On a recent overnight stay in Birmingham, we wanted somewhere to spend the day in the West Midlands to break up our drive to Wales. After some research, we decided to go to the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley.
What is the Black Country Living Museum?
The Black Country Living Museum is an open air museum of rebuilt historic buildings and the large site occupies former industrial and partially reclaimed land from disused lime kilns, former coal pits and an old railway goods yard. There is even a section of the Dudley canal running through the site.
The museum has also been featured on the series Peaky Blinders with key scenes being filmed in and around the village, it’s that authentic. The whole site contains real buildings and artefacts from the 1800’s through to the 1940’s, with 80,000 items across the whole collection.
Our visit to the Black Country Living Museum
We pre-booked our family ticket for a reasonable £50 the night before and chose an entry time slot. When we arrived, there was plenty of space in the car park which has a low daily fee of £3.50. You could also arrive by public transport.
As social distancing restrictions were in place at the time, there was a queuing system that lead to the main doors with markers on the floor and ticket holders to one side with on the door entry to the other. Our virtual tickets were scanned at the door and we were directed to a booth where a friendly member of staff explained the site to us and gave us wristbands to wear.
Armed with our map of the site, we made our way to the vintage Bradburn and Wedge Motor Garage first. This is where vintage cars are restored and maintained with many on display. There is a viewing window into the workshop where if you’re lucky enough, you’ll get to see the mechanics in action.
All of the cars have information displays about them with historic photos of the actual vehicles in their prime. We were also able to peek into the bus depot next door which is where vintage buses that you can ride on around the site are stored. Authentic buses that were not being used were parked outside and we were able to board them to compare to modern buses.
As we continued around the site, we saw characters at work in full authentic costumes. They were engaging and chatty, offering up experiences and knowledge of the site and the time period they represented. We saw a demonstration of an archaeological dig complete with items for younger explorers to dig up and compare to a chart to see what they’d found.
Our self-guided tour then came to a disused coal pit, which has been made safe but retains its authenticity. The children loved peering down the mine shaft and picking up pieces of real coal from the floor and putting them into minecarts that were still on their rails. It was like walking right back into the times of the industrial revolution!
We also got to explore a miners break room complete with a fireplace and sounds from the time. A Pitt’s Cottage with a real vegetable garden was also accessible and set up to resemble a typical miner’s home. It was so tiny that the children couldn’t believe that houses used to be so small!
A large section of the centre of the Black Country Museum was covered in hoarding at the time we visited. The museum is currently undergoing an expansion to cover up to the 1960’s, the development will include new learning spaces and a brand new visitor centre. This didn’t distract us from our visit, in fact, it has made us want to come back as soon as it is open!
On our walk to the village, we found a vintage car sales room, The Conway Garage, and the train station opposite. Each building has period posters, adverts and fittings that transport you straight back in time.
As we came to the village school, we saw we were on time for a lesson. From the moment we entered the building it was the year 1912 and the school mistress wouldn’t let us forget it! We were treated to 20 minutes of authentic early 20th century schooling, complete with a fingernail check – even for the adults present!
The whole class were reciting times tables and even saying the alphabet backwards – it’s a lot harder when the blackboard was covered up! The school mistress also took child volunteers out to the front of the class to answer questions, and she also made examples of some of the misbehaving adult. It was all done in the spirit of the museum and made everyone laugh.
We made our way through the village passing shops such as Hartill Motorcycles, A. Preedy & Sons Tobacconists and Gripton’s Radio Stores. Each had period characters inside ready and eager to tell you something about their particular wares. The Workers Institute & Café is also found on this side of the canal, serving food and drink throughout the day.
After crossing the canal we found the authentic T. Cook’s Sweet Shop and Veal’s Baker’s Shop conveniently next door to each other. Both are open for purchases and yes, we did treat ourselves in both! There’s nothing quite like authentic sweets and cake.
On this stretch of street we also went into The Hardware & Ironmongers Shop, Adey’s Greengrocers Shop and a chemists amongst others. During peak times, The Village Fried Fish Shop serves up delicious meals, authentically cooked the 1930’s way.
Completing this section of the museum is a Chapel and the Bottle & Glass Inn, serving food and drink. We found an empty outdoor picnic bench in a covered area to eat our treats from the bakery and rest for half an hour. Toilets attached to the Inn were clean and well maintained.
To loop around the site, we took a different route and spent 15 minutes watching an authentic Laurel and Hardy film in the 1920’s cinema. It was good, clean slapstick fun that had the whole audience in stitches.
We also got to go inside the Station Road cottages and play with toys of the era. Dave had trouble with a metal hoop type thing with a metal pusher attached, but he was soon approached by a character occupant of the street who taught us all how to use it. The children were soon literally running rings around us all!
The Boat Dock and Boat Collection were next and situated at the Anchor Forge where workers were busy showing us their trade. This included the chain making shop and rolling mill. It was great to get up close to actual historical items still in use.
We walked along the canal and back to the sweet shop, where the queues were now growing! A gentle stroll back to the entrance via the side we hadn’t walked down earlier took us past a mini funfair and temporary tea room.
Overall, we really enjoyed our day out at the Black Country Living Museum and we will definitely go back when we find ourselves in the area again, especially when the expansion is completed.
Family entry tickets give us unlimited entry for the next twelve months, making the Black Country Living Museum even more of a great value day out. You can find out more and book tickets over on the BCLM website.
You can see a video of our trip to Black Country Living Museum over on Instagram here: