the region.
In the beginning…
The geology of the Black Country has been very important in shaping its history. The natural resources found under the ground have brought wealth to the area for hundreds of years. Limestone layers were laid down millions of years ago when the area was part of a shallow sea. The shells of millions of tiny creatures compacted to form the limestone. Coal was formed from the remains of prehistoric trees. Fossil remains such as ammonites, corals and trilobites are well represented in our catalogues, some dating from 190 million years ago.
The Dark Ages
The Black Country was part of the historic county of Staffordshire which was formed in the tenth century. The county was divided into five hundreds, the southern part, which is now the Black Country came under the hundreds of Offlow and Seisden. Many of our towns and villages date from this time. Early documentary evidence is scarce and what survives often relates to land and property.
- 1162-1210 A gift of land was made from Richard of Russal to William, son of Hillary. It was land at Rushall, which Serlo held. Witnesses: Roger de Benetlee; William de Russale and Richard his son; Richard, son of Matilda; Simon; Walter rotd; Denis, chaplain; Adam de Eltun; Rondulf de Pelsul; Richard his brother; Walter de Dorult; Walter son of Robert and Richard his brother; Walter de Weneloc.
Turmoil and conflict
The seventeenth century was a time of turmoil with religious conflict, civil war and outbreaks of the plague. The Black Country was already known for its metal industries and coal and limestone mining were carried out on a small scale.
- In 1637 an order of the constable of Walsall Borough was made to guard entrances to town and prevent the admission of strangers without a certificate, as precautions against plague.
- 1644 A ballista, a small iron cannon ball, was used during the siege at Rushall Hall during the English Civil War.
- 1680 Walsall was a flourishing centre of the lorinery industry 17th century spurs and bits
In the eighteenth century the industrial revolution reached the area and local entrepreneurs embraced the new technologies which would enable them to exploit the mineral wealth beneath their feet. The proximity of coal, iron and limestone deposits enabled many to grow rich. The extensive canal network which revolutionised transport and opened up new markets was begun.
- 1712-1714 The first Newcommen engine installed in the Black Country in Wolverhampton
- 1745 French Huguenot refugees started the enamelling industry. The first known enameller was Dovey Hawksford
- 1794 Joseph Mallard William Turner toured the midlands and painted a view of High Green, Wolverhampton
The nineteenth century was the time when the Black Country became the “Workshop of the World” and the region’s products were exported to every corner of the world. It was at this time that the name “The Black Country” was first recorded.
- c.1830 Thomas Newton produces the first ready made riding saddle in Walsall
- 1851 Goods from around the Black Country were exhibited in the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. These included glass made by Richardsons.
- 1866 Queen Victoria visited Wolverhampton where she knighted the mayor
At the turn of the new century Black Country products were still in demand and industries adapted to meet new needs. Wolverhampton was the home of a thriving motor vehicle manufacturing industry including Sunbeam, AJS, Guy Motors and Star Engineering. Engine manufacturers such as Meadows and Villiers were also located in Wolverhampton.
- 1911 Walsall firm D Mason & Sons produced dog harness for Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole
- 1934 Glass made by Stuart Crystal was displayed at the Harrods Exhibition
- 1936 Edward VIII abdicated. Walsall Lithographic Ltd produced a Metcraft medal to commemorate the anticipated coronation but it was never needed. It is dated 1937.
- 1974 Queen Elizabeth II issued a royal charter when Walsall Metropolitan Borough was formed, joining Walsall County Borough and Aldridge-Brownhills Urban District Council. The boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton became part of the newly formed West Midlands County.