The Museum's story
Firstly, is it very important that we understand what is the big story of the Black Country? Why is its story worth the telling?
The story of the Black Country is distinctive because of the scale, drama, intensity and multiplicity of the industrial might that was unleashed. It first emerged in the 1830s, creating the first industrial landscape anywhere in the world.
Beneath the smoke and glare from blast furnaces and forges, Black Country innovation, entrepreneurial and manufacturing skill established the region’s supremacy for the making of wrought iron. The Black Country also possessed important hardware and other manufactures distinctive to itself – structural ironwork, chain making, locks and keys, tube manufacture, trap making and many others – which brought fame to Black Country towns across the globe.
How did the Museum develop?
The idea of the Museum was developed in the 1950s by the Borough Librarian in Dudley and other interested local individuals.
In 1966 Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council set up a Black Country Museum section within their museum department and later with such a high demand from the public and as the range and size of items collected grew, a proposal was set for an open-air museum, where artefacts could be displayed in their true context, as the range and size of items collected grew.
The Museum separated from Dudley Council in April 1976, the staff of six were faced with the task of creating a viable museum on what then was a derelict piece of land with many old mine shafts and a water treatment works. A programme of land reclamation was started by the West Midlands County Council in 1976 and by 1978 it was possible to hold a preview season to show how the Museum might develop.
In 1980 the tramway system was installed to transport visitors the half mile or so to the canal arm. By 1985 visitor numbers had grown to 250,000 a year and in 1990, the year the underground mining display opened, 305,000 people visited the Museum. Attendance drastically fell due to the economic recession in the early 1990’s and have since shown a year on year increase.
The Museum has now been open to the public for 34 years and as the UK’s third most-visited open-air museum has welcomed more than 300,000 visitors through its gates each year.
In 2010, the Museum’s 7 millionth visitor stepped through its doors and an exciting launch of the £10 Million development of the 1930s high street, Old Birmingham Road which was relocated to the Museum.
In 2012, joined the museums’ premier league, when it was awarded Designation by Arts Council England (ACE). In the words of ACE, Designation is a mark of distinction; an accolade, celebrating unique collections of national and international importance, and a vital component of England’s cultural identity. Designated collections are iconic, authentic and of the finest quality; resourced with sophisticated expert management, and set in aspirational and creative organisations. Andrew Lovett, Director & Chief Executive of the Museum said, “This is an enormous step forward for the Museum, not only recognising the strength of our entire collection, but an endorsement of how we are developing our own style of engaging people – our visitors - creatively in history.
Picture of volunteers and local community cleaning up the site that would later become the Museum's village.
Going Forward - Our Strategic Plan 2015 to 2020
This new strategic plan for 2015‐20, has clarified our thinking with six new strategic aims that will set us on a clear path going forward.
Did you know?
When the museum was first built, only the canal, limekilns and mine shafts were here - along with a disused sewage works.