For trainees in the heritage sector, it can be useful to visit a range of sites beyond their places of work, to broaden their understanding of what their chosen profession can involve.
On Wednesday 8 May, I and my four fellow futurely skilful treasured trainees, Anneka, Dee, Kerry and Lucy, intrepidly travelled beyond the bounds of winsome Worcester to the Black Country Living Museum, which recreates ‘the world’s first industrial landscape’ about a mile from the Tipton train station — an easy taxi journey or not so entirely easy walk, depending on your road-crossing skills and sense of direction (we all survived).
We spent the morning with museum employees, Mel Weatherley (Head of Learning), Clare Weston (Curator – Domestic and Cultural Life) and Jo Moody (Senior Curator).They talked to us about their work, and then kindly allowed us to interrogate them to our satisfaction. (Is it difficult keeping track of all the objects in use in an open air museum? Yes. Does it take a lot of talent to create effective educational resources? Yes. Do you recommend the on-site fish and chip shop? YES!)
Then we ate lunch.
The Black Country Living Museum fish and chips are highly authentic, use real beef dripping, and are, I am told, completely delicious. Everything you might hope for and more. I’m afraid I had a baked potato.
Later in the day, traditional boiled sweets were bought and traditionally made freshly baked bread was covetously sniffed and gazed at but not sampled, due to health and safety.
Some parts of the museum do not involve food. We wandered into a period men’s outfitter, where we learnt about the advantages of silk in keeping off the smell of tobacco, a period pawnbroker’s, where we learnt how to make money from the needy and desperate, and a period chemist’s, complete with a set of scales for measuring newborn babies. (Apparently, a similar set of scales is part of the collection at the George Marshall Medical Museum, but in slightly less pristine condition: it was presumably mistreated during its working life by authentic babies.)
We saw limestone pits and canal boats, we saw authentic period trams in action, and one trainee claimed to have sighted a small quantity of sunlight.
And we watched, fascinated and well behind the safety rope, as one of the museum demonstrators made a link for a heavy metal chain. He began with an iron rod, which he heated on the fire to red hot, and then hammered, heated and hammered again to bring its ends round to meet. He then heated the iron to even redder and hotter and (sparks flying) hammered it hard to smooth and strengthen the joining-place, to make a seamless loop. He was adding to a chain that seemed as if it could have been decades old — the cold iron looked used and well-tested — but in fact, the earlier links had been made at earlier demonstrations over the preceding days.
Medium and smaller sized chains were often made by women and children, right into the early part of the twentieth century, for low pay. The museum also has a small exhibition at its Worker’s Institute building about Mary Macarthur and the women chain makers’ strike of 1910.
(Thanks to Lucy for the photos!)